“Let’s get this fucking party started!” yells M Shadows, much to the chagrin of Andrew WK, who was convinced he got the party started on the Zippo Encore stage some hours ago. But he’s no doubt off partying somewhere and there’s certainly a celebratory feel to Avenged Sevenfold’s second Download headline set; these are no fly-by-night hype screamers invading the top slot, but a bunch of hard-bitten Californian sloggers here by dint of a seven-album, seventeen-year mission to be all things to all metalheads.
Opener ‘The Stage’ acts as a recap on how far they’ve come from their metalcore roots to arguably the most pie-fingering rock act on the planet. The title track from their 2016 foray into shape-shifting prog metal, it hints at the twists and turns they’ve taken to get here. Shadows, dressed in the flapping lumberjack shirt and bandana of someone auditioning for the E Street Band or Harry Styles coming out of a ‘what do rockers wear?’ meeting, wails “Jahesaaahs Chraaaayst was born to daayiiiii!” in a voice straddling both Axl and Bruce. Guitarists Synyster Gates (the suave rock sophisticate that Alex Turner might well be modelling himself on) and Zacky Vengeance (who appears to have gotten dressed in the dark in an American flag shop) deliver duelling Aeromsith guitars back to back beneath First World War visuals drawn straight from Metallica’s more poppy-filled backdrops. Even before Gates strolls over to an acoustic guitar that’s set up, proggishly, on its own stand and plucks out some Portugeuse fado twangles and ‘Stairway…’ vibes, Sevenfold feel like a clutch of clichés, but as the nigh-on two hour set progresses they prove themselves a cohesive hotch-potch.
‘Afterlife’ emerges as the missing link between Bring Me The Horizon and Tool. ‘God Damn’ pummels away at the American Dream in a barrage of thrashcore before some golden riffs rise from the wreckage. ‘Higher’ is so Muse they even have an inflatable skeleton in a space suit rise from the stage. Gothic doom metal, full-throated gargle rock and even a bit of meaty REM are tossed together and juggled about in seven-minute chunks of song often held together by little more than a meagre melody verging on the subliminal and descending into sporadic patches of messy sprawl, but the sheer audacity of it carries Sevenfold through.
That and a spot of unifying emotion: ‘So Far Away’ is a tribute to their late drummer Jimmy ‘The Rev’ Sullivan who died of a prescription drug and alcohol overdose in 2009, complete with touching footage of his time with the band and a stuttering interview with him about Sevenfold being a family. Later, arousing cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ is dedicated to Anthony Bourdain, Shadows entreating troubled fans to “reach out, we all feel the same way”. Even the Jason Voorhees nearby must feel a tear or two dribbling down the inside of his hockey mask.
“We’re gonna have a bit of fun now,” Shadows announces at the closing doom chimes of the Sabbath-esque ‘Shepherd Of Fire’, “no more songs about the devil, how about a song about necrophilia.” Um, okay. “A song about a man and a woman who got married and he killed her, ripped her head off and stabbed her fifty times.” Okaaaaay. Turns out that ‘A Little Piece Of Heaven’ is the finest example tonight of Sevenfold’s genre-mashing potential, rolling surf pop, goth, hardcore, a freaky Cossack bit and an anthemic Beatledelic chorus into one surprisingly huggable whole. They might be the sound of a Downloader’s iTunes corrupting, but in a world of furrow ploughers, vengeance will be theirs.