When Zacky Vengeance grins, the punks get pissed.
"I recently purchased fronts for my teeth made out of gold, so when I open my mouth, it looks like a gangsta rapper's smile," the Avenged Sevenfold guitarist says from a tour stop in San Antonio. "And some kids just hate it. You see it on message boards, 'I can't believe it. What are they thinking?' We're thinking we can do whatever we want. Fuck, if gangsta rappers can do it, we can do it too."
What's the big deal about a dude's teeth? Nothing really, but in punk-rock circles, such ostentation can raise hackles. This seems a little counterintuitive, considering that from the get-go the genre has boasted such image-centric bands as the Sex Pistols, the Misfits, and the Damned. And nowadays, groups like My Chemical Romance and A.F.I. dollop on the eyeliner and dress like rebel undertakers in natty black attire.
But all those bands still adhere to something of a punk-rock orthodoxy. Their look may be flashy, but their music is still comfortably within the confines of the genre. And in punk, it's always been OK to look like a rock star, as long as you don't sound like one.
After all, punk began as a means of countering all the pomp and excess of '70s arena rock. It was intended as a more egalitarian form of music. It didn't matter whether you could sing in tune or afford to put on a gaudy stage show. If you had a guitar and something to say, you were in.
But two decades after it began, punk rock became arena rock, when bands like Green Day and the Offspring sold millions of records.
Now, a generation of kids weaned on those bands sees no problem with adopting facets of the punk-rock sound and merging them with a larger-than-life visual presentation.
That's where Avenged Sevenfold comes in. The California quintet looks and acts like Guns N' Roses. The bandmates sport mirrored shades, their arms swarm with tats, and they're eager to regale reporters with stories of wanton drug use and backstage blowjobs from admiring female fans.
Then there's the band's sound, which is a cross between Iron Maiden, Stone Temple Pilots, and Bad Religion: old-school metal solos and soaring choruses, delivered at a breakneck pace.
All this is especially novel, when you consider that metal and punk were once mortal enemies. If you showed up with long hair at a Suicidal Tendencies show in 1984, you risked getting your ass kicked. Yet Avenged Sevenfold is mostly oblivious to distinctions between the two scenes.
"I've read in old Metallica interviews that punk bands and metal bands hated each other, but we're young enough where we kind of bypassed that," Vengeance says. "I think it has a lot to do with where we're from. Being from Orange County, there's a ton of punk bands that started out there, like the Vandals, Social Distortion, and Bad Religion. We always were really involved in going to those kinds of shows. We really didn't know any better. We just wanted to get on any show we could. I mean, there was a time when we were opening for bands like Tsunami Bomb, a female-fronted pop-punk band."
Initially, Avenged Sevenfold rose to prominence through the punk ranks. It first signed with Hopeless Records -- a punk label best known for bands like the Queers and Against All Authority -- and it has played the Warped Tour several times. The band received a rapturous reception on the tour this past summer, when scads of punk kids played air guitar and headbanged for the first time.
But just as Avenged Sevenfold began cementing its standing in punk circles, the group went and alienated some members of that scene again. Its latest, City of Evil, avoids the screamo vocals that were once a band trademark. The sound is still a hard-charging onslaught of aggression, with songs about willfully burning in hell and an album cover depicting an angry ghoul brandishing a broadsword. But there are no bloodcurdling howls -- a ballsy move, when you consider how big metalcore has gotten and remember that Avenged Sevenfold was once one of the scene's signature bands.
"You turn on the Headbanger's Ball now, and you see every band taking that and turning it into a big mockery," Vengeance says of the screamo sound. "It's someone doing a shitty scream, then someone singing a chorus, then jumping back to the shitty scream. There's a ton of those bands out there now. We didn't want to be a part of that. We wanted to go off and do our own thing."
More than anything else, doing your own thing is what punk rock has always been about. It's ironic that punk kids sometimes give Avenged Sevenfold flak for eschewing the scene's protocols, since the genre was once defined by a disregard for rules. Besides, in a scene that's posited on inclusion, shouldn't dudes in Pantera T-shirts be invited to the party too? Avenged Sevenfold seems to think so, and it's bringing a Pantera-style stage show to prove it.
"There's so many bands out there today that are just really fucking boring," Vengeance says, shrugging off criticism of the band's emphasis on aesthetics. "'Oh, the band's putting on a show with fuckin' pyrotechnics and bringing in their own stage. They must think they're rock stars or something.'
"Well, yeah," he chuckles. "And it's fuckin' awesome."
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