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— by Corey Moss

Of all the 2005 success stories, the most out-of-left-field just might be Avenged Sevenfold. After building a reputation as one of the hottest bands in the burgeoning metalcore scene, the Orange County, California, fivesome was snatched up by Warner Bros., only to alter its sound to a more classic-metal, singing-heavy style. Bolstered by the release of City of Evil in June and a slot on the Warped Tour's main stage, the move immediately resulted in a vastly expanding audience, but not even the band saw what would come next. With the "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"-inspired song and video "Bat Country," Avenged Sevenfold not only hit rock-radio pay dirt but cracked the seemingly invincible nut that is "TRL" and eventually climbed to the top of the countdown, becoming the most shocking hit on the show since Tom Green mumbled something about his bum. When the band joined Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down and Korn at KROQ's Almost Acoustic Christmas festival last month in Los Angeles, MTV News crashed their dressing room to get singer M. Shadows' take on their unlikely crossover appeal, blatant passion for partying and his Paul Wall-inspired grill.

  "Bat Country"
City of Evil
(Warner Bros.)
MTV: If someone said a year ago that Avenged Sevenfold would have the #1 song on "TRL," I would have fallen over.

M. Shadows: I would've fallen over too. When we even heard that we were being announced on "TRL," I think we were just like, "That's kinda weird." But it was a decision we had to make: Do we wanna go that route and do that? But it's a very tough market to sell CDs and get people to hear you, so we were just excited to be #1. Kids are starting to get it and our fans are supporting us and still voting and not being jerks about it.

MTV: It's interesting that you cull your musical influences from the kind of bands many young people are probably not even aware of.

Shadows: I think classic metal just had a sound to it that had a crossover appeal to young people. Metal nowadays, I think there's a lot of great bands, but those bands don't have crossover appeal. Metalheads are so bitter, they're like, "Why doesn't a super-extreme band have all the success that Avenged Sevenfold is having?" It's 'cause we have that traditional classic sound that bands like Metallica and Megadeth paved the way for a while ago. That sound crosses over and the extreme metal doesn't. When we wrote this record it was because we love classic traditional metal and we just wanted to write a record that came straight from our influences.

MTV: And just as those bands paved the way for you, you guys are doing the same for other bands.

Shadows: Totally. We recently met Metallica, and Rex [Brown] from Pantera came to our shows, and they're just like, "You guys are waving the flag now. Run with it and be proud." And those are the biggest compliments in the world, hearing stuff from Metallica and Pantera. Those are our idols, gods among men, and they've all been so supportive. ... When we hear people talking down to us in our own scene, that's just jealousy. But when you hear the big dogs talking to you, it's very, very inspiring.

MTV: You said you had the option of going the classic-metal route, but obviously you thought about the backlash. What was the deciding factor?

Shadows: I had actually talked to a friend, Joel [Madden] from Good Charlotte, and he's like, "The art ends in the studio," and that kind of rang true. He's like, "You make the CD you wanna make, you give it to your label and whatever happens happens. When MTV comes to you and gives you an opportunity like, 'Hey we wanna put you on "TRL," ' it's like just another video show, just go on there and see what happens." And we knew there would be a backlash, but the CD's a CD, it's not gonna change 'cause it got on "TRL," the video's not gonna change 'cause it's on "TRL," the band's not gonna change, there's nothing to change. It's there already, it was made months before this ever happened, so it came to us and it was like, "Let's just do it." There's already a million things going on where kids are stealing music, there's a million bands, so any way you can get it out there and sell some records and get some new fans, [go for it].

  "Burn It Down"
City of Evil
(Warner Bros.)
MTV: Could you share the lyrical history behind "Bat Country"?

Shadows: Well we've had a lot of Hunter S. Thompson [enthusiasts] e-mail us and say they totally hate it. But we go to Vegas all the time and when we go there we party like it's the last day of the world. So we were writing the song and I was like, "Let's just have a desert vibe and let's just write about our own experiences and kind of base it off 'Fear and Loathing,' " and so we did that. And then Hunter died and then we talked to the Gonzo Trust [a group of three trustees who oversee Thompson's estate] and they were super cool about it. They're like, "Yeah, it's cool you guys are doing a song, all you have to do is send us two CDs and you can have our approval to use quotes and stuff from the movie." It just came about because the whole last record was very gothic-feeling and we wanted this record to have a lot of different aspects. There's the Danny Elfman vibe, there's the rock and roll vibe and we wanted to have that desert vibe and we felt "Fear and Loathing" was just the perfect thing. Driving down in 110 degree weather in a convertible Cadillac and you're just going to get screwed out of your mind.

