In Hong Kong with a Vengeance – Coconuts chats to Avenged Sevenfold

After four months of chilling at their California homes, the members of Avenged Sevenfold are slightly jet-lagged and a little buzzed as they make their way through a rather good bottle of French Bordeaux. But a glimpse of the Hong Kong skyline from their temporary vantage point at the Ritz-Carlton still leaves them breathless.

“It looks amazing,” says guitarist Zacky Vengeance before another healthy glug of wine. “We’ll probably go out tomorrow, but I don’t know about tonight.”

The metal act, formed in 1999 and with six successful albums under their belts, is currently undergoing its first fully fledged tour of Asia, one which has already seen them play dates in Korea, Beijing and Shanghai, with Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok soon to follow.

“[This is] the first time we’d been let into China to play Beijing and Shanghai,” gushes Vengeance. “I think we’re on the forefront of a rock band being allowed to go and play [in China], so we’re kind of showing the ropes and teaching them.”

It would be a fair to say that the five-piece is Metallica for the Millennials. Fronted by lead singer M. Shadows and propelled by a dual guitar rush, their latest album “Hail To The King” has the kind of wide-open heavy sound that sits comfortably alongside the infamous “Black” album, which they enthusiastically admit was a blueprint.

“Production-wise, we listened to the ‘Black’ album, grew up on it and thought, ‘That is one of the greatest productions in metal history,’” says unashamedly boastful bass guitarist Johnny Christ. “Did we set out to make the ‘Black’ album? No. But we set out to make a big-sounding record.”

That it is. Yet the guys stress that they’ve tried to be different with every release. Where they once wore their punkish hardcore Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag influences on their sleeve, they have steadily morphed into one of today’s heavyweight acts.

If the music is the foundation, however, it’s the friendship – as you can tell by their steady laughter and in-jokes – that keeps Sevenfold pushing boundaries together.

“We literally just love hanging out with each other,” says lead guitarist Brian Haner, Jr. (AKA Synsyter Gates). “We just find any fucking excuse to go out and have a glass of wine. And, we also happen to play music and be musicians. We do what we love, we travel together and as long as we’re having fun, we’re fucking happy. But we’ve had to fight to be happy, to be honest.”

Aside from a music scene that’s constantly shifed under their feet, the group also had to contend with its share of tragedy. Chief among them was the accidental 2009 death of drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan.

“Do we carry on without Jimmy?” says Haner, Jr. of the internal band debate at the time. “Is that right to do? It’s extremely tough. We’ve had to fight hard for that shit, but the mantra is ‘Go out and have fucking fun’, whether you’re writing a record, travelling, or just being an asshole.”

So far, Avenged Sevenfold have just an inkling of what their next album will sound like. “All I can say is that we’re all fucking semi-excited about it,” says Haner, Jr.

The collective enthusiasm – and possibly the wine – means that virtually no subject is out of bounds, including the virtues of Led Zeppelin IV, favourite cities around the world, and even food (Korean cuisine and Mexican tacos get big thumbs up).

But get them to talk about one of their most memorable band experiences, and it’s definitely playing for the US troops in Iraq. “It’s hands down one of the most unbelievable experiences of touring ever,” says Vengeance.

“We stayed in Baghdad at Saddam Hussein’s palace. We got to see first-hand the spent shells on the ground, the bombed-out buildings, the tank graveyards…”

“We would go out and play for those guys anytime,” adds Christ. “Even to come out and shake hands with them. Those kids are risking a lot out there.”

“Whatever you believe in, what they are doing is transcendent,” says Haner, Jr with a nod.

Just in case things seem as though they’re getting too serious for a moment, the guys reach for the bottle, pour another healthy glass of Bordeaux and gaze again at Hong Kong’s skyline.

“We’ve been everywhere and I’ve never seen anywhere like this city,” says Christ. And collectively, they vow, that tonight’s going to be quite a show.

Avenged Sevenfold perform tonight (Jan. 14) at 8pm the Asia-World Expo, Hall 10. Tickets are HKD788 and available at HK Ticketing

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