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Avenged Sevenfold’s M. Shadows: My 10 Favorite Metal Albums

Singer on classics including Pantera’s ‘Far Beyond Driven’ and At the Gates’ ‘Slaughter of the Soul’

When Rolling Stone began work on our list of the 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time, we reached out to a few big names, like Ozzy Osbourne, Lars Ulrich and Corey Taylor, to find out what their favorite metal albums were. Now that we’ve published the list, we’ve decided to check in with other luminaries in the genre to get their picks.

For nearly two decades, Avenged Sevenfold have played with the limits of heavy metal, injecting the genre with catchy, off-kilter melodies and stretching the form into lengthy concept albums, like 2016’s The Stage. After their auspicious sophomore LP, 2003’s Waking the Fallen, became a surprise Top 10 hit, they refined their sound on the follow-up, 2005’s City of Evil, garnering MTV play for the single “Bat Country,” a platinum record and a slot on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time list. Subsequent LPs have debuted at Number One, and Avenged Sevenfold have made a name for themselves on the road, where they are currently opening for Metallica.

Considering all of this, we hit up the band’s frontman, M. Shadows, to see what metal albums resonated most with him. “When I made this list, I was trying to think of records that really impacted me stylistically, like, ‘Wow, you can do that with heavy metal,'” he tells Rolling Stone. “So I tried to think of those landmark moments in my life when I heard a different sound that sparked something.”

Here’s what he picked, in alphabetical order.

Helloween, ‘Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part II’ (1988)

I heard “I Want Out” at a tattoo shop up in San Jose. I had been going to some record stores up there and picking up Maiden and picking up some different European power-metal things and they were on a compilation. I heard that song and I thought, “There was no way there could be any songs as crisp and clean and cool as this.” I went and bought Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I and II, which came together. and the songs are so well crafted, they could be pop songs. 

Then you got Michael Kiske, who’s probably one of my favorite vocalists of all time because he’s so smooth – it’s so effortless and his range is just unbelievable. It never feels like he’s trying. He’s one of those vocalists, to me, that is just so underrated because people never talk about it. I mean this CD, you couldn’t get it at Best Buy forever. I had to order it. It’s finally on iTunes now. But it’s one of those things where the songwriting is brilliant. It’s super polished. It’s like what Iron Maiden would do if they were doing a more pop version of themselves. 

This record really got me into what was possible on the melodic side of metal. You didn’t always have to be brash or vulnerable like Korn or insane like System. This is like straight-ahead, almost feels like punk rock in terms of some of the tempos. But it’s just super smooth and it’s just amazing songwriting to me.

You can hear this record’s influence on “Beast and the Harlot.” There’s quite a few songs on there that we kind of took ideas from, like, “OK, here’s a great little piano thing where they do a huge chord progression or modulation here. Do that.” It’s one of those records to me that was just a huge staple of my childhood, but when you play it in the car for people, they’re like, “What the hell is this? Who’s this guy singing?” And I always thought that was fun. 

Iron Maiden, ‘The Number of the Beast’ (1982)

The first Maiden record I ever got was Piece of Mind, and I only got it because I thought the artwork was cool and everyone talked about Iron Maiden. But they weren’t necessarily the most popular metal band in America for a 12-year-old kid when I discovered them. They were having more of a downturn with a different singer, but I’d heard about the heyday with Bruce Dickinson. So I picked up Piece of Mind and it was hard for me to wrap my head around how long the songs were, with so many different solos going on. When I went backwards and started buying more records, I found Number of the Beast, and that record is the one that just clicked with me and made me just a lifelong fan. 

It was the songwriting that got me. it was concise, there were so many cool elements, all the dueling guitars. And I had been listening to In Flames and stuff like that, but I had never really heard where they were getting their influence from. 

That record changed everything for me, and I remember bringing it to Brian [Avenged Sevenfold guitarist Synyster Gates] and bringing it to Zach [Avenged guitarist Zacky Vengeance] and then saying, “Man, these dueling guitars are so cool. Listen to what they’re doing here. In Flames does it, but this is different. This just feels different. Like the way they’re incorporating it is so cool.” And I remember that record changed a lot for us. It let us know that it’s OK to have multiple solos in one song, and then just to change gears so quickly. So that was a big influence on Avenge Sevenfold, for sure.

Korn, ‘Korn’ (1994)

At the time, I was getting into heavier music. I’d learned about Pantera from the Rev. But I was driving in my parents’ car, and I heard “Blind” on the radio for the first time and it just reminded me of Phil [Anselmo], because it was like he was singing, but he was still growling. But it just seemed darker and creepier. It just gave me a feeling that I had never had before listening to music. 

I found out it was Korn afterwards, and I talked to everyone I knew about Korn and no one knew who Korn was. So I went to Bionic Records the next day in Huntington Beach to pick up that first Korn record. That was a big moment for me because when I put on that record, I had never heard anything like it. I guess people called it nu-metal or whatever, but it just sounded different to me. It sounded funky. It sounded tortured. It just had all these elements I had never ever heard before. So that record was a huge moment for me.

Jonathan Davis had a vulnerability that Phil didn’t have. Phil was more just “alpha,” very straightforward most of the time. And then you had this Jonathan character who was still doing the scream-singing thing, or he was hitting notes, but he wasn’t just screaming over it, but it just felt very vulnerable. 

