M. Shadows, hunky singer of OC's berheavy, kinda screamy quintet Avenged Sevenfold, sits in full makeup on the curb outside the band's hotel in Connecticut doing an interview on his tour manager's cell phone. He cuts an arresting image. He is wearing an inky-black T-shirt tucked into black Dickies, held up by a thick, black, stud-covered belt. His arms are covered with tattoos (his favorite is of the microphone Elvis used to sing into), and his fingers are tipped with chipped black nails. His dyed-black hair is greased back, his eyes are two deep sockets of thick black eye makeup, and hanging off his ears and lip are thick-gauge metal piercings. Nearby, a woman in a parked car sits outside the hotel honking repeatedly.
Shadows is getting agitated. “God, what a fucking freak!” he spits.
It's ironic, really, that a man who makes himself up to look like a cross between the Crow and Henry Rollins would so casually call someone else a freak, but then maybe it's not all that strange. Avenged Sevenfold can't really seem to decide whether they truly are the deeply troubled goth suicideboys suggested in their music or not.
On Waking the Fallen, Avenged Sevenfold's second full-length (the follow-up to Sounding the Seventh Trumpet), the Huntington Beach-based band sounds like Pantera meets Iron Maiden meets Bad Religion meets Guns N' Roses. They do not necessarily sound like a cohesive blend of their influences, but rather like a jagged remix of them. As if everything was thrown into a blender, but no one hit “frappe,” entire sections—drums parts here, vocals there—sound exactly like the source material. Still, the juxtaposition of the parts makes the music somehow compelling, not to mention the fact that the members—all of whom have ghoulish fake names such as Zacky Vengeance (guitars), Synyster Gates (guitars), The Reverend (drums) and Johnny Christ (bass)—are incredibly technically proficient in a fairly showy way. But it's not the ripping 64th notes that grab you like one of the hands reaching up from the grave on the cover of Waking the Fallen. It's the colossal weighty darkness of the album. Grim and death-obsessed, but to such a mournful degree—punctuated by growly darkness here and peppy darkness there—that Avenged Sevenfold seem, at times, less spooky than ooky. Not outwardly jokey la Gwar, but lugubrious nonetheless.
Considering they're going for that epic opus feel, it's not surprising that much of their material is biblical. The name itself comes from the story of Cain and Abel (“And the Lord said unto him, 'Therefore whoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold'”). The track “Chapter Four” (“Murder born of vengeance/I closed my brother's eyes tonight”) is basically a straight retelling of the Cain and Abel story.
The band has said repeatedly that they aren't religious, but obviously someone's been soaking in it. Turns out both Shadows and The Reverend went to—and got kicked out of—Huntington's St. Bonaventure Catholic School, The Reverend in third grade and Shadows in sixth.
“That shit's shoved down your throat when you're going to a school like that,” says Shadows. “There's a lot of weird people telling you that there's bad shit going on and just telling you that everything you're doing's not right, and I didn't buy into that. I think that's why I got kicked out real fast.” If by “not buying into that,” he means “smashing in the doors and window of a teacher's car and then taking the gym shorts of a kid he hated and trying to flush them down the toilet,” then yes, that is why he got kicked out.
“The Rev and I were the worst,” he remembers. “We grew up together, and we just terrorized everyone.” But not in a bullying kind of way, he says. “We just ran around town and fucked with shit. It's pretty ridiculous now that we tell these stories, but it's funny to look back on.”
So clearly he had some, er, issues, but at the same time, certain stories Shadows tells—of playing varsity basketball as a freshman at Huntington Beach High, of going to his prom and having a good time, of not liking Fox's The O.C. (it is my grossly simplistic theory that only the kind of people depicted on The O.C.actually take umbrage with the show. The rest of us appreciate it for the quality programming that it is)—suggest he isn't exactly the conflicted figure depicted in the lyrics. And then, in a move that makes me want to reach through the phone lines and shake him, he kinda sorta disowns everything he sings about by saying that the songs are “metal songs” and no one wants to hear “happy lyrics” and “that's a big reason the lyrics sound the way that do and have that [dark] overtone.”
So then is he a big, fat, happy, phony faker who has bamboozled all his fans into thinking he's actually tortured? Is he the kind of person who's depressed often? “I'm definitely not depressed. I'm superhappy. I'm especially happy with how everything's going with the band. I'm definitely not depressed about anything,” he says—too quickly.
And again, we're left with two options. Either this is true, and songs such as “I Won't See You Tonight (Part 1)” and “I Won't See You Tonight (Part 2),” both of which are about suicide, are a pose, or maybe he's protesting too much. The latter seems likely, since most rock stars (and Avenged Sevenfold are on the cusp of rock stardom, if not already there) know they won't curry much favor with fans if they're seen complaining in the face of fame.
Whatever the case, Shadows felt as if he didn't fit in. “When music is all you care about, you feel like you're not really a part of anything else, and you feel like an outcast or misfit because you don't really fit in anywhere,” he says of his high school years.
Shadows and company spent a bit of time in the OC punk/hardcore scene, but quickly tired of it because “the scene was turning to shit. It was annoying going to shows and seeing everyone look and act real tough. It was a joke.” For a little while, Avenged Sevenfold were part of that scene, but no longer. Shadows doubts he'll recognize any faces when the band plays the House of Blues Wednesday.
“All those people who helped us get to where we are, I don't think they're fans anymore,” he says somewhat ruefully. “With the whole hardcore scene, when you get to be a certain size, you're not cool to see anymore. Those kids hate everything you do.”
Shadows sings about this particular problem—being built up and then torn down—on “Desecrate Through Reverence,” which ends with the following warm wishes: “And in the end, you're all dead to me.” And then saying something that so simply captures the dominant emotion that runs through the whole album: “It's an angry song, I guess.”
Avenged Sevenfold perform with Poison The Well, Shadows Fall and Throwdown at The House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Wed., 7 p.m. $18. All ages (under 16 with guardian).