Avenged Sevenfold, Deftones and Ghost B.C.
Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City
Oct. 18-19-23, 2013
– Words and Photos by James Villa –
It’s not very often you see the same concert three times in six days and come away with the feeling that the bands involved have covered completely new ground at every stop. That was the thought racing through my mind as I made the boring, uneventful commute back to Dallas from Oklahoma City, as my mini-road trip covering Avenged Sevenfold, the Deftones and Ghost B.C. came to an end. Each stop was an adventure in itself.
My tour started in a Houston suburb known as The Woodland at the outdoor oasis known as the Cynthia Mitchell Woods Pavilion. A steady stream of rain greeted the thousands of hard rock fans that had made the pilgrimage to the facility. It wasn’t going to stop this show from going off as scheduled. At 7 p.m. sharp, Ghost B.C. hit the stage. Since this was my first exposure to the otherworldly Swedish heavy metal band, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.
The 30-minute show started out, like it did in every city, with the Nameless Ghouls silently walking out to their appropriate stations on stage dressed in hooded garments. A triumphant roar from the crowd always greeted them. As the guitars rang out, the bass player performed a pagan style dance on stage as if summoning a darker force power. Right on cue, the apparition known as Papa Emeritus II appeared before the masses, draped in his dark papal attire toting an ornate scepter. This drenched crowd went wild, as would the sold out crowd in Dallas the next evening. As far as Oklahoma City goes, those in the know showed up early.
For all intents and purposes, Ghost B.C. revolves around the specter of its resurrected leader, Papa Emeritus II. This hard rocking Scandinavian outfit – consisting of two talented guitarists, a keyboardist and a solid rhythm sections which backs one of the most enigmatic front men in music today. Anonymity plays a major role in the overall Ghost experience. Band members have not publicly revealed their names or identities since they literally appeared out of nowhere three years ago.
This cloak and dagger approach only works when the music itself is beyond reproach. In this particular situation, it was. As I alluded to earlier, in each city where Ghost B.C. opened the show, they were greeted by enthusiastic crowds that couldn’t get enough of these phantom rockers. The evening’s sermon of seven chapters lasted a little over 25 minutes and included such passages as “Infestissumam”, “Year Zero”, “Ritual” and “Stand by Him”. Time restraints prevented fans from experiencing the entire Ghost B. C. ritual their own headlining tours provides. The band made an indelible impression on those bearing witness to the group’s musical performance. They are that intriguing.
I don’t know if Papa Emeritus II cast a sound spell on the Deftones, but for some reason, they were plagued with a wide variety of sound issues in three stops I attended. The rain in Houston was one thing, and Dallas wasn’t that noticeable, but Oklahoma City the issue couldn’t be ignored. As the opening chords of “Diamond Eyes” filled my willing and accepting ears at the Chesapeake Arena, I was stunned that the persistent problems with mixing continued to plague the band. At first I tried to attribute it to the long and exhausting trip band and crew made from Omaha, Nebraska the night before. But something else was muddying up the sound. You just don’t have the same ‘noise’ follow you from city to city without addressing the source.
That minor annoyance aside, the Deftones have definitely shed whatever musical skins critics tried to peg them with in the early part of their careers to create a musical tour de force that’s capable of anything. The death of fallen comrade, bassist Chi Cheng last year, still weighs heavy on the group, but with Sergio Vega stepping into his shoes, the group is as strong as ever. The band received a hero’s welcome in the Lone Star State, with Oklahoma City paying their respects as well. Their hour long set list was smartly put together despite the head scratching moments.
At one point during the Oklahoma City set for instance, singer Chino Moreno went into a somewhat odd rendition of Vincent Price’s “Thriller” monologue. It was definitely a strange moment. Fortunately, the Deftones onstage energy was enough to overcome the persistent technical issues and any momentary lapse of reason. They did an excellent job covering music from their seven-album discography considering the time restraints. Among the newer tracks performed this evening were “Swerve City”, “Rosemary” and “Poltergeist” as well as the classics, including “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)”, “7 Words” and “Engine No.9” to name a few.
Avenged Sevenfold has a strange way of reinventing themselves with every new album they release. Their new offering, Hail to the King, is no exception. It has been receiving some very harsh criticism in music circles around the country on two fronts. The group’s return to its Zeppelin and Black Sabbath roots watered down the Avenged Sevenfold sound they had previously defined and developed. And second, by taking inspiration from other classic rock bands to incorporate into the music on this album, they did the job too well. In the process of copying the past, they lost their identity along the way.
That said, the audiences I observed could care less about the criticism Hail to the King received. They just loved the band, period. Avenged made sure that their rise to arena headlining status was a memorable one. The audience was greeted by a surreal, larger than life stage that featured a castle like backdrop that would later harbor the specter of a skeleton king.
As the opening notes of “Shepherd of Fire” rang out through the sound system – no problems here by the way – so did the meticulously choreographed pyro display accompanying the song. M Shadows belted out the number accompanied by the blistering twin guitar attack of Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance. The group then launched into a furious metal attack on the subsequent numbers “Critical Acclaim”, “Welcome to the Family”, “Hail to the King” and “Doing Time” setting a well-defined tone for the rest of the night.
A touching moment came when Avenged paid tribute to their fallen comrade, James “The Rev” Sullivan. During the song their former drummer wrote, “Fiction”, photos of his time with the band appeared on stage. His musicianship and songwriting abilities were an integral part of this group’s development new fans should be aware of, and Avenged did their best to keep his memory alive. Kudos to them all!
Following another “Rev” composition, “Afterlife”, Gates and Vengeance conducted blistering guitar solos and dueling jam sessions before ending the night with “Bat Country.” The band would come back to finish up the evening with the encore songs, “Chapter Four” and “Unholy Confessions.”
As I was driving back to Dallas after the final leg of my tour, I realized my priorities had shifted somewhat. Originally, I had intended to pay homage to the Deftones during my three-city excursion. But M Shadows made a statement at the end of the Oklahoma City show that really hit home. “We came here tonight to let everyone know this is a family. Welcome to our family.” With those words, I was officially adopted into the Avenged Sevenfold.