The signs were always there. From their very earliest days, Avenged Sevenfold stood apart from their peers as a band who were so often lumped in with the rest of their Cali metalcore brethren, and yet who had so much more to offer than anyone else of their generation.
By the time they had broken into metal’s wider consciousness with Waking The Fallen, the quintet were already well-versed in confounding people’s expectations as they dabbled with complex song structures, twin guitar attacks and track lengths that flew past the four-minutes-and-out mid-00s mainstream metal standard. Of course, what followed took things to a whole new plane of crazy: the City Of Evil album wasn’t just pushing metalcore to new limits, but tearing Avenged’s own rulebook to shreds. And then pissing on it.
The centrepiece of this bold new era? Beast And The Harlot: a thunderous, modern heavy metal anthem that would take the template of Helloween’s rhapsodic power metal and drench it in swaggering rock’n’roll. It was unlike anything else going on in contemporary metal at the time – and it was a mighty bold choice to open the album that was set to take Avenged Sevenfold to new heights.
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“I didn’t think that Beast And The Harlot would be a single or even a fan favourite, to be honest,” admits guitarist Zacky Vengeance today of Avenged’s most unexpected smash hit. “I just thought it was a cool song to start the album.”
And what a song it is. That galloping, gung-ho intro (originally written on piano, according to Zacky). Those clattering drum rolls. A chorus so catchy it’d stick in your brain for weeks. And the most ludicrous key change in 21st-century metal. Where contemporaries like Bullet For My Valentine, Killswitch Engage and Trivium were dealing out more heads-down, no-nonsense metal anthems, Avenged were embracing their more bombastic 80s influences, making OTT, fret-burning guitar music cool again to a whole new era of music fans.
“At the time, we were all listening to Velvet Revolver,” explains Zacky. “That was the first time in a really long time that Slash had been doing something like that and it was really exciting to us. So we wanted to incorporate a bit of that vibe.
“We wanted to come out blistering with the double bass drums and the guitars screaming,” the guitarist adds of the track’s furiously fast intro. “We wanted to make something that was super-fast and super-metal, but that still had a groove to it. That’s how we wanted to start the album; we thought that was better than having a slow piano build-up, which was typical of what we’d done on earlier albums. We came out of the gates swinging.”
Written mainly by his fellow axeman Synyster Gates and frontman M Shadows – but, as Zacky is keen to point out, “really carried by Rev’s drums” - the song wasn’t seen as an obvious lynchpin around which the City Of Evil album would be remembered. Indeed, as a single it was preceded by the similarly successful Bat Country and preview track Burn It Down – two songs that had brought in elements of snarling gutter- rock and Maiden-heavy dual-guitar heroism. Neither mixed the two as urgently or flamboyantly as Beast And The Harlot, though, and as the band began to tour the album, it was immediately clear which track was hitting the spot the most with live crowds.
“I never anticipated how much fans would end up liking the song live!” says Zacky. “I was definitely a little surprised. As I’ve gotten older, I get it. It’s driving, it’s got a great groove and it’s really unique.”
Lyrically, the song continued Avenged’s penchant at the time for Biblical tomfoolery, taking particular influence from The Book Of Revelation (‘There sat a seven-headed beast, 10 horns raised from his heads’). Musically, it remains their most full-throttle, pedal-to-the-heavy-fucking-metal moment yet, refusing to let up over a blitzing five minutes and 44 seconds as it wields together chunky riffs, lashings of guitar noodling and a driving, relentless drum-battering from The Rev. Oh, and then there’s that key change: completely ridiculous, desperately uncool and yet, somehow, totally badass. The video for the song also showed Avenged in a different light, establishing them as the new poster boys for party-hard, gunslinging, heavy metal excess in all its forms. In a post-nu metal era where the idea of the ‘guitar hero’ was all but dead, Avenged had changed the game completely, reminding everyone around them that the only way to make a true impact was to be big, bold and to follow your own path.
“Absolutely,” agrees Zacky. “What makes a band great is that they have to offer something that no other band can do better than them. Bands like Korn, Linkin Park, System Of A Down or Rage Against The Machine… those are the bands from my generation that live on because what they did was so unique. Those songs don’t necessarily belong on the radio but the reason that they work is because it’s what people need. At times, we’ve obviously worn our influences heavily on our sleeve, but we’ve also done a lot of stuff completely outside of the box and I think that’s what we’ll always be remembered for. Make something that pisses somebody off, or that makes somebody laugh or that makes somebody think. I want to make music that makes people want to pull their fucking hair out. Music that makes parents say to their kids, ‘Turn that shit off!’ Ha ha ha! In this day and age, especially, it’s really important to just do whatever you want. If it works, then it was meant to work and if it doesn’t, then fucking have fun doing it!”
With Beast And The Harlot, Avenged Sevenfold weren’t just having a shit-load of fun. They were taking their place as metal’s next superstars in the making.