Megadeth, ‘Countdown to Extinction’ (1992)

I remember listening to KNAC, and they played “Sweating Bullets.” It was like, you didn’t know what hit you. Like, “What is this? This guy’s narrating this thing over this creepy music.” So I went out and got Countdown to Extinction the next day. 

It’s funny. I kept it in a Pantera sleeve, which had, like, “Fucking Hostile” on it and all these other things on it. And my dad came in, like, “You’re not listening to that. It says ‘Fucking Hostile.'” And I’m like, “No, it’s not. It’s a Megadeth tape. You gotta listen to it.” He’s like, “I’ll listen to it. If there’s any cussing, you’re not listening to it.” “OK, fine.” The next day, my dad comes back and he says, “That record is unbelievable.” And he came back and he started buying Megadeth records. It was that accessible, it was that good, but also Dave Mustaine’s voice was so sinister and the recording sounded so polished and perfect. It just sounded so cool. 

As I got older, I’ve started realizing how unbelievable Marty Friedman was on that record. But then again, it comes down to songwriting and just being a young kid and just saying, “This connects with me. I understand this. I understand this heavy-metal stuff.” That whole era just brought me in. There were so many great songs and great records during that time.

Metallica, ‘Master of Puppets’ (1986)

The Black Album was my real first introduction to Metallica. I was, like, 12 or 13 at the time. We were just getting into music, and I liked that album a lot, but it didn’t necessarily change my life. But when I started picking up all the other Metallica records, Master of Puppets was the one to me that stuck out with its songwriting. I had never heard the thrash element used in that way. I was listening to, like, Divine Intervention by Slayer and some Slayer records at the time, and those records were really good to me, but they didn’t quite take it all the way. Master of Puppets had the songwriting with the thrash element that I had never heard before. 

If I was to play any song for anybody asking, “What is metal about?” I’d just play “Master of Puppets.” The progressions and the bridge are brilliant. How many times have people tried to rip off that bridge where the whole thing breaks down and you go into different keys and try to come back out, but no one can do it as good as that song does it. It’s metal/thrash songwriting 101 all over that thing, and it’s got enough diversity to where it keeps your interest, which is … It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable record. From front to back, it’s just brilliant.

Pantera, ‘Far Beyond Driven’ (1994)

The Rev introduced me to this record. He was a huge Pantera fan. At the time I heard Far Beyond Driven, I was listening more to punk-rock stuff like Bad Religion and NOFXs of the world. When I heard the speed of “Strength Beyond Strength” and then the grooves of “Becoming” and “Five Minutes Alone” and all that stuff, and Dime [Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell], Vinnie’s recording, Phil’s voice, and way he was not just screaming but hitting notes and making melodies out of this pure aggression, I never looked back. 

And I always enjoyed that record more than the previous ones, even though there’s brilliant songs on Cowboys and Vulgar. For me, Far Beyond Driven just had an oomph that kicked it over the edge and just pure aggression. And I always appreciated that. And I always thought it was pretty balls-out, and it’s always been my favorite Pantera record.

The front half of the record has got some huge grooves on it and the back half has some interesting things. I always enjoyed “Slaughtered” best. There’s no melody in that song; it’s just pure aggression. I always loved that song and then “[Hard Lines,] Sunken Cheeks,” I think that solo is probably the greatest solo that Dimebag ever did. That middle solo where it’s in the bridge and it just sounds like he’s underwater and he’s using the feedback the whole time, but he’s hitting all these brilliant notes. But put me down for “Slaughtered” for favorite song.

Queensryche, ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ (1988)

This is one that my dad got me into later. I was talking to my dad about the stuff he grew up listening to, and Operation: Mindcrime is a record that he had always talked about around the house. He always talked about it as the “greatest concept album of all time.” One day, I started listening to it and it just hit me. I was like, “These songs are all hits. They’re all huge songs.”

It’s got this amazing interweaving story, and it was the first time that I was introduced to Geoff Tate, and I thought, “This guy’s an amazing vocalist. His voice is so smooth, and it’s got so many cool textures to it.” I became obsessed with that record. 

I’d put Operation: Mindcrime and [Dream Theater’s] Scenes From a Memory on my list of top metal concept albums. A few rock records have joined it, such as Pink Floyd albums, but for metal, those two records stand up, to me. You could show that to anybody, and anybody that doesn’t like metal will like that record – it’s that good. It’s just awesome.

System of a Down, ‘Toxicity’ (2001)

I’d been going up to San Francisco a lot to get tattooed, and I’d heard the first System of a Down record at the tattoo shop, but it never really stuck with me. But one day I get a call from Brian Haner, who turns out to be [Avenged Sevenfold guitarist] Synyster Gates, and he says, “Dude. I just recorded this song on K-Rock by System of a Down called ‘Chop Suey,'” and he says, “It’s unbelievable.” And when he brought it to my house, it just blew my mind how it can be so melodic and schizophrenic and also intense at the same time. I remember thinking, “Well, there can’t be any songs on this record that are as good as this.” Then we ended up getting the record and you’d hear “Prison Song” and you’d hear all these songs on there and the whole record just blew me away because I’d never heard anything so schizophrenic. Years later, I figured they were huge Mr. Bungle listeners. Mr. Bungle influenced them a lot and they just added a heaviness. They made it a lot more appealing to mass audience. And then they had this Middle Eastern vibe that I had never heard before. So it was a huge turning point for us, just hearing them do that kind of thing with metal and rock infused together was insanity.

M. Shadows, a.k.a. Matthew Charles Sanders, frontman of heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold plays a game with a robot to guess his identity. Watch here.

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