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Since the release of their debut album Sounding The Seventh Trumpet over 15 years ago, Avenged Sevenfold have grown into a contemporary metal behemoth. Their distinctive sound has been met with an equally theatrical live performance, finding the expert balance between showmanship and integrity. Led by the charismatic M. Shadows, the band are an obvious sum of their parts. Each band member brings an iconic element to Avenged Sevenfold, ultimately pushing them further towards worldwide stardom.
2005’s City of Evil saw Avenged take a step forward in creativity. Songs such as Bat Country and Beast and the Harlot offered something entirely unique, whilst the likes of mega-ballad Seize The Day nodded towards classic rock veterans without losing their modern edge. Four albums later, having surprised fans with the unexpected release of The Stage towards the end of 2016, Avenged Sevenfold are now stalwarts of arenas and stadiums across the globe.
Having headlined Download Festival once before in 2014, next year sees the band return to the top of the bill at the acclaimed spiritual home of rock. They are joined by fellow headliners Ozzy Osbourne and Guns N’ Roses, both of whom have had clear influence in developing Avenged Sevenfold’s sound. The accolade comes after the release of the deluxe edition of The Stage, due on the 22 December 2017. Having drip-fed some surprising covers throughout 2017, the record pulls them together alongside an original track and four live versions of tracks from the 2016 release.
With Avenged Sevenfold promising to bring their characteristic flare to Download Festival, once again proving their status at the top of a fresh metal crop, we caught up with lead guitarist and backing vocalist Synyster Gates to find out more.
How are you feeling about headlining Download Festival in 2018?
I’m feeling very good about it. It’s been a few years since we’ve been there and the last time we headlined it was just incredible. I mean, words can’t really describe the feeling you get after many years of playing small, small places and then moving up and then regressing at times and then coming back and, you know, bad press, good press. That was amazing, to actually re-do it. Come back a second time. I’ll have to explain it better after it’s done.
What is it about Download that keeps you coming back?
Well, number one – they have us. You’d be a fool to turn down playing Download, a legendary festival. There’s a lot of great bands that they could put on the bill, but we’re very fortunate and lucky and appreciative that they chose us. It’s really cool.
What does it feel like to stand on that stage looking out over the Download crowd?
It’s one of the coolest feelings in the world. We’re starting to headline more festivals, you know, it’s been pretty recent. So most of our career has been opening up for different people, we were lucky being main support on some of these, and it’s an entirely different feeling, you know, that all of these kids are there for you. 100% different when there’s eighty thousand and they’re there just for you.
How do you feel about playing on the same stage as Ozzy and Guns N Roses in one weekend?
I think that’s where we become completely humbled and appreciative of this opportunity because there are bands like that that could play this year, you know. And the fact that the promoters have been so so cool. Andy Copping and others have been so absolutely great and fantastic to us. And there’s our fans; if they weren’t as loud and beating down doors, going crazy, who knows…
How involved are you in the production side of the show?
Oh yeah, one hundred percent! That’s one of the coolest things. Most of us, certainly when you headline, you get one hundred percent creativity – within reason. You get paid whatever, I’m sure you can go online and figure out how much we’re getting paid, but I’m certainly not going to tell anybody. But you can easily spend within the perimeters of three things: do you want to make no money, do you want to make a little money or do you want to make a lot of money. We usually ride right in between “make a little bit of money” and “make no money”. So we’re constantly trying to figure it out. It’s always been an investment with us. We’ve always felt like, the bigger show we put on eventually we’ll get paid all the millions of dollars and then you can’t quite fathom spending the money. And it’s sort of true, you can spend all the damn money but we’re definitely paid enough to put on an amazing show. They’ll let us put on whatever we want to put on. So it’s going to be insane.
What are you planning to make this headline slot bigger than the last?
Zero details. It’s just going to be way better!
Let’s talk about the record. What led to the decision to expand The Stage by releasing covers?
Well, we’ve been wanting to do covers for a long time. We had the idea on the self-titled record which came out in 2007 and we just had so much stuff on our plate, you know, Live in the LBC & Diamonds In The Rough, the b-sides and all that kind of sh*t. And then we kind of lost ourselves a little bit, became a little lazy and just had other things going on. But this time being that it was a surprise, we wanted to add some life and longevity to the record. So we thought it would be a really cool opportunity to tour a little bit, get back in the studio, then tour a little bit and get back in the studio since we had some time off between the Metallica dates. We were really fortunate enough to get that tour, so we had the opportunities in there to really try and reinvent those songs, and have fun with them. And to surprise our fans with them.
Some of the songs you have covered might be a surprise to fans. Was that part of the plan?
I don’t think it’s so much a surprise to the fans as it is to maybe the media and certain other people. We’ve been very candid and open, some people refer to certain bands they like as guilty pleasures while we refer to them as purely influences. If you listen to the tracks on the record you can hear us meandering these different genres, fulfil this little need to get all that sh*t out, so I think the fans are well aware of that type of sh*t. I think Malaguena Salerosa was probably a unique one. I’m sure when people heard f*cking M. Shadows speaking español they lost their sh*t, but other than that they pretty much know where we come from.
You’ve been changing the way albums are released, first with a surprise album and then as an evolving record. Do you think it’s time for change?
I hope so! I’m not saying what we did was exactly right or it should be repeated, but people should buy new sh*t. In this new age of everything “now”, in fractions of entire things, everything is granular and immediate. Back in the day you’d put together a huge compendium of work, nobody knew about it, you promoted it for a long time. You couldn’t download it, you were so eager to get it because you couldn’t get it. Now you get so much sh*t, you got to find different ways of surprising people and that was the most intriguing thing, if we could keep this a secret. I mean, people know what colour your underwear is these days, so there’s no real secrets. And the fact that we’ve pulled it off is definitely one of the coolest things. We owe that to our friends and family as well as our team for keeping their mouths shut and doing a damn good job or sitting this thing out. So I hope people are creative, but you have to work with your label to make sure that everybody’s on the same page and ensure that everything is exciting for everybody.
So what are your plans for 2018, what can we expect?
Oh man, even though we’re touring like crazy I plan on it being the wind-down-year of my life. Early 2017 I released a guitar school, the Sinister Gates School, that took me five years to make with my father. My son was born. The writing of the record. And then keep writing, or keep recording, living in the studio, living on tour. I haven’t had a break in two years. I’m ready for it.
Avenged Sevenfold release the deluxe reissue of The Stage on the 22 December 2017. Pre-order the record here. They’ll be headlining Download Festival on Friday 8 June 2018. The event runs from 8 -11 June 2018, with tickets available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.
Words by: Ben Tipple
Interview by: Marie Ladisch