First question; where to begin? With an album like this, I honestly don't have a clue. Despite multiple warnings from the band about the change in musical direction, one would simply shrug off all suggestions and rumours of Avenged adjusting their sound to become an emulated product of their God-like ancestors, such as Iron Maiden, Metallica and the like. We would generally assume that Avenged would do what they normally do; produce an album full of non-stop, frantically fascinating metal songs with mind-blowing guitar solos and heavily syncopated drumming patterns as provided by late drummer "The Rev". They were a band who catered for their own niche market.
But with time comes change, and the warnings were true, oh so very true. The song structures have been simplified, the riffs are less complex, but without a doubt heavier than ever before and each song has potential to be a future classic. I will be providing a track by track breakdown and delving deep into the depths of the Avenged mindset when it came to making "Hail To The King".
My initial response after listening to the entire album first time round was one of bewilderment. I was inquisitive as to why they had made the choices they had, and I was letting it sink in that Avenged had moved on from the wild, bamboozling tracks from their previous albums that put them on the map. In my opinion, this is the equivalent of their "Black Album", a sort of commercial album that would cement the band in the top-tier of all metal bands. Immediately I was craving a track with a fast tempo, I was even craving some screaming vocals from M. Shadows. Hail To The King left me dumbfounded.
"It would grow on me" is the main message I repeated to myself, and I was hoping that would be the case. So with multiple listens came more hope, and I found myself being correct. This is an album that needed attention and a large amount of replays. Not only are there elements that cater to the original fans, albeit only a few, this will certainly make any doubters turn their heads and see Avenged's true talent and ability to draw in a huge market.
Track 1: Shepherd Of Fire
The opening track on any album always has to be the defining track. It must set the scene and provide an insight into the rest of the album. Although in this case I don't think it's a true representation of the album as a whole, many would probably disagree. The track begins with a riff that would definitely fit on previous album "Nightmare", it is slightly haunting as well as showing glimpses of Avenged becoming a heavier band. The vocal hooks are as strong as they always have been, and there is no denying as quirky as M. Shadows' vocals are, he is one of the best in the game. The guitar solo is slightly more stripped back than usual, it is not a case of guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance showing off anymore, they are crafting well thought-out solos, as opposed to scales being played at raging speed for the sake of it. Again, Avenged are thinking outside the box and the chilling use of a brass section blended into the background draws out a musically dexterous sound to the song.
Track 2: Hail To The King
The song that you all have heard by now, the first single released off the album and the title track. I absolutely loved this song when it first came out, but after listening to the whole album, I wouldn't even class it in my top 5 off the album. It is an incredibly catchy song and it will sound anthemic live. There are elements of 1980's era Iron Maiden and a lot of Dio mixed into Hail To The King. The guitar solo sounds like it came straight off of "Powerslave". Avenged have clearly done their homework and have studied the bands that have heavily influenced them, and have injected into their sound the best bits of each band.
Track 3: Doing The Time
One of the weaker songs, sounds like it could fit on the tail end of "City of Evil". It's a very rocker specific song, with blues elements incorporated. You could imagine "Doing The Time" blasting out your speakers whilst you're speeding down Route 66. This will be the main song that will attract an older audience who have previously neglected the band. Play this song to your Dad, he might like it. You never know.
Track 4: This Means War
Definitely one of the highlights of the album. It's a huge song right from the get-go. The main riff is crushing, with a direct influence from Metallica's "Sad But True". This song is the true definition of how a band can simplify their sound drastically, yet the end product is amazing. Everything about "This Means War" is spot-on. I can almost guarantee you'll be hearing this one live for years to come.
Track 5: Requiem
Now this is where things get interesting. The song kicks off with what I like to call a 'Satanic Choir', chanting ominously. Again, this is another song that proves how simple can mean effective. The song seems to have a "Ghost" vibe. They are a band who are notorious for their ridiculously crazy stage presence and dare I say, "evil" music. "Requiem" would fit perfectly into the soundtrack of any film based in post-apocalyptic times.
Track 6: Crimson Day
We've finally reached a soft moment on the album! If anyone says that the guitar tone doesn't remind them of Pantera, then they don't listen to enough metal. This song is a beautifully crafted tune, in the vein of "So Far Away" on their previous album. Lyrically one of the best songs on the album, it is magical to listen to. With Avenged, when it comes to softer songs, they are either amazing, or extremely cheesy. For example you'd either get an incredible song like "Crimson Day" or "So Far Away", or you'd end up with the bore that they call "Seize The Day". Sorry guys, it's just never been a favourite of mine.
Track 7: Heretic
Any song with the name "Heretic" in it, you'd automatically associate with mayhem. That rule still applies greatly for Avenged's "Heretic". This is the type of song you'd see fitting in with the Self Titled era Avenged. One of the only songs on the album which pretty much incorporates every aspect of their career. Also this is a track that will instantly become a favourite of yours, and it only gets better with every play. One for the old-school fans.
Track 8: Coming Home
Maiden. Maiden. Maiden. Did I mention Maiden? This is by far the clearest moment where an influence has been used in a song from Hail To The King. Lyrically, musically, everything about "Coming Home" stinks of Maiden (in a good way of course) Also this is proof of how the album gets better as it goes on. Enjoy this classic by Maiden ... I mean Avenged ...
Track 9: Planets
I still don't quite know what to make of "Planets". The riff is astonishingly brutal, but the song seems to lack consistency. It's one thing a song being heavy, but if there isn't any cohesion, then it won't work. Some people might enjoy the jagged nature of "Planets", but for me, it could have easily been left off the album, or worked on with the same care that every other track has.
Track 10: Acid Rain
It wouldn't be Avenged if they didn't close their album on a soft track. Acid Rain is another beautiful track, the melodies are alluring, the use of piano is reminiscent of the classic "Fiction". It is a perfect closer, definitely in the top 3 best songs on the album.
So that's my review of Hail To The King. Although in my opinion it is not quite as good overall as "Nightmare or the Self Titled album, it is still a testament to one of the best bands in the world today, making a statement of how they will become legendary.
Rating: 8 out of 10