Welcome to our three-part series profiling the artists headlining the Rockstar Energy Drink UPROAR Festival. In this second installment, we feature Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet for My Valentine, and Black Tide. For the complete band lineup, tour dates, and more information, visit rockstaruproar.com.
Avenged Sevenfold (clockwise from left)—Johnny Christ, Synyster Gates, M. Shadows, and Zacky Vengeance.
Classic Metal on Steroids
Sometimes, things just click. For Avenged Sevenfold, it was going into the band''s third album, 2005''s City of Evil, that an understanding of oscillating dynamics, anchored by the introduction of a click track, established the former metalcore band''s command of heavy metal''s architecture. A prowling, howling stage presence, reinforced by strafing riffs, cemented the ongoing live reputation of the band, which had established its ability to engage crowds with raw emotion when it first surged from Huntington Beach, CA, in 1999.
“In the early days of the band we could connect with crowds, but we really didn''t really know anything about what makes a ‘good'' sound,” admits Avenged Sevenfold bassist Johnny Christ. “I remember touring in 2002 and I only had some sort of Crate amp that could do its thing for a couple hundred kids a night, but it didn''t work out for much more. As we were working on [2003''s] Waking the Fallen we got introduced to Bogner amps, Schecter guitars; we could afford a DW [Drum Workshop] kit, so we really started to get different feels and sounds for the songs. Touring between that album and City of Evil really helped us sonically, showed us new ways to trim out the fat and structure parts.”
Lessons learned, Avenged Sevenfold went into the sessions for City of Evil, the band''s major-label debut, prepared to go over every song with a fine-tooth comb. The result toned down post-hardcore outbursts and exhibited classical metal''s soaring harmonizing. The balance of grit and melody took the band from independent cult favorite and thrust it into the public eye. In the years since, Christ, vocalist M. Shadows, guitarists Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates, and drummer James “the Rev” Sullivan evolved through a series of recording experiments and fortified their road-honed virtuosity, culminating in the material on 2009''s thematically rich Nightmare.
The recording sessions for City of Evil proved as grueling as the results were exacting, and for 2007''s self-titled full-length Avenged Sevenfold chose to self-produce a more rough-edged album. That experience gave the band a harsh but valuable glimpse into what it takes to troubleshoot sessions. It also allowed for a widening of Avenged Sevenfold''s sonic palette. “We did 808 blasts . . . had orchestrated parts that sounded carnivalistic . . . we just set out not to have someone tell us what we couldn''t or shouldn''t do, and we went for it as far as we could take it,” reflects Christ.
For Nightmare, however, the band again brought in an outside voice—Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Fiona Apple)—whom they could vibe with during the writing process. A session bassist as well as producer, Elizondo brought an ear for musicality, as well as suggestions on gear for Christ to explore (such as vintage Fender and Rickenbacker basses alongside his traditional StingRay, as well as a Gallien-Krueger amp). Consideration of arrangements was particularly important as the band had to grapple with the passing of Sullivan just prior to the recording sessions, for which they then brought in Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy. Sullivan''s passing changed the lyrical focus and weight of the album, while the band stayed resolute on the overall tone intended throughout the six-month writing/demoing process. (The final result has a conceptual strength akin at times to Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, and Queensrÿche.)
“We wanted Nightmare to be as timeless as possible, something like a classic metal record on steroids,” says Christ. “We wanted something that sounds new, fresh, but equally massive . . . that has the crispness of modern recordings but that still sounds timeless. It''s not like all this really low-end, bass-heavy rock that comes with really big opening kick drums. When it calls for it, sure, we''ve got huge body, but a lot of the time we wanted a sound like classic thrash . . . like [Metallica''s] The Black Album but updated with Avenged Sevenfold on top of pianos and horns and keyboard parts and orchestrations of all sorts. It''s an album that''s panned wide, with a cinematic feel to it, and live it just plays out on a huge, aggressive scale.”
Live, Avenged Sevenfold sits all the back line behind the Gothic stage dressings, leaving maximum space for the band to triumphantly connect with the fans, and for “blowing up as much shit as possible,” laughs Christ. There have been rumors that Avenged Sevenfold''s equally arena-sized sound is augmented by Pro Tools tracks, which Christ denies but considers a complement on how encompassing the band''s performance can be. The truth of the matter is that guitars and bass are split between two to three heads, and parts are written with the entire spectrum in mind. Blended back together by the front-of-the-house guys, Avenged Sevenfold makes a Nightmare into a cathartic swell.
Bullet for My Valentine (left to right)—Matt Tuck, Michael Thomas, Michael Paget, and Jason James.
BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE
For some, being in a band is a series of sprints. Welsh quartet Bullet for My Valentine, however, sees it as a marathon. Even though the Cardiff band is commonly tagged as heavily influenced by classic thrash metal, drummer Michael “Moose” Thomas says the group recognizes the difference between heavy and chaotic, and will continue to reinforce its longevity through a revaluation of its strengths. This philosophy is exhibited on Bullet for My Valentine''s third full-length, Fever (released on Jive Records in 2010).
“Before, we just wrote songs that were bold enough, but as we got older and more mature we wanted to refine how we write songs, we wanted to write better songs rather than ones that were just as heavy as we could get,” explains Thomas. “It wasn''t about piling on riffs in one song unless there was a place for them. Our early songs were full of them, but for this album we needed to pull back, show how simple can be heavy.”
Citing a renewed appreciate for bands such as Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Iron Maiden (the latter of whom Bullet for My Valentine has opened for in the past), Thomas sees heavy music swinging away from the downtuned and oppressively heavy era of nu metal. In the case of Bullet for My Valentine, precision is a key operating factor, and something the band has honed on the road and cemented in the studio. Rather than writing songs for Fever in a fractured manner at soundchecks and on tour buses, Bullet for My Valentine waited to take a BREAK from touring, then the band connected with producer Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Good Charlotte) to record an earnest, straightforward rock record.
“One day, I''d love to put together a collage of cutlery being thrown about, making percussion out of hitting odd objects, the kind of stuff you wouldn''t know was in a record until someone told you,” admits Thomas. “But for this record, it was about being in a big room together, not trying to rush a million miles an hour, so we could write parts that had the most impact.
With these goals in mind, Fever is an album balancing crunched out and clean tones, exhibiting a consistency of tones united in anthemic direction. The tautly gated tempos only twice near ballad territory, but they also don''t approach the same unflagging throttle as certain spikes on 2008''s sophomore release, Scream Aim Fire. The choruses, meanwhile, are as rousing as and more melodic than any the metalcore band has conjured. Fever is a high-gain amalgam that manages to be Bullet for My Valentine''s most accessible material, and an achievement in harmonized arrangements that promises a consummate stage presentation.
Black Tide (left to right)—Austin Diaz, Gabriel Garcia, Steven Spence, and Zakk Sandler.
Perfecting Controlled Chaos
Part of Miami, FL-based quartet Black Tide still can''t legally buy a drink, yet the band''s controlled chaos has been inspiring crowds to raise their glasses in frenzied celebration for over seven years. Formed in 2003, when all members were well underage, the group has matured significantly in the public eye, taking to the stage for high-profile gigs with OzzFest, Iron Maiden, Avenged Sevenfold, and Bullet for My Valentine, among others. What''s compelled all the audiences'' sloshed beer and whiskey waved is Black Tide''s command of speed metal''s dueling melodies (think Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden) and an insistent strut reminiscent of the late ''80s Sunset Strip gutters. However, unlike any of the band''s Aqua Net-era idols (Guns N'' Roses, Skid Row, etc.), Black Tide doesn''t let the image precede the music.
“I always want everything to sound better than to look better; I''m the drummer who''s only going to spin my sticks if it doesn''t affect the sound,” says Black Tide''s Steven Spence. “And I know we''ve learned a lot of things over the years that have really helped us tighten up, working with different producers and touring for years straight. There are so many simple lessons, like how important a metronome is, in the studio and live. I want whoever''s listening to us to really get a feel for the song the way it was written and intended; I want our performance to be as close as possible to how it is on the album. We don''t want the songs to be a mess of tempos.”
For the band''s sophomore full-length, Post Mortem (Interscope Records), Black Tide has worked even further on the band''s consistency. “I feel like we are a band; we''re not solo musicians,” reflects Spence.
The group indulges throatier, more thrashing tendencies, but never erring from precision and melody. Whittling down 50 songs with the input of producers including Josh Wilbur (Lamb of God, Atreyu), Black Tide established the kick of Spence''s Pearl Reference kit as the backbone and built up what the band considers both its hardiest and poppiest arrangements to date – playing at a variety of speeds and weights, including acoustic inflections and multi-part vocal harmonies. With Spence maintaining a steadfast groove, lead guitarist/vocalist Gabriel Garcia, rhythm guitarist Austin Diaz, and bassist Zakk Sandler are free to deepen the arsenal of epic fret blazes and lyrical impact.
“Tracking in the studio, we''ve learned the importance of laying back, making sure everything that matters is in place. We''re always trying to outdo ourselves,” explains Spence. “And live, I think people see how much we''ve practiced, always worked on improving. Our material, and seeing people attached to it, means a lot to us.”