MTV: Speaking of getting screwed out of your mind, you guys don't try to hide the fact that you're a fun, partying band. There's a whole paragraph in your bio devoted to strip clubs.

Shadows: Well, first off, I think a lot of people blow it out of proportion. We just have a good time. We're all best friends, and I don't know anyone that [doesn't party]. I mean I do know people, but all of my friends like to go to the bar, we like to get out of our minds and just have a good time. So when you have a band and we're all like that with all our friends, why separate our real lives with our band lives? It's a 24-hour job now and people walk around and see us and they know what we're all about, they're not gonna be surprised, so we just have a good time. I think [partying] is totally missing in rock and roll, but I don't think every band has to go and do it. I don't want bands to throw out an image — if they don't want to go crazy, don't go crazy. But we're young guys and we like to have a good time.

MTV: Is it safe to call Guns N' Roses your biggest influence?

  Guns N' Roses
"Welcome To The Jungle"
Appetite for Destruction
Shadows: Guns N' Roses is my favorite band of all time. It's funny 'cause we just did a thing for the [Los Angeles Times] and the guy's like, "People compare 'em to Guns N' Roses and Shadows walked out with a GN'R shirt," and he thought that was weird that I would, but the thing is, I'm not ashamed of the bands I love. I love that band. You can compare us all you want — they're a huge reason why I'm even in a band and even write music. My dad gave me Appetite for Destruction when it first came out; he saw [Guns N' Roses] on "Headbanger's Ball," and they're a huge inspiration. Metallica and Megadeth and GN'R, those are bands that I'll never deny loving ... those are bands that kind of made me and made this band kind of what it is. We don't try to be like, "Oh we're becoming a big band, so we're gonna pretend like we don't have any influences."

MTV: Avenged Sevenfold are known for killing it onstage. Was that important to you from the beginning?

Shadows: I think everyone can really play their instruments, so it just comes across like these guys practice all day. Ever since I knew [Avenged drummer] the Rev — which is when we were little kids — he was playing every Slayer song and every Pantera song in his room on the drums. And when you get a band [consisting of people who have] been trained as musicians or just practice their butts off, you're gonna get a band that can play. We wanna go out there and — call us image whores or whatever, but we like to put on a show, we want people to see a big show. We don't wanna go out there and just be like the normal dudes that just walked off the street and just played the show. You're there and you're paying money and that's what we love to do. We love to entertain.

MTV: If you look at your influences and lifestyle, Ozzfest seems like more of a natural fit than Warped Tour. Did you ever have any conflicts on Warped Tour?

Shadows: I don't think there were conflicts. There was definitely tension — this last [Warped Tour] we got on we heard rumors that people thought we had big egos and were stuck-up, but really it was just that mentally, we were just on a level of, "We wanna go out here and dominate every day. We wanna get fans. We have this new record out and we're very proud of it." We had a lot of friends on the [Warped Tour], but there was a lot of bands that didn't like that we have an image, they didn't like that we treat [performing] like a sport. It's like a competition. We wanna go out there and we wanna destroy other bands — not physically, just onstage. [He laughs.] Maybe physically too, but we wanna go out there and that's what we're here to do. Every time we walk onstage, we give ourselves the world-domination sign, like we're trying to be the best band possible and play the best shows possible, 'cause if we don't we're furious at ourselves. And people take that as being like cocky or ego, but really it's just that we take what we do really seriously.

MTV: Not a lot of metal guys have grills. What inspired you to get one?

Shadows: I got mine from Eddie's Gold Teeth in Atlanta. Eddie rules. I had a couple different grills made by people that weren't too good, and we were in Atlanta and I was like, "I'm going to Eddie's, I gotta go to Eddie's." So I went into Eddie's, met some cool people, and his nephew, one of the kids that works there — his name is Junior and he's a big rock and roll fan — we just hung out and I got a grill made. These are my bottoms in right now but I got all my tops, everything done. You gotta look like Flavor Flav if you're gonna be Axl Rose.

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Photo: Brian Appio

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 "Bat Country"
City of Evil
(Warner Bros.)

 "Burn It Down"
City of Evil
(Warner Bros.)

 "Unholy Confessions"
Waking the Fallen