HERSHEY, PA – It has to be said if it hasn’t been already, Avenged Sevenfold is without a doubt THE premiere metal band of this generation, PERIOD. I was pretty sure of this assertion before the show in Hershey, PA even started, but after seeing “The Stage” tour with VolBeat on Tuesday night (May 9th), I’m ready to put it on paper so to speak.
On Tuesday, May 9th, Avenged Sevenfold pulled into town with VolBeat and Motionless in White in tow and turned a usually quiet little town into a raucous freak show; a scene that I was thrilled to be a part of. Pierced, tattooed and painted, the A7X fans were out in force and ready to see what their heroes had in store for them, but first, there were some opening acts.
Motionless in White kicked things off, and I will preface this review by saying I’m not a fan. If I were reviewing their album I would say that their music is formulaic and basically typical, and that they offer very little that’s new or dynamic to a metalcore sound that’s become quite overplayed. With that being said, I was fairly interested to see them before they went on because the last and only time I had seen them prior (July, 2014, Mayhem Fest in San Jose, Cali) they put on a hell of a show with gothic make up, all white garb and an interesting stage presentation. The other reason I was a little interested is because this band calls Scranton, PA home, and whenever a band returns to play for the home audience, they usually offer something interesting.
Well, I’m sad to report that this wasn’t the case. I will give MiW credit where it’s due, they played well, sounded tight as a band and fans of the band were pleased with their set list. However, the look that made them dynamic was gone. Chris “Motionless” was in a backwards hat, in regular clothes, and they offered nothing interesting in their set list from what I could tell. Now to be fair, they only had 30 minutes, and I’m not a fan so for all I know, they played some rarity that they haven’t played in years, but I didn’t get that feeling from the MiW fans around me. All in all, it wasn’t a bad way to start the night although, the rotation of Gojira and MiW for this tour makes me wish we would’ve pulled the OMG card (Oh My Gojira!) but I digress.
VolBeat might be the most unsung band in the history of metal. Often dismissed as some Rockabilly gimmick band, or as more of a commercial band, every time I see VolBeat live I’m reminded why they are so popular. Simply put, they kick ass.
Coming from a Prog Rock/Metal background, I thoroughly appreciate when a band mixes genres without being awkward, and VolBeat does this with the best of them. Singer Michael Poulsen brings a Rockabilly voice, and Elvis Presley/Johnny Cash style to some very heavy, at times, music. Now as I referenced above, VolBeat sometimes suffers from unfair criticism from “too cool for the room” metal fans that claim they are too commercial or their Rockabilly style is too gimmicky, and that they are not “heavy.”
First off, let me say that nothing makes me roll my eyes harder than when some douche bag in a Slayer t-shirt, or some death metal shirt whose name is completely indecipherable, claims a band, ANY BAND isn’t heavy enough. WTF does that mean exactly? (Don’t answer that, it’s rhetorical and I don’t care what your opinion is on the “heavy” topic, because there is no right or wrong answer). Secondly, this claim that VolBeat isn’t heavy is possibly one of the dumbest I’ve heard since….well….Avenged Sevenfold isn’t heavy enough. With the exception of “Lola Montez” and “Black Rose,” the set VolBeat burned through was heavy as fuck.
So why does this claim continue to persist when it comes to VolBeat? Well, without getting into a 10-page dissertation in defense of VolBeat, and why these people who make these claims are the problem with this metal genre that I love so much, let’s just say that these perpetrators of this level of douchebaggery are simply threatened by anything that seems successful. It seems like a no brainer to me that if an Avenged Sevenfold, or a VolBeat can write appealing music that has amazing melodies, and charts, it’s only helping the metal genre, but these asshats act as if they are cheapening their precious metal. They happen to be good looking guys who girls like (un-metal), who have great voices (very unmetal) and write music that you can both SING and MOSH too (almost pop music)…..UNREAL CONCEPT RIGHT? Listen, Slayer fans….it’s called a melody, look into it.
OH, and I’ll end this rant with this, if you think VolBeat is not heavy, look up the songs “Wild Rover of Hell, A Warrior’s Call,” or “Dead, But Rising” and tell me those aren’t heavy ass songs (again a rhetorical statement, I don’t care if you think they aren’t….you’d be wrong.)
