Avenged Sevenfold broke ground on an eight-year project when it released "City of Evil" during 2005. The last single from that album, "Seize The Day" stripped away the blast beats and gatling-gun rhythms of drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, along with the crossfire of riffs normally shared by guitarists Synyster Gates and Zack Vengeance. Left with tragic lyrics and a guitar solo built for the spotlight, Avenged demonstrated the potential and desire for mainstream acceptance. "Beast and The Harlot," another single from the same album, displayed the band's penchant for lengthy songs and wrist-breaking riffs. Asking Avenged Sevenfold to temper its instrumentals would equate to asking '80s Iron Maiden to tone it down in exchange for '80s Def Leppard sales. The resulting albums, a self-titled album during 2007 and "Nightmare" in 2010, went both ways, watering down the band's blend of melodic thrash without establishing a command of heavy metal. "Hail to the King" breaks through at long last.
Only one single has been released, "Hail To The King," but it demonstrates a mastery of what its predecessors ("Almost Easy," "Nightmare") lacked: a chorus that invites arenas to sing along (heavy metal is a genre designed for arenas) and instrumentals that leave no doubt whether the listener should mosh or just bang his head. Gates hammers-on a melody undermeath while Vengeance looms overhead with a thick, simple riff. Drummer Arin Ilejay, in his first stint as replacement for the deceased Rev, doesn't produce hundreds of notes, buts adds emphasis to every bass blast he kicks. Vocalist M. Shadows has never been a powerhouse, but he smoothes out a convincing melody of his own for the chorus.
Other songs use the same formula with similar effect. "Shepherd of Fire" shares the method of hooking listeners with an anthemic refrain, and the two guitarists mimic the "ass-stomp" riffing of their hero Dimebag Darrell during "This Means War." Having entered the ranks of heavy metal, the band can be forgiven for slipping into "Crimson Day," a power ballad trying to be the next "Mama, I'm Coming Home."
If debate exists on the merit of the album, it's between fans of the heavy metal approach and those who preferred the band's faster work. The new strategy, albeit successful, leaves the jobs of Vengeance and Ilejay less exciting than on earlier efforts. Vengeance now plays a few chords of thunder, in circumstances that Avenged used to fill with lightning. The success of "Hail To The KIng" ultimately falls on the band's fans to decide, but critically, the album accomplishes heavy metal better than any Avenged Sevenfold album yet.