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Avenged Sevenfold + Breaking Benjamin @ Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI

Grand Rapids, Michigan (January 14, 2018) – On a  cold winter night in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Van Andel Arena was the setting for one of the most anticipated tours of early 2018. Metal fans came out in force as Avenged Sevenfold, Breaking Benjamin and Bullet for My Valentine took to the stage for the second stop on the winter edition of A7X’s The Stage World Tour.

On the second stop of their The Stage World Tour, Avenged Sevenfold played to a screaming sold-out crowd at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, MI. With temps hovering in the single-digits and a stiff wind, diehard fans lined up around the venue, frostbite be damned, in anticipation of the triple billed show, featuring Bullet For My Valentine and Breaking Benjamin supporting the headliners.

Opening the night festivities was Bullet for My Valentine, Matthew Tuck (vocals, guitar), Michael Padget (guitar, vocals), Jason James (bass, vocals), and Michael Thomas (drums) who played an abbreviated, high-energy nine-song set. With a high voltage light show and hard driving guitar sound, they put others on notice that this is not just another ‘throw-in’ opening band. These guys are good and a legitimate future headliner whose set shouldn’t be missed!

Next up was Breaking Benjamin, Benjamin Burnley (lead vocals, guitar), Aaron Bruch (bass, vocals), Shaun Foist (drums), Jasen Rauch (guitar), and Keith Wallen (backing vocals, guitar) who, it seemed, created as much buzz amongst the fans as the headliners. This latest iteration of the band, which was originally formed in 1999 by namesake Benjamin Burnley, has remained virtually unchanged since 2014. Although the names have changed, Breaking Benjamin’s signature sound has never deviated much from the metal/alternative origins since the band formed. This trademark sound is primarily due to Burnley being the primary songwriter and overall influence. So when it was time for the stage lights to dim the crowd knew exactly what to expect.

From the opening strains of “So Cold” through fan-favorite number one hit “Diary of Jane” the twelve-song, one-hour long set was consistent and strong. One deviation that the crowd seemed to sense from the beginning was that Breaking Benjamin’s sound tonight was a little harder than the studio version; it was readily apparent during “Never Again” off 2015 LP Dark Before Dawn. The bass seemed to hit deeper and resonate much longer before the signature guitar licks took over. The harder sound seemed to draw the crowd in deeper into the music witnessed by the rhythmic swaying displayed throughout the sold-out arena.

The highlight of the night was when Burnley walked out to the end of the extended stage and confessed to being a “geeky nerd” while displaying a red lightsaber. After doing his best Darth Vader lightsaber duel with the crowd below, the band broke into a metal version of Star Wars “The Imperial March”. If that wasn’t enough to drive the fans into a frenzy, Burnley and the band turned the “Imperial March” into a medley consisting of “Schism” from Tool, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and finally “Walk” by Pantera.

As Breaking Benjamin wrapped up the night with “I Will Not Bow”, ”Phobia (Intro)” and “Diary of Jane” they left a lingering question with their diehard fans. Tonight’s setlist covered tracks off five of their six album releases, only neglecting the 2002 album, Saturate. With their upcoming album Ember finished and currently receiving airplay nationwide, why didn’t they play anything off it? Overall, Breaking Benjamin’s performance tonight was tight and with plenty emotion. The band sounded as good as it ever has and the crowd was appreciative.

The only remaining question left to be answered this night was when are they going to headline their own tour? With Ember ready to be released, that question should be answered in the very near future.