END OF RANT
Now, onto the performance, seeing VolBeat in a non-festival setting is a new experience for me, and I will have to say it didn’t matter. VolBeat might be one of the most consistently solid live bands I’ve ever seen. They deliver EVERYTIME, and it needs to be said, I wouldn’t consider myself a VolBeat fan. I have very strange rules when it comes to music fandom that I couldn’t possibly get into right now (it’s an article all its own that if permitted, I will gladly share with you all). From the opening guitar riff of “The Devil’s Bleeding Crown” off their newest release “Seal the Deal & Let’s Boogie” to possibly their most recognizable closer “Still Counting,” the energy was at 100, and the crowd was continuously moving.
VolBeat brings what I would call a bouncy, high energy brand of metal to the stage, and it’s infectious. I’ve seen them 5 times now, and even when I’m not familiar with a song, I can’t help but jump, stomp, and fist pump to their songs. Michael Poulsen’s voice is flawless and unique, and the band is tight and energetic on every song. Despite having a guitar strapped to him for every song, Poulsen does a great job of fronting the band and pumping up the crowd at the right times….which is nearly every song. When it’s all said and done, I say whether you’re a fan of VolBeat or not, it’s a great concert going experience regardless.
VolBeat is a great band, and none what you’re about to read will nullify that fact, but the real reason the 10,000-plus screaming lunatics were in the building was for Avenged Sevenfold. Now, I started this review out with a BOLD statement, which said that “Avenged Sevenfold is without a doubt THE premiere metal band of this generation, PERIOD.” I stand by this statement SEVENFOLD after what I witnessed on this night. From the shredding of Synyster Gates, and the soaring yet gritty vocals of M. Shadows, to the over-the-top stage production that you just don’t see very often in rock/metal anymore, A7X have staked their claim for THE band to take the “Metallica” mantle after this summer.
Avenged Sevenfold has been a staple in the metal scene since the early 2000’s and one of the genres most successful bands since their platinum selling 2007 release “Avenged Sevenfold.” With 2 subsequent #1 releases in “Nightmare” and “Hail to the King” and their newest release, “The Stage” debuting at #4 despite it having a more progressive sound and a surprise release with little promotion, A7X has definitely earned the right to make the claim as the biggest metal act in the world, however, for some reason they tend to suffer a similar fate as VolBeat.
There’s a strong sect of metal fans that crucify this band unjustly, making claims that range from them not being heavy enough (again with that shit) to A7X ripping off other bands like Metallica and Megadeth. Now, a lot like my VolBeat section of this review, I can spend 10,000 words defending this band, but I’d rather just use the 10,000-plus fans I saw at the show to prove my point. Detractors, or true haters will go online and look up what the capacity for the Giant Center in Hershey, PA would be for a concert, and scoff that 10K tickets sold is well short of a sellout, and they’d be correct. The sellout capacity at that particular arena is 12,500.
So I can already hear the collective “See….they can’t even sell out an arena” but bear with me here. I contend that drawing 10K fans, in the small hamlet of Hershey, PA, when they have a stadium show opening for Metallica coming up only 2 hours away in Philly this week, another arena show 2-3 hours away in Baltimore this week, and another stadium show in New Jersey with Metallica coming up….10K fans, in a small town like Hershey on a Tuesday is remarkable, and they were not disappointed.
In a bold move, they opened with their 8 and a half minute, borderline Dream Theater-esque Progressive Metal-ish, title track to their new album, “The Stage,” which immediately revealed a stage show that had 3 giant screens on each side of the stage, and a box/screen structure in the middle of the stage behind new drummer Brooks Wackerman. Synyster Gates finger tapping intro into a thunderous drum fill and then 8 and a half minutes of Prog Metal ecstasy had this writer thrilled from the gate.
After the open, the heart pounding pace continued with a set list alternating between classic A7X tunes, and new songs from “The Stage.” From a performance standpoint, the highlights have to be vocalist M. Shadows and new drummer Brooks Wackerman. M. Shadows’ voice sounded as clear and strong as I’ve ever heard it and his witty banter and interactions with his audience left me feeling like he’s grown into one of the premier front men the genre has seen in some time.
“New” drummer Brooks Wackerman (he’s been with the band since 2015) is hands down the best drummer they’ve had since Mike Portnoy, and he may even be better for this band. He fits perfectly, but doesn’t fit perfectly, which in my opinion, makes him a perfect fit. Let me explain.
