Guitarist Brian “Synyster Gates” Haner Jr. remains proud of their ambitious recent album The Stage — on one track, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Music, Sat. July 15, 2017
They may be perched atop the throne of the heavy-metal world, but Huntington Beach, Calif.’s Avenged Sevenfold aren’t afraid to take risks when it involves the bigger picture.
Take, for example, this Sunday’s extravaganza that finds them sandwiched between superstar headliners Metallica and rising Danish fusion metallists Volbeat at Toronto’s Rogers Centre.
The unexpected invitation from the Metallica camp forced the five-piece to abandon their own starring arena turn to promote their recently released opus The Stage — well after the production and its sizable investment had long been spent. Accepting the invite also may have, depending how you look at it, crimped some of the momentum generated by the band’s prior chart-topping efforts, 2010’s Nightmare and 2013’s Hail To The King.
But Avenged Sevenfold lead guitarist Brian “Synyster Gates” Haner Jr. says the band isn’t sweating it.
“Well, there’s that consideration that you get to a point (when you’re) headlining, but we’re certainly not doing stadiums,” says Gates Thursday, speaking from a tour stop in Oshkosh, Wisc. and on behalf of singer Matthew “M. Shadows” Sanders, rhythm guitarist Zachary “Zacky Vengeance” Baker, bass player Johnny “Christ” Seward and drummer Brooks Wackerman.
“We just felt like that this package was incredible and we didn’t want to pass up this exciting opportunity to play with one of our favourite bands of all time — some great friends who have been so cool to us over the years. We’re honoured that we were the first consideration for it. So I guess there’s a small sacrifice, but I’m sure not feeling it. I’m having a blast!”
As a result of its slot on Metallica’s Worldwired tour, Avenged fans are only getting a limited taste of the 74-minute The Stage until the band resumes their arena tour in early 2018.
Produced by Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens Of the Stone Age, Coheed and Cambria) the album is perhaps the most realized and adventurous in the Avenged Sevenfold canon, one that musically combines elements of progressive rock, metal and thrash, involves brass, strings and female singers and topically runs the gamut from nanobots (“Paradigm”) and the big bang theory (“Exist”) to the downward spiral of American politics (“God Damn”) and, for those that are skeptical regarding the existence of extraterrestrial life, “Fermi Paradox.”
Some have labelled The Stage as a concept album, but Gates prefers to call it “thematic.”
“There are multiple themes to it and I guess they kind of intertwine in a way, but less of one kind of concept rather than just having a futuristic sort of theme,” says Gates.
“It’s just what we were into. We had read a lot of literature in the past about space and science, and — I can only speak for myself — but things like Entrepreneur Magazine and books that focus on things like quantum computing, AI (artificial intelligence), 3D printing and human longevity and all sorts of different stuff. As you get a little older and start drinking a bit more coffee, you start talking about big-boy things a little more.
“So those topics dominated daily talks while we were trying to gather material for the record.”
Gates calls The Stage “our most polarizing record” and draws a surprising comparison to a Weezer album.
“I kind of equate it to Pinkerton,” says Gates. “I’m a huge Weezer fan, and Pinkerton is just a crazy, crazy neurotic album. But it shows exactly what that band is about in my opinion and with The Stage, this is who we are. I can’t imagine doing anything cooler or better than what we did on The Stage, and felt like we’re firing on all cylinders.”
The album also earns a nod for a guest star on the track “Exist”: astrophysicist and TV host Neil deGrasse Tyson, who delivers a sobering, but hopeful monologue near the end of the 15-plus-minute song.
Gates said he’s not sure if Tyson has heard Avenged Sevenfold’s music.
“I doubt he’s a fan of the band — you never know,” he admits. “But he’s just a really cool guy. He thoroughly enjoys educating people — which is great about him — so a lot of it is altruistic. He’s quite the philanthropist.
“I think the idea that we’re taking this very, very seriously and we’ve done our homework and we’re very passionate about it appealed to him. I don’t think he was prejudiced on the genre of music, he just wanted it to be authentic — and I hope and believe that he felt that it was . . . we were extremely humbled by his presence and the fact that he would take these sloppy, drunken rockers and create a masterpiece of an ending, as far as I’m concerned.”
On a personal note, Gates, whose wife gave birth to his son two months ago, is the brother-in-law of Shadows. But there’s another family connection: Gates’ father, Brian Haner Sr., or Papa Gates, is a guitarist, stand-up comedian and author who has worked with Sam Sham And The Pharaohs, Norman Whitfield and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, and has made cameos on the band’s last six albums.
Did Gates get any music business pointers from his Dad earlier in the band’s career?
“I wouldn’t say that,” says Gates, who joined Avenged Sevenfold at the tail end of 2001. “I always knew that I wanted to be a musician because of him. There is no doubt in my mind that I was going to do what my father did but it wasn’t kind of a family-business thing.
“But I don’t think being in a band is anything anyone can prepare you for. The formative years of the band is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. You can’t believe you spent those years in a van or sometimes s–ttier cars, eating — if you’re lucky — off a dollar a day, and splitting Taco Bell Burritos into three meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner. And that’s on a good day. You run out of money quickly. But we were young, and we stole a lot of beer and a lot of hard alcohol and we got through it.”