In the mid-90s, as Metallica worked upon their sixth album, Lars Ulrich threw down the gauntlet to those griping about his band’s dominance of the metal scene. “People should get off their asses and do something to topple us,” he stated. “Here’s a guitar – blow us away if you think you can.” It’s a challenge to which subsequent generations of metal acts have singularly failed to respond. While a handful of nu metal acts (Korn, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, System Of A Down) enjoyed significant success at the turn of the century, in 2013 Slipknot alone stand alongside Ulrich’s band as global festival headliners, with the trailing pack so far behind as to be mere specks in the rear-view mirror. As vibrant and forward-thinking as the current scene is, metal desperately needs a new generation of genuine superstars.
And, frankly, if Hail To The King doesn’t elevate Avenged Sevenfold to that plateau everyone else might as well give up. In interviews leading up to the release of their sixth album, the Californian quintet have been unequivocal in stating their ambitions: they want nothing less than to follow their childhood heroes Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Iron Maiden and Pantera into metal’s own Hall Of Fame. In last month’s Hammer, guitarist Zacky Vengeance memorably hailed metal as “music to blow shit up to”, and Hail To The King marks the point at which this often misunderstood band gleefully detonate all previous expectations and preconceptions.
Which is not to say that the follow-up to 2010’s Nightmare is an attempt to redefine the boundaries of the form, rather it’s a collection that celebrates and amplifies all that’s glorious about our world. It begins, audaciously, with the sound of a tolling church bell, a knowing salute to Black Sabbath, which instantly connects the album with the birth of metal itself. Ghosts of the genre’s illustrious past cast shadows everywhere. Try listening to This Means War without hearing echoes of Metallica’s Sad But True. Check out Heretic and try not to think of Dave Mustaine sneering over the irresistible stomp of Symphony Of Destruction. Equally, Doing Time could be a lost cut from _Use Your Illusion _and the superb Coming Home would fit on Powerslave.
It’s not that Hail To The King is derivative, but its influences are unashamed, and the standard of songwriting is so high across its 10 tracks that it already sounds like a greatest hits collection. Opener Shepherd Of Fire is classic A7X, with M Shadows conjuring Sympathy For The Devil vibes via entreaties such as ‘I can promise you Paradise, no need to serve on your knees’.
The anthemic title track is essentially Game Of Thrones condensed into five spectacular, bloodletting minutes. Requiem is something else entirely, with a Carmina Burana-style intro, spoken word spookiness and an old-school Satanic vibe that Ghost would slay for. Crimson Day, meanwhile, is the album’s monster power ballad, a soaring epic that’ll shift a million downloads.
Hail To The King is a beast of a record, vast, ambitious and magisterial. It is unquestionably Avenged Sevenfold’s masterpiece. Metallica, your heirs have finally arrived.