Avenged Sevenfold turns Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse into “Bat Country”

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Southern California quintet Avenged Sevenfold appeared on the metal scene shortly after the turn of the century when the death growls and drop-tuned sound of metal core rose to prominence. But across the band’s 25-year and eight studio album history, they have expanded well beyond the sonic tenets of that sub\genre.

Saturday night at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the band performed a nearly two-hour set drawing from all but their 2001 debut album for a dynamic mix of metal styles incorporating classic thrash, with metalcore, industrial, progressive metal, and splashes of avant-garde melodic metal weirdness.

The band has been touring their most recent album, the musically adventurous “Life is But A Dream…” since last year and for this third leg of the tour, the band dusted off some old fan favorites and songs that have not been played in years, much to the not-near-sold out but energetic crowd’s head banging delight.

The band naturally leaned on songs from the new album, performing five songs from it, including the openers “Game Over” featuring singer M. Shadows singing in a chair with black ski mask. The song’s jerky, jerky, multi-part punk and progressive thrash passages, winding vocal melody mixed with a gently sung and played acoustic coda and its follow-up “Mattel,” which kept the heavy section, soft section, loud prog-tronica-infused song forms going.

But AX7 made sure to feed fans of their more conventional metal tunes such as the melodic, near rap-rock groove of “Afterlife” from their 2007 album, inducing some polite crowd surfing (kudos to the front-of-stage security for not being jerks) and inspiring a small group of fans to remove their shirts (that’s how you know they’re serious) and start a small but dedicated mosh pit and occasional whirlpool that kept going throughout the show.

The band stalked the relatively spare stage, with primary lead guitarist Synyster Gates showing that he has soaked up the styles of many of his six-string forebearers. He unleashed fleet-fingered, Yngwie Malmsteen-level sweeping arpeggios with aplomb in new songs such as “Nobody” and joined guitarist Zachy Vengeance in some old-school Iron Maiden/Judas Priest-style harmony lines in “Stage.”

The band’s evolution allows for groove-based Load-Era Metallica-inspired tracks such as the singalong “Hail To The King,” and multi-part, EDM-flavored prog thrash tunes such as the wildly dynamic “We Love You,” which starts, stops, modulates, and morphs all over the heavy music spectrum across its six-plus minutes that culminates with an acoustic slide solo.

Banter was kept to a minimum, though Shadows did praise Cleveland as “the best crowd on the tour, so far.” But since Cleveland was only the third show, the competition may not have been all that stiff. The crowd, mostly dressed in black and featuring many couples, some hip parents shepherding their teens, and an array of band T-shirt metalheads cheered and sang-shout along to their favorites throughout the show.

The staging was simple, with large screens showing thematically appropriate or just visually interesting images, and the band members made sure to use all the space available. After the thrashy two-fer of the seldom-played “Blinded” and “Bat Country,” someone who may have thought they were at a Drake concert threw some lingerie on the stage.

“Wow, we got people throwing bras like it was 2005!,” Shadows said.

The band ended with a few old-school numbers, including the start-stop, thrashy but hooky “Nightmare,” which produced the strongest mosh pit and whirlpool of the night from the crew of shirtless fans.

Avenged Sevenfold has come a long way from its humble metal core beginnings, and though there is always a faction of the fan base that pines for the “old sound,” for AX7 to still be an interesting band that can surprise musically after a quarter-century of riffs, screams, growls, and guitar solos that go twiddly diddly dee is a pretty impressive feat.

Earlier openers Sullivan King and Poppy warmed up the crowd with varying degrees of efficacy as both artists clearly had fans in the crowd.

Heavy Metal EDM, dubstep, DJ-producer Sullivan King mostly standing at an elaborate DJ booth with a collage of wacky and vaguely ominous images (fire-breathing CGI dragon, doe-eyed anime girl!) being projected on it mixing remixes of popular tunes by System of A Down and Linkin Park and leaving the booth to sing and scream his metal-tronica originals such as “Bass To The Dome,” all driven by pounding deep heartbeat-altering sub-bass. Sonically, it was a relentless ear-hole assault, but the crowd dug it, and King is one of the few openers this reviewer has ever seen who is allowed to use pyro with fountains of flames punctuation his heavy metal bass drops.

Popular YouTuber (with nearly 3 million subscribers), singer-songwriter-author Poppy and her guitar and drum duo, augmented with backing tracks, performed a set of her metal, industrial-inspired songs from her five-album catalog, leaning heavily on 2020s “I Disagree.” Despite her energetic performance, the stage seemed a bit large for the trio, and with no banter beyond a brief “thank you” at the end, the charisma and creativity shown in her various videos and other media simply didn’t emanate from the stage.

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