Often erroneously lumped into softer, newer corners of the heavy music world, California's Avenged Sevenfold are much more influenced by the old school metal of Judas Priest and Thin Lizzy than some realize. And that was on display Saturday night at the American Airlines Center as the band (plus a couple of outstanding warm-up acts) delighted an arena full of fist pumping, black-clad metal heads.
First up was Sweden's Ghost BC, a satanic outfit who actually put on a hell of a show. Dressed up like a zombified Pontiff, lead moaner Papa Emeritus II roams the stage with demented glee.
And while it might be tempting to dismiss Ghost BC as mere sideshow, the songs are anything but a joke. Mixing in an interesting psychedelic pop influence, songs like "Monstrance Clock" and "Ritual" were diverse and devastating. The band's over the top devilry seemed to thrill folks in the mosh pit, but others in the crowd mumbled with dissatisfaction. Seems some higher power must have agreed as during the last song from Ghost BC, the sound inexplicably went dead.
Next up were Deftones, one of the elder statesmen of alternative metal. Performing a tight eleven song set that spanned the band's 25 year career, Chino Moreno and crew were on their game. Songs like "My Own Summer" and "Change (In the House of Flies)" were enthusiastically received by a sprawling mosh pit complete with female body surfers. Seeing Deftones in action certainly makes one understand the band's longevity. Indeed, the band's onstage energy was that of band making its first tour.
Finally, at a little past 9 p.m., Avenged Sevenfold hit the stage. With a massive, medieval-castle-on- fire backdrop, the band started off with a roar, performing "Shepherd of Fire" followed by "Critical Acclaim."
Guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance displayed the same kind of in unison fire power of Judas Priest's K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton. Indeed, on "Nightmare," one of Avenged Sevenfold's best songs, the interlocking guitar play was very reminiscent of early Judas Priest.
Throughout the evening, singer M. Shadows engaged the crowd as his bandmates set an unmerciful pace. During a rousing take on "This Means War," it looked as if Shadows' head as well as the top of the AAC was going to explode. When the singer told the crowd that he loved Texas so much, he and the band thought of the state as their second home, it sounded like a sincere expression as opposed to the typical, "Thank you (place city name here)."
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Avenged Sevenfold is simply one of the best bands in America, metal or otherwise. The band's music is layered and intense, free of pretense and full of genuine emotion. When Shadows dedicated "Fiction" to the late James Owen Sullivan (aka The Rev), the vibe in the building was celebratory instead of depressing.
Interestingly, when Shadows acknowledged the two supporting acts, many boos were audible at the mention of Ghost BC. Seems it's OK to throw down the f-bomb, but not any references to the devil, at least not in the bible belt.
In the end, however, area metal heads got everything they could have wanted from a trio of bands that show the range and power of first class heavy metal.