“After producing the last
Avenged Sevenfold album ourselves, we
wanted to make a fresh-sounding record,
which meant we’d have to do things a little
differently, so we asked to meet with some
producers,” says Zacky Vengeance. “The
entire music world thinks that there are only
a handful of people who produce big rock
albums, and we were presented with the
usual names. But we went with Mike Elizondo,
because although he is associated
with pop, country, and hip-hop artists, he
grew up listening to bands like Megadeth
and Metallica, and he understands how to
produce music that is adventurous but still
appeals to a broad spectrum of people. He
told us he was a huge fan, and personally, I
found it really exciting that he had never
worked on a big rock album before.” Synyster
Gates concurs: “We wanted to go back
to the more adventurous approach to songwriting
that we’d taken on City of Evil, and
Mike was of the same mindset. He said, ‘I
want you guys to make a better City of Evil—
a darker City of Evil.’”
The result was Nightmare [Warner Bros.],
an album Avenged Sevenfold began working
on in 2009, but which was temporarily
abandoned after the tragic death of drummer
James “the Rev” Sullivan on December
28th of that year. Sullivan had already made numerous writing contributions before his
death, and the two guitarists, vocalist M.
Shadows, and bassist Johnny Christ completed
the record in his honor, with Dream
Theater drummer Mike Portnoy occupying
the drum throne.
Opening with a brief bell-like keyboard
pattern and washes of Mellotron, Nightmare
quickly transitions into a ferocious onslaught
of distorted guitars and hard rock vocals
accented with keening harmonized melodic
lines and concisely executed solos. From
there, stylistic shifts include weighty power
ballads, frantic speed-metal scorchers, an
R&B-infused outing, and even prog-metal
rockers with symphonic flourishes. “We
wanted to make an adventurous, fun, and
wild record,” says Vengeance. “And I believe
with Mike’s help we accomplished that.”
What was your creative process
when writing and recording the material on the
Vengeance: Often we’ll come up with
riffs and other ideas while on the road. Then
when we return we’ll take all of the ideas
we’ve gathered and combine them with new
ideas to begin the arranging process and
work them into songs. We write much more
than we put on the albums because we want
to make sure that what we do put on there
is top notch. We move in whatever directions
we’re inspired to and a lot of stuff
doesn’t work out—but even the ideas that
we throw away at one point might be perfect
for something else that we do in the
future. You never know.
Gates: And sometimes we’ll just improvise
or sit down with acoustics to write—the
process changes from song to song. I also
try to work with different instruments, like
the piano, but even if it is with guitar, I’ll
often use some effect to try to inspire a different
emotion. A new sound or texture will
make me play differently.
Do you feel like your roles as “lead” and
“rhythm” guitarists have evolved and become less
distinct over the years?
Vengeance: I do feel that my playing has
stepped up a notch over the years, and I’m
very proud of that. I’ve never really minded
the whole rhythm versus lead guitarist
because our fans have always recognized the
lead-like qualities in much of my guitar playing.
I love playing rhythm and I’ve never really
cared about showing off my abilities. I just
wanted to make great music and sometimes
that calls for a wild guitar part or some fast
dual melodies. Syn has shown me a lot of
things that have improved my playing, and
when he writes for us both he will never hold back because he knows that I will be able to
play the parts. We want to write the best
music without simplifying anything. And that
also goes for the vocals. The hardest part of
playing in Avenged Sevenfold is being able
to sing background harmonies while playing
intricate guitar parts at the same time.
How do you go about harmonizing melody lines?
Gates: Zack or I, or even Matt or one of
the other guys, will come up with a melodic
line, and then I’ll usually be the one to work
out the harmonization, because I’ve had a
little musical training and can kind of expedite
the process. It’s all about going over and
under. A lot of bands think of harmony as
something that goes on top of the melody,
and if it lands on a fourth or fifth or gets a
little dissonant they’ll just leave it there. But
I always try for thirds, and sometimes I’ll go
under and hit the sixth, which is the relative
When you’re both playing chords, do you use
inversions and alternate voicings to make the
parts more interesting?
Gates: Yeah, definitely. For the metal stuff
it’s difficult because you’re mostly using
power chords, but with dropped-D you can
get some really cool inversions. We used to
do a lot of stuff in D minor, and the 5th would
be in the root with the D on top, so kind of
like an Fmaj6 just with those two notes, but
implying D minor. But when playing big
chords on acoustic or piano I love having
things like the 3rd in the bass just to provide
You mostly play in dropped-D. Do you also play
in standard or other tunings on some pieces?
