Jimmy Sullivan: His Last Cover Story
Finding A Groove
The Rev’s time in the studio during the summer has paid off handsomely. From the first snap of the snare and the first note on the piano, the new slef-titled Avenged Sevenfold album is a departure. Long-known for its Tool-like song lengths and playing chops, the five-member, hard rock/metal band has honed its sound into a largely sub-five-minute affair that has the group seemingly functioning more as a unit than on previous recordings. At the forefront is The Rev’s acrobatic, intricate drumming — a thick, groove-based foundation that acts as a fusing mortar for the other four members of the band. The change was both a conscious decision on the band’s part and an extension of its style, derived from feedback received over hundreds of tour dates around the world.
“Yeah, it’s definitely more groove-oriented,” The Rev says. “I think people will dig on it. We’ve always been more into hard-hitting grooves that you want to bang your head to the whole track rather than wandering off in all different directions and writing songs that sound like three songs put together. This album, every song has its unique personality and it just sticks to that point, even though it does waver within the confines of each song. Every song is coming from a different angle and a different place and we attack the vibe of it full force. Say this one track, ’Critical Acclaim,’ is all just in-your-face madness going on, it all just sticks to that and doesn’t transition to something that’s completely left field.”
When it comes to an analogy for his and the band’s playing, The Rev keeps it simple: “Compact, like a steamroller.” Nowhere is The Rev’s experimentation more evident than on “Almost Easy,” a three-minute-fifty-seven-second can of rocket fuel that’s as thick as your dad’s Barbasol lather. While the song structure is tight and the band is more locked in than ever, the climax of the ride is a segment in which The Rev doubles up on two kick drums and two ride cymbals simultaneously, creating the visual and aural illusion that he’s got at least double the number of arms.
“I call it ’the double-ride thing,’ just for lack of a better definition, because no one does it,” he says. “It is very hard to keep yourself on the bells without being able to look. You can’t look at the two places at the same time. My right hand naturally can find the ride on its own, so I have to look at the bell on the left, and you also have to bring it over to hit the snare, so it gets a bit hard — and that’s when you start looking like a f**king octopus weirdo. It’s awesome.”
A creature from the deep is exactly what The Rev looks like playing his three-kick, seven-tom setup in the middle of the song, a display so outlandish that even the band’s manager gets excited talking about it. “You’ve got to listen to this, he looks like an octopus when he plays this,” Larry Jacobson says, grinning as the track plays. The Rev says the inspiration for this trick came from an integral part of his own drumming style: his double bass-playing feet.
“I just always think it’s really powerful when you’re doing any particular hand fill, if you throw the double bass constantly under it, it just beefs up the power of it, and I like to go back and forth between my cymbals and my hands while keeping the double bass patterns underneath it, and attaching cymbals, a splash or a ride, to the double kick,” he says. “On the last album, I would sometimes go back and forth between the ride and the splash and I thought, Why not go for two ride bells and have it sound as crazy as possible and in your face and that metallic sound, you know?”
Versed in playing guitar thanks to informal lessons from bandmate Gates, The Rev contributed heavily to writing the band’s new eponymous album. While its predecessor, City Of Evil, was written “conglomerately,” The Rev says he contributed guitar riffs and even lyrics to the 18 or 19 songs he laid down in the studio. “Four of the songs I wrote every riff and verse and chorus, and everyone else kind of had the same on the other songs,” he says.
A self-admitted perfectionist, The Rev says the compactness and locked-in nature of the band’s new sound is partly the result of his continued concentration on developing his songwriting skills. “I’ve been focusing more on just choosing the proper fills and trying to be as creative as possible with them, not just your typical hand fill or hand-and-foot fill, but incorporating all four limbs and using the [Sabian] propeller [a prototype percussive element], and all the attachments I have on the kit,” he says. “Stuff that just fits each individual riff. Instead of playing as fast as possible all the time whenever possible — though there’s plenty of blindingly fast stuff and I push myself when it calls for it — but when it doesn’t, I take a lot of pride in finding the perfect part for the moment, the particular circumstance.”
The Rev says he gleaned ideas from combing through the band’s demo reels, extracting moments he liked and expanding on them. Trying new sound effects also proved beneficial. “I write every part out until I get it as perfect as possible,” he says. “An approach I took on this record was definitely to jam the songs out more and take things that I liked and develop them. Aside from incorporating different percussive aspects, I also would change up the toms on certain songs and I’d play patterns between the ride and Roto Toms on one of the songs.”
A lifelong fan of Oingo Boingo genius Danny Elfman — “he’s pretty much my musical hero” — The Rev wrote much of his creative contribution on the piano, and used the process as an opportunity to touch on his idol’s legacy by collaborating on the song “A Little Piece Of Heaven” with former Oingo Boingo members, keyboardist Marc Mann and guitarist Steve Bartek (the latter produces Elfman scores). “It’s a really interesting, crazy, Halloweenish song that we wrote that will possibly, almost certainly be on the record,” The Rev says. “Definitely fun for anyone to listen to — a good reason to get the album right there.”
Nonetheless, offering up the best ideas to his bandmates is what brings most songs together, The Rev says. “Most of the best songs that we have is where everyone puts in their best parts and everyone just clicks,” he says. “There’s a trust there; there’s an openness. There’s no insecurity. We just write whatever we want and we’d be the first to say, ’Nah, that riff kind of sucks,’ or ’That’s awesome.’”
The Rev says he was actually surprised by the quality of some of his bandmates’ contributions, including the depth of some of the lyrical content. “Matt [M. Shadows] shocked me with a few of the tracks,” he says. “Being involved with the songs, I was surprised I could be so touched by it, or so pumped up by it.”
Overall, The Rev says the album’s sound reflects the growth of the band over the last couple of years — a testament to its tenacity. “We’ve just naturally progressed as human beings,” he says. “We’ve never tried to make the same album twice and I think it’s really disappointing every time I buy an album and it’s a parody of the previous album. You can definitely expect new things. Overall, it’s ten times better of a record.”