I do like a bit of Avenged Sevenfold, so when Sentinel Daily Editor Scott Adams dropped a little hint that I might like to make a trek from Wales to have a night out in London in their company I didn’t need much persuading, even if Mrs Strickmann wasn’t so keen. He even said he’d cover my expenses!

That last sentence was a joke, by the way, although I did manage to blag my way into quite a good seat in London’s cavernous O2 Arena. The key is to wait until not long before the headline band is due on – I got a seat off of an exasperated Cockney who couldn’t get rid of his spare for less than half the face value so here I am, and here they are, launching into The Stage, and we’re off!

Ten minutes later they are still playing the damn thing; It’s a testament to how far the band has come, and how confident they are that they don’t start proceedings with something more immediate from their back catalogue like Enter– sorry, Shepherd of Fire, but the band can simply do no wrong at this point and every punter in the building roars when the song starts and doesn’t finish until it ends. M. Shadows appears to be in good mood and better voice, drummer Brooks Wackerman is apparently in the mood to hammer the living crap out of his kit and guitarists Synyster Gates and Zacky Vengeance play some nice harmony leads all over the shop, leaving bassist Johnny Christ as the only man onstage yet to really make a play for our attention. Maybe it’s his brooding persona?

Anyway Afterlife is absolutely titanic and, after Shadows butters us up by telling he was told London audiences would suck but we don’t suck at all it’s into Hail to the King, Shadows conducting the mass choir because there’s no point him singing the choruses ‘cos the noise from the floor is just too damn much for him to compete with. It’s great to see and hear, and magnificent to note that there’s still a massive audience for this sort of catchy stadium metal despite what some naysayers might have you believe. Gates plays a great, Randy Rhoads-inspired solo at the edge of the huge runway that extends deep into the audience, and frankly we could be somewhere in the early eighties in America watching Ozzy take another enormodome by storm. It’s quite breathtaking in it’s way.

Paradigm is a bit muddy, a bit bass heavy where I’m sitting and therefore a bit less enjoyable, though Shadows’ strong vocal cuts through on the quicker, snare-reliant chorus; Best to pass the rest of this song hoping the mix sorts itself out and following events on the seven huge screens that fill the stage back above Wackerman’s head.

An increasingly-ebullient Shadows stops proceeding for a chat and to throw some water to the front-row needy, before telling us the band plans to play some material from very early on in the band’s career. I’m not that fussed by this news, if I’m honest but several souls nearby visibly brighten as the band slips through To End the Rapture from the band’s debut and Chapter Four from 2003’s Waking the Fallen. The former was only an album intro anyway, but the latter is great, exploding on the