Gates: We use standard tuning on some
pieces, standard dropped down a whole step,
C# , and others—it just depends on the song
and the voicings. For example, if we’ve got
really cool voicings playing in G—like open
chord voicings—but the song needs to be in F,
then we just drop the whole thing down a step.
You both have signature Schecter guitars.
What were your primary considerations when
Vengeance: For me the most important
thing was the appearance, but I also wanted
a guitar that was light and comfortable
enough that I could move around onstage
easily while still getting an awesome tone.
It had to kick ass in a live setting, because
then it would also kick ass in the studio.
There’s something so magical about the
power of a live concert, and there’s no better
way to capture that in the studio than
using the same guitar that you use live. I
also wanted it to have Seymour Duncan JBs
in both positions.
Gates: Number one, it had to play good,
which with Schecter wasn’t a problem. I
played Schecters years before they endorsed
me. I also wanted it to have Duncan Invaders,
which are really high output, and I wanted
a 24-fret neck that played really nice, and a
great whammy bar that didn’t break strings,
and they nailed it.
Synyster, how much of your vibrato is finger
vibrato and how much is done with the Floyd Rose?
Gates: I only use the Floyd for harmonic
screams, dive-bombs, and that sort of stuff.
Everything else is finger vibrato.
Are you both still using the Ernie Ball .010-
.052 Skinny Top Heavy Bottom strings?
Vengeance: Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever
played a show in my life without those. I
can’t go wrong with them. Even when we
detune to C# they maintain the tuning and
sound-wise they fit us perfectly.
What about picks?
Gates: I use really thick Dunlops, gauged
2.0mm I think.
Vengeance: I use thinner, .72mm, Dunlops.
I’ve been trying to get Syn to use a lighter
pick and he’s been trying to get me to use a
heavier one. I think the heavier pick works
better for sweeps and stuff like that and a
lighter pick keeps fast picking and muting
from sounding too mushy.
What amps did you use on the album?
Vengeance: In the studio we work with
a lot of different blends. We’ve always been
huge fans of Bogners, and we have a particular
Uberschall that is like no other amp in
the world, including other Uberschalls. It’s
magical, and gets a great overdrive sound that
we use on everything. Then we blend that
with Marshall JCM800s when we want to
make it a little more rockin’, or with a Diezel
when we need it to be heavier and punchier.
Gates: I also have a custom-made Bogner
called the Gold Finger, which is pretty cool.
We use Marshalls live.
Do you adjust the controls on the amps for different
Vengeance: We dial in our heavy Avenged
Sevenfold straightforward punk-rock-metalesque
sound for rhythm and use it for all of
the songs to give the whole album a uniform
quality. And then on top of that we use different
blends to bring out differences in
tonalities in the individual songs. On this
album there are so many different styles that
we experimented with a lot of things. For
example, we used vintage guitars and a Marshall
JCM800 on a lot of the softer songs.
Are there any pedals that you use regularly?
Gates: I use two Boss CS-2 Compression
Sustainers into a Marshall when playing live.
I use one set low for rhythm parts, just to drive
the amp and beef the sound up a bit, and the
other one set a little higher for solos to fatten
the sound and add sensitivity and sustain when
I’m playing legato. I combine those with a
Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor, which eliminates
feedback and cuts out right away—but the
sound is so beefed up by the compressors that
I don’t ever lose signal. I also use delay, but
I’m not picky about which one.
Vengeance: I always just rely on the
amps. What a lot of people don’t realize is
that getting a heavy sound isn’t always a
matter of gain. Sometimes, when you cut
back on the gain, the individual track won’t
sound super heavy alone, but when you add
it to the mix it sounds huge.
Did you layer rhythm parts to get a bigger sound?
Vengeance: Some people think that the
more tracks you layer the heavier it sounds,
but I don’t think that’s necessary. You can
get a great sound with only one rhythm track
on the left side and another on the right—
which is basically how it would be in a live
scenario. If you layer a lot of tracks it takes
away a lot of the style of playing. There are
little nuances and different textures that
need to be heard. If you’re just burying them
with a wall of sound, you might as well play
keyboards or something!
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