There’s plenty of anticipatory hype doing the rounds about the major label debut from Californian quintet Avenged Sevenfold (or A7X as they insist on being namechecked – don’t ask). It’s easy to see why Warner picked them up – they’ve got the gothic, teenage-pleasing image of an AFI or My Chemical Romance but their first two albums have a resolutely heavier metal slant. Is that a niche in the market I smell?
All of which makes City Of Evil a decidedly bewildering album. Pourquoi? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
The biggest problem with City Of Evil is its lack of focus. I’m not sure where producer Mudrock was when some discipline was called for but unless your name is Dream Theater (and actually, not then either), there should be a law against releasing albums of 11 tracks that clock in at 72 minutes.
This self-indulgence manifests itself all too boldly in the song arrangements. There’s no questioning that A7X are excellent musicians but on City Of Evil they seem to suffer from attention deficit disorder and I, for one, didn’t want to keep up.
The Beast And The Harlot is utterly confusing – a pummelling, hurtling metal monster during the verses and then a chorus so poppy, so bubblegum, so cheesy that even Atreyu would dismiss it for fear that people might think they were taking the mickey.
The over-harmonised backing vocals and camp choruses are constant plagues and by the time you reach the half-way point in Trashed And Scattered, you’re half expecting the voice of Jim Steinman to appear on the CD and shout, “I’m back!”
Speaking of bats (out of hell), naming a song Bat Country is not exactly subtle in your pursuit of all things gothic and comic strip horror, but then subtlety is an endangered species on City Of Evil. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on Betrayed, ostensibly a tribute to murdered Pantera / Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell, but one that I can’t imagine the legendary axeman enjoying with its seven-minute length, lack of visceral bite, over-the-top harmonies, random acoustic bits and clunky lyrics (“A smoking gun in your hand / Now don’t you realise what you’ve done? / Put a bullet in his back / Your hero since you were so young”).
When A7X settle themselves down, even for a few minutes, then there are signs of what they can really do. Seize The Day, for example, is a mid-paced Guns ‘N’ Roses tribute that builds from an acoustic intro into a rock anthem full of cheesy, but just about palatable, layered vocals and plenty of Slash-ing guitar widdling. Apparently the hatted one is a hero of theirs and it shows.
Alas, it’s a rare moment of relative sobriety. The Wicked End tries to go all cinematic after five minutes but the section is simply too misplaced to compete with the likes of Nightwish, while Strength Of The World has a bizarre two-minute part seemingly tagged on to the start that makes it sound like it’s going to be the soundtrack to an old cowboy film rather than the (actually quite good) thrasher that it becomes.
All of this would not be so annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that A7X clearly have the elements to make a stunning album. They know a good riff (though they don’t employ enough of them here), they can play like angels, they understand the importance of musical light and shade and they obviously have a sense of humour. Unfortunately, after listening to City Of Evil, I wasn’t laughing. Next time?