Breaking Benjamin © John Swider
Breaking Benjamin © John Swider
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In 2001, Avenged Sevenfold (A7X) hit the metalcore scene with their debut album, Sounding the Seventh Trumpet, recorded while the band was still in high school. Over the course of their next several albums, their sound evolved, leaning more into a hard rock/heavy metal style with the absence of the screams and growling vocals featured on their freshman endeavor. Their fans, Deathbat Nation, have evolved right along with them earning them RIAA platinum status on 2005‘s City of Evil and their self-titled 2007 release, Avenged Sevenfold, as well as two No. 1’s on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart: Nightmare (2010) and Hail to The King (2013).  The rockers have headlined many of the major metal and hard rock festivals over the years, including 2008’s Taste of Chaos Tour, Rock on the Range in 2009, Rock am Ring/Rock im Park, Uproar Festival and Orion Music + More throughout 2011-12. Their career hasn’t been without its setbacks, however, with the unexpected death of original drummer, The Rev, in 2009 and legal battles with their record label in 2015. These obstacles didn’t hold A7X back though, with “The Stage”, from the album of the same name, earning them their first Grammy nomination in the “Best Rock Song” category. After spending most of 2017 opening for Metallica, A7X launched the US leg of a tour promoting their seventh studio album, The Stage, in Nashville on January 12, 2018.

On this blustery Michigan winter night, vocalist M. Shadows, guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance, bassist Johnny Christ and drummer Brooks Wackerman tore into a killer set proving their ever-evolving style is always a crowd pleaser. As the audience waited for the show to begin colorful images on the massive LCD screens give way to flashes of bright white lights before slowly fading into the band’s eerie Deathbat logo. The rising scream of the crowd was soon overpowered the winding opening riff of “The Stage”, from the band’s most recent album.

Shadows worked the catwalk that extended from the main stage, much to the crowd’s delight, frequently accompanied by Gates and his screaming guitar solos. The LED screens filled with celestial imagery as they launched into “Afterlife” from 2007’s Avenged Sevenfold LP. “Hail to the King” got the fans worked up, with Shadows leading chants of “Hail! Hail! Hail” as the house lights lit up the crowd, backed up by the driving rhythm being kicked out by Wackerman and Christ. The band stormed through “Paradigm”, “Beast and the Harlot” and “Buried Alive” which was highlighted by Gates and Vengeance shredding on the catwalk and fist pumps from the fans as they sang along.

Avenged Sevenfold © John Swider
Avenged Sevenfold © John Swider
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The show was not without its emotional moments, particularly when images of late drummer, The Rev, appeared on the screens during “So Far Away”. As Shadows implored the audience to “appreciate every moment of your lives”, a flickering glow of cellphones and flames filled the venue while he called for “lighters in the sky for those we’ve lost”. The feelings continued as Shadows spoke of a 9-year-old fan named Evan, who missed the show due to a burst appendix, dedicating “Nightmare” to him.

Back to rocking out, they played “God Damn” and “Burn It Down” followed by an abridged version of “Exist” which weighs in at a hefty 15:41 on their latest album. Things took a cosmic turn, with a huge inflatable astronaut rising up and floating over Wackerman’s kit for “Higher”, also from The Stage. Led by Vengeance on acoustic guitar, Shadows then asked if “any of you youngsters know this one?” before leading into a remarkable cover of Pink Floyd ’s “Wish You Were Here”, doing justice to the 43-year-old classic. “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” – a quote originally from English writer Dr. Samuel Johnson filled the LED screens, as the band led into their most commercially successful song, “Bat Country”, from their third album City of Evil to close out the show.

Avenged returned to the stage to a rich organ melody as Shadows screamed: “Do you want some f*cking more?” Wackerman banged out a machine gun like tempo on the drums as the band played “Critical Acclaim”, followed by the fun “A Little Piece of Heaven” with its vampy storyline of murder and cannibalism. The night wrapped up with an energetic rendition of “Unholy Confessions”, a fan favorite from their second album Waking the Fallen: Resurrected.

As this was just the second stop on the tour, there were a few moments where the show didn’t quite flow, letting the crowd get a little restless, but this didn’t take anything away from the experience overall with the fans leaving happy and satisfied. Avenged Sevenfold’s The Stage World Tour continues in the US and Canada through May, followed by a leap over the pond for summer festivals across Europe, including Germany’s Rock am Ring/Rock im Park, Download Festival at Donington Park, Hellfest in France and more.

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