Last night, Thursday, Oct. 27, Avenged Sevenfold dropped a welcome bombshell on their fans. Those with half an ear to the ground knew that the band would be performing an invite-only show on the roof of Hollywood's Capitol Records building, and that the four-song set would be streamed live to their faithful followers around the world.
What most people didn’t know is that, as soon as the band got done, they would announce that new album The Stage was available for purchase. It’s out. It’s dropped. Like, now. And while Avenged Sevenfold are far from the only band to have employed the "surprise release" tactic in recent years, with the likes of David Bowie, Radiohead, Drake, Beyoncé and U2 all taking a similar route, the approach is still a brave new one.
“We wanted to do something new for our fans," A7X guitarist Zacky Vengeance says. "We didn’t want them to know we’re in the studio. We didn’t want them to sit there in anticipation until they lose interest. We’re going to create an event that will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and surprise the hell out of our fans.”
Watching fans respond to the daring strategy is going to be fascinating — and it will be made all the more interesting by the fact that, judging by that first single, the band have dipped back into their roots and returned at least partially to their early sound, which seamlessly blends sleazy punk rock with riff-heavy power metal.
“We really tried to go overboard with instrumentation,” Vengeance says. “Vocally it’s way more reminiscent of the early albums. But we’ve also taken a brand-new approach. We’ve taken all of our influences that we’ve gathered over the last 15 years, from Django Reinhardt to Kanye West and all of our metal icons, and tried to incorporate all of those in ways that we never have before.”
It’s difficult to do anything at present without the subject of the election coming up. Avenged Sevenfold, particularly singer M. Shadows, have been publicly right-leaning and proudly Republican in the past, selling T-shirts at shows emblazoned with the Stars & Stripes and declaring, “Love it or die.” After performing on the Warped Tour one year, Shadows was particularly critical of a lot of the left-leaning bands on the bill, which he said were “against what our country is about.” That led to Fat Mike of NOFX calling A7X “everything that’s wrong with rock.”
Vengeance says he tries not to be too political nowadays, but he believes the country is stuck between a rock and a hard place. “One candidate is looking to be a dictator and doesn’t stand for freedom or democracy, and the other candidate is a career politician,” he says. “This country is filled with remarkable people. One of my best friend’s families is from Iran, and they’re the most American family of all time. Some of the best people that I’ve ever met are immigrants. I think people have the right to love whoever they want, and I think that women have the right to do whatever they wish to their bodies given the circumstances.”
Liberal social views like that might surprise some who have a preformed opinion of Avenged Sevenfold, but this is a band that relishes surprising people. The move from Warner to Capitol, Vengeance says, has made possible curve-ball tactics such as this surprise album release and its accompanying rooftop show.
“To be honest, we spent many years at Warner, and in the very beginning there was a very passionate team that worked alongside us on a daily basis,” he says. “Every year that went by, we would lose just about every single person that worked directly with us, to the point that I honestly couldn’t have picked up a phone and gotten one person who knew me. It put our entire career that we worked so hard for in jeopardy. Capitol has been incredible. A breath of fresh air.”
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On Thursday evening, fans and members of the media gathered together at the foot of the Capitol building to watch the band, situated many stories above our heads, plays a short set on a big screen, broadcast in "3-D/360-degree, live-streamed virtual reality," according to a press release for the event. Some fans at street level were given VR headsets to watch the show; in some ways, those of us without the headsets may as well have avoided L.A. traffic and watched at home. But there was a palpable feeling in the air that this was an event.
“This is something we’ve been working hard at with Capitol to try and make perfect for a long time now,” Vengeance said beforehand. “It’s a special event. I think it’s going to be incredible for some of our fans.”
The band rattled through “Nightmare,” “Planets,” “Acid Rain” and new single “The Stage” without any sort of between-song banter. The event was the performance and, at the end, as fans lined up en masse to purchase the new album, it felt like a very successful one. Time will tell.
Avenged Sevenfold's The Stage is out now on Capitol Records.