Avenged Sevenfold’s Zacky Vengeance caught up with NME backstage at Download 2024, and recalled how the band were hoping to draw mixed fan responses from their latest album, ‘Life Is But A Dream…’.

The guitarist spoke to us shortly before closing out this year’s edition of the Donington Park festival with a mammoth headline slot on the Apex Stage – a decade after they first headlined the ironic rock festival.

Having arrived back in June last year, ‘Life Is But A Dream…’ signalled a stark shift from the sound that first established them as one of the most integral metal acts of the ‘00s. The shred-heavy, metalcore aspects that once defined their sound were placed to one side, as a more experimental, avant-garde approach was introduced – incorporating elements of EDM and hip-hop, and undoubtedly marking a new era for the five-piece.

Unsurprisingly, the shift was quick to divide fans. However, the band insist this was the exact reaction they were hoping for.

“There was a point in our career where we had a bit of an identity crisis because people were saying ‘You’re gonna be the next Metallica if you stay on this path’, and a lot of people had opinions on what we would be doing,” Vengeance told us before taking to the stage on Sunday night (June 16). “That didn’t sit well with any of us, so taking five years off to really look inside ourselves, work out what we want to accomplish and be willing to risk everything was the most liberating thing.

He continued: “It was never a question in our mind if people were to like it, because we liked it. At the time, some people didn’t understand [our earlier albums] either. To be ahead of the game, you’ve got to be willing to let people catch up to you. And with this one, I think we set out to do what we wanted to.”

Speaking to NME, the guitarist also opened up about the band’s refusal to become a nostalgia act, giving back to their fans, and plans to celebrate the anniversaries of two of their biggest albums.

 Zacky Vengeance, Johnny Christ, M. Shadows, and Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold perform in 2024
Zacky Vengeance, Johnny Christ, M. Shadows, and Synyster Gates of Avenged Sevenfold perform in 2024. CREDIT: Jeremychanphotography/Getty Images)

NME: Hi Zacky, what’s it like to be back here at Download?

Zacky Vengeance: “Honestly, it just feels good to be here after so many years because when you’re home and working on an album that isn’t finished, you have a lot of ‘what ifs’ in regards to how the future looks. We don’t operate on a schedule. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. So the fact that we’re here now feels really good. But until we hit that last note on stage, it’s not gonna feel completely great because there’s a lot of nerves involved. We’re still humans! Definitely happy to be here though.”

It’s been a year now since ‘Life Is But A Dream..’ came out. What’s the response been like? 

“It has been an amazing response, but probably not for the reasons that bands would typically say. It has been the exact response that we set out to achieve which is to be polarising and create something that a lot of people didn’t know that they wanted. For us, that makes the best art because people expect a certain thing from the bands they like. But for us it was about creating something that they don’t know that they need in their lives… and honestly that pisses some people off too! But we’ve always been that way. We’ve always done that.

“At this point in our life, to come back at it being a little bit older and still be able to achieve that, it’s been awesome. It hasn’t been for everyone and some people have said it’s the worst album they’ve ever heard, but also some have said it changed their life. If you’re just running through the motions, then I don’t think you’re succeeding as an artist.”

Surely it’s nerve-racking releasing music that some fans won’t appreciate at first?

“I’m a nervous person by nature. I’m pretty reserved, but when I go on stage I’m a different person. When I’m faced with people’s opinions about me and my bandmates or what we do, I have a shield of armour so nothing fazes me. So if people say, ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever heard’ or ‘They’re on their way out’ or ‘Avenged Sucks, they used to be cool’, I kind of feed off it. It’s like energy for me, and the rest of my band is the same way, like ‘How far can we push this? How far are we willing to explore this creation that we started when we were kids?’

“The easy route would be writing songs similar to our most-played hits, or the ones that go over the best at festivals. But, truthfully, I think that’s just career suicide. We want to have fun, make new memories for people, give them an experience to remember for the rest of their lives and maybe even change their whole perspective.”

Next year is the 20th anniversary of ‘City of Evil’, and also the 15th anniversary of ‘Nightmare’. Are there any plans to celebrate those milestones?

“Absolutely. I think those albums are really monumental and fans have grown with them. They’ve meant a certain thing to people at a certain place in their life, so I think it’s important that we do something.

“I never want to be a nostalgia act. I’ve always wanted to be as proud of whatever we put out today as I was when we put out those albums, but I’m totally cool with celebrating those albums because it was such a great place and time. Plus it’s actually fun to relive and play those songs and get those reactions. To bank our entire career off past successes, we can’t do it, but we’ll definitely do something to celebrate those albums though. For us, the most exciting thing about looking back is recalling where our heads were at when we were young and writing them. Remembering that they’re part of who we are.”

Avenged Sevenfold at Download Festival 2024
Avenged Sevenfold at Download Festival 2024. CREDIT: Andrew Whitton

Do you see the albums differently now compared to when you first released them? 

“Absolutely. Because as a humans, we grow and have so much life experience between here and when we wrote those albums. We had no idea what we were doing or how to achieve that vision we had. We just threw everything that we had at it and wanted to be the craziest thing that a major label had ever signed. It was literally ‘Well, let’s take every influence that we’ve ever had, write some long crazy songs, do as many solos as we can and put in as many lyrics as we can’. And people dug it!

“So it’s kind of funny, looking back, we can still appreciate it but it’s also like ‘What were we thinking?’ I hope we can do the same in a few years when we look back at ‘Life Is But A Dream..’.”

Avenged Sevenfold were one of the first bands to utilise NFTs and use technology like that to bring their fanbase closer. Why is it important for you to continue to do that?

“It came after spending an entire career depending on record labels and radio and watching all these things come and go and fail. We didn’t want to live and die by someone else’s sword – like, we have true fans and we need to connect with them in our own way. The technology emerged and a light bulb went off collectively in all of our heads. We’ve had to dodge arrows from everyone because of it. People saying it’s a cash grab or that it’s stupid, but we actually have a real connection with our fans and it allows them to reap some rewards.

“We have probably the coolest fan club through the Deathbats Club, and they have complete ownership of it. If ever they want to sell it to somebody else because it doesn’t suit them anymore, they can. They can get early access to concerts, join us at exclusive parties, get free tattoos. It’s just a way that we can instantly connect to them. So companies steal your information and use it for themselves to sell ads to you, but we’re asking you to volunteer your information as a fan so we can reward you for being a fan.”

Avenged Sevenfold have further tour dates across Europe – find remaining tickets here. You can also find out more about the Deathbats Club here.

The post Avenged Sevenfold on dividing fans: “Being willing to risk everything is the most liberating thing” appeared first on NME.