Avenged Sevenfold have survived a hellish six months since the death of their drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan in December 2009, but their upcoming disc Nightmare was actually 98 percent completed before the 28-year-old fell to an accidental drug overdose. "It's the darkest, the coldest, most numb album I've ever heard, because we went there during the hardest time, basically with tears in our eyes, and recorded the songs our friend had helped write," guitarist Zacky Vengeance tells Rolling Stone. "Having to listen to the demos he played on, we put up a shield. We turned the rest of the world off, marched in there, and went to work. Looking back, I don't even know how we did it."
Nightmare (due July 27th) abandons the Guns n' Roses-inspired party anthems of 2005's City of Evil and 2007's self-titled LP in favor of a bleak and sinister set filled with symphonic elements. Frontman M. Shadows emotes like an ...And Justice For All-era James Hetfield on the tightly produced album's title track and ripping cuts like "Natural Born Killer" and "Save Me." The disc is teeming with solos, guitar squeals and bombastic bass lines. And the drums, which were written by the Rev but executed by Sullivan's idol, Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy, are devastating. The album is a fitting testament to the Rev, who couldn't wait to get back on the road to play the new material live.
"We knew the music was incredible and we were just really excited... maybe too excited," Vengeance says, adding that the band was having an incredible year before Sullivan's death. "Talking about the future and everything and how this album was just going to take over — we learned a lesson real quick that everything can change in a second. The world has a funny way of working."
The band struggled with intense emotions after the Rev died, but Vengeance says he doesn't think there's anything any of the bandmates could have done to prevent Sullivan's sudden passing. "Jimmy was just a magical person," says Vengeance. "He was always the most eccentric, most exciting friend that we ever had. He was the kid in high school that all the other kids dressed up as for Halloween. He really only truly lived for his friends, his family, and all of our fans. As far as warning signs or anything like that, you can never see something like that coming. That guy wasn't meant to grow old. He didn't want responsibility. I don't think it could have been any other way, to be honest."
Portnoy was more than happy to take over the Rev's parts on record, and he'll be touring with the band this summer when they join the RockStar Energy Uproar Tour with Disturbed and Stone Sour. "Mike absolutely delivered on this record," Vengeance says. "We sat there and made sure everything was true to the demos Jimmy played and it came out amazing. I listen to it, and I never for a second don't feel like its not Jimmy on the drums. No one can replace Jimmy, but Mike did what Jimmy would have done on this record, I believe."
Portnoy, of course, can't fill in forever. So what will Avenged do for their next album? According to Vengeance, the thought of finding a full-time replacement hasn't even been a topic of discussion. "We're just taking baby steps at this point," he says. "After Jimmy passed, I learned you have to live in the moment and every day is the only thing that you have. There may be a day where we come across someone we click with, or we could go onstage and it could be too hard to deal with. You just don't know until you're there."