Once more the lack of Dublin venues between the Olympia size and the O2 is made clear, as Californians Avenged Sevenfold find themselves facing a room far larger than they would normally tackle. Yet with the help of Five Finger Death Punch and Swedish group Avatar (replacing David Draiman’s Device at short notice, much to State’s disappointment) they have defiantly drawn thousands of fans to the Dublin Docklands. Formed in 1999, their early music had a metalcore sound but now, six albums later, their genre could well be described as “pop-metal”. And everyone knows metal isn’t supposed to be popular, right?
The audience is a mix of teens who should probably be studying for their Christmas exams, seasoned rockers old enough to be their grandparents, and everything in between. Heavy metal, almost regardless of sub-genre, is a culture that unites its fans regardless of culture, sex or age, with few exceptions. After the well-received warm-ups, a black curtain decorated with a coat of arms incorporating the characters A7X is set up, hiding the stage from view. After what feels like forever, they finally open to reveal a gigantic three-dimensional incarnation of the Avenged Sevenfold winged skull logo (allegedly “stolen” from old-school thrash metal band Overkill). Regardless of the origins, it looks awesome suspended above the stage menacingly watching over the mayhem that is about to be unleashed both on and in front of the stage.
The band’s latest album Hail to the King begins with the sound of bells and flames; so does their show tonight, launching straight into ‘Shepherd of Fire’, and followed quickly by the opening track ‘Critical Acclaim’ from their 2007 eponymous album. The crowd, still psyched after the pre-show, are back on the boil instantly and the crowd-surfing starts immediately. Vocalist Matt Shadows, wearing dark glasses for the duration of the show dedicates the third song to all the new blood – ‘Welcome to the Family’. Before the end of the track, an unconscious girl is carried from the front row by the über-safety-conscious security staff. Their well-meaning assistance is not always so appreciated however; as they persistently demand that those in the elevated “toe-tapper” section stay in their seats. It’s in the instinctive nature of all metal fans to rise to their feet and raise their devil horns or at least shred a blistering air-guitar solo during intense moments of a gig and the ushers are fighting a losing battle asking them to sit back down.
Those looking forward to the pyrotechnic display that is customary at an Avenged Sevenfold show are disappointed to hear Shadows apologise for its absence due to permission refusal, a surprise considering the scorch-fest that was the Rammstein concert in that very venue in 2012. Nonetheless, he promises everyone will have a better time without it and they will kick some ass tonight. He keeps his word. The title track of Hail To The King prompts fervent fist-pumping from the frenzied crowd and the spawning of anarchic circle pits.
In a poignant tribute to their former drummer Jamie “The Rev” Sullivan, who was found dead in his home almost four years ago, they perform ‘Fiction’; a song released on the 2010 album Nightmare, written by Sullivan and presented to the band just days before his passing. During the song, a spotlight illuminates an empty spot on stage near Shadows, who laments his fallen friend with tangible heartfelt emotion shared by the respectful and loyal fans in the audience. Shadows specifically acknowledges Sullivan’s Irish roots and iterates how much he, and the rest of the band, loved playing in Ireland. An Irish flag branded with the winged skull motif is held proudly aloft in the middle of the tightly-packed crowd front of stage.
The instantly recognizable glockenspiel intro promptly refocuses the passion into a more energetic display of appreciation as ‘Nightmare’ kicks the audience back into overdrive, screaming along at the top of their lungs to the chorus “I’m your fucking nightmare”. Without losing momentum, Shadows asks “we’re going to keep it heavy. No? You want some soft pussy shit?” and breaks into ‘This Means War’ beneath blood-red spotlights. This is what an Avenged Sevenfold show is all about; full-throttle, all-or-nothing, crowd-pleasing rock. A sea of swaying arms vote in favour as ‘Bat City’ brings the pre-encore show to a close.
Returning for a two-song encore after predictable recitals of a certain Spanish-sounding football chant, Shadows asks for the Irish flag from the fanatics, and drapes it over the bass drum to tremendous cheers. Explaining that they are about to overrun their 11pm curfew, he insists “let’s get this going so the fine isn’t TOO big”. The encore draws to an end and picks and sticks are flung far into the satisfied audience. Souvenirs of the first big-venue headline appearance from a band that are likely to become one of the most recognisable names in their genre.