From a playing standpoint…..the younger Wackerman fits perfectly. Coming from a punk background (he played with legendary punk band Bad Religion for years) gives him the metallic chops needed to play A7X’s music, but his pedigree (his older brother Chad Wackerman has played with Frank and Dweezil Zappa, Steven Wilson, etc….it’s in the blood) gives him the technical prowess needed to handle The Rev’s inimitable style.
HOWEVER….have you ever seen Brooks Wackerman? Let’s just say, he looks more like the band’s manager than he does their drummer. Johnny Christ, Zacky Vengeance, M. Shadows, and Synyster Gates would stand out like a sore thumb in almost any “non-metal” setting, but Brooks Wackerman could fit in at a parent-teacher night at your most conservative elementary school. He’s a normal looking dude with extraordinary abilities behind the set, and that shone through during the show. Brooks Wackerman played every song perfectly and then some, adding his own nuance to The Rev’s playing without changing the song, and playing his own insane drum parts from “The Stage” to perfection.
The high moments of the show were numerous. After blistering through the first five songs, with my two favorite songs of the night, “Paradigm” from The Stage, and my all-time favorite A7X tune being in that group “Buried Alive,” the band took a poignant moment to remember some of those who have passed including their brother The Rev during the song “So Far Away.”
After the quiet moment of reflection it was back to the heavy with “Nightmare” and the newest single “God Damn” which featured possibly one of the creepiest, trippy background videos I’ve seen in a while. The video featured politicians with their heads replaced by an eye, and other eyes just roaming around with tentacles under it watching over….EVERYTHING. A7X actually had quite a few political statements to make with their vid screens, check them out on YouTube if you can find them.
Ok, so unfortunately, Motionless in White wasn’t the only negative to this show. Perhaps a slightly confusing moment occurred after a short instrumental piece performed by Zacky Vengeance and Syn Gates, a giant inflated astronaut was revealed and the song “Planets” from “Hail to the King” was performed. Now in the past, I have not been a huge fan of this song, however, it’s growing on me as the live performance this time around really hit me right. Between their performance, the screen production and the giant astronaut, it made for a very cool, but confusing moment.
Why was I confused? Being someone who has been to over 500 concerts, I’m used to certain things. One of them is the ‘theming’ of a show. The theme of “The Stage,” the album that they are supporting with this tour, is spacey, and the astronaut is like a symbol for this album, or so I understood it to be. So to use the astronaut for two songs from “Hail to the King” was a little confusing to me.
In addition to the above scenario, is the “Acid Rain” confusion. Look, I respect any artist that goes against the grain, and does what they want to do, regardless of what the fans think, and that’s the truth. As a former artist myself, I would never want to feel beholden to fans from an artistic standpoint. With that being said, this portion of the review will be a “fan” portion.
What is it with this song “Acid Rain” from “Hail to the King?” If you’re an Avenged Sevenfold fan and you’re reading this, please email me and tell me if you like this song, because this set was an absolute steam roller until they got to “Acid Rain.” Maybe the rest of the arena was touched and felt the emotion of this slow, atmospheric ballad, but in my section it was like thud. Now if this was the first time I saw this, I would discount it as something new that they are trying, but this was the THIRD time I’ve seen them close their set with this tune and I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just not a fan of the song, but it was even a low point vocally for M. Shadows, who was otherwise phenomenal throughout the show. It was one low note in 2-plus hours of high notes.
Now, it’s redemption time. The encore to this show might have been one of the best things I’ve ever seen live. (Side Note) PEOPLE….if you’ve never been to a concert, take this as a tip. If the band says “Thank you, good night” but the HOUSE LIGHTS don’t come on, they’re not done. MOST bands do at least one encore, whether the crowd calls for it or not. Ok, now…back to the show.
The encore consisted of a blistering version of their hit “Bat Country,” the 8 minute ode to necrophilia “Little Piece of Heaven” and the traditional closer “Unholy Confessions.” The part that made this an incredible encore was their performance of “Little Piece of Heaven.” Technical, tongue in cheek and just awesome, this is a great metal tune that is always a joy to hear live.
So overall, if this show is coming to your town, I VERY highly recommend it. Tickets are incredibly reasonable (unlike the Metallica shows) and the lineup with VolBeat and a rotation of various bands ranging from MiW, Day to Remember and Gojira….it’s worth every cent.
If you have any questions, or comments please email me at TheProgtologist@gmail.com.
Written by Chris Elio for Bloodrock Media on May 10, 2017