Zacky Vengeance & Synyster Gates were interviewed for the January 2017 issue of Guitar World in which they grace the cover. In an excerpt posted, the duel-guitarists talk about how the themes for “The Stage” came about, their thoughts on their overall musical direction for the album, the album’s dynamics, how some of the arrangements and guitar orchestration’s came together, the chord movement in “The Stage,” embracing minor chords and their distinctive use of harmony guitars. Get the issue on newsstands, online, iTunes and Google Play.
What impressed me about “The Stage” was the chord movement. In the verse you move a half step from E minor to Eb Major, and in the chorus you move a half step from E minor to F major. In both cases it’s a small chromatic shift but the effect is huge. The verse is dark and the chorus is uplifting.
VENGEANCE That’s something we started playing around with on our last album, Hail to the King. We got that from listening to the chord progressions of [classical composer] Gustav Holst. On his piece The Planets [a seven-movement orchestral suite], he often floats around the same notes, but makes these slight variations that have a lot of impact. On this album we explored those kinds of chromatic chord progressions quite a bit. It sounds awesome, but trying to find the right melody that fits, or figuring out how to solo over something like that can be difficult, but it usually forces you to find something really fresh and different.
GATES Yeah, on the verse where it pivots between E minor and Eb major, the Eb works in two ways. If you think of the vocal melody as being in B major (the V chord of E minor), when we shift to the Eb major chord, you can use it as a major third to the B major scale or go to a G which is a major third to the Eb major. You get more bang for your buck. You get a weird ethereal sound or can get the traditional minor to fifth major. I can’t say we started off trying to do that, but knowing a little theory allows you to take advantage of something like that—the less apparent route.
Another hallmark of your style is your distinctive use of harmony guitars. Sometimes you use them as lead lines like Iron Maiden or Metallica, but just as often you use them almost like string lines or background keyboard pads. You do both in “The Stage.”
VENGEANCE That’s a great way of looking at it. We absolutely use harmony guitars like strings. I think we sort of do it subconsciously. The entire chorus of “God Damn” sits on top of our harmony guitars that are arranged like strings, but another way of looking at it, we also use them to replace backing vocals.
One of our biggest pet peeves is listening to bands that use harmony guitars for the sake of it. If you can’t figure out how do something different than Maiden, UFO or even Boston, then what’s the point? Our natural tendency is to think in an orchestral way. You want those lines to support the vocals, and we’ve gotten much better at arranging them. In the past, I think our guitars were sometimes too busy and distracting. Although our fans loved it, I’m sure some people thought some of our playing was overkill, like, “Jesus, how much shit can they get in there?” The answer was a lot! We’ve gotten better at editing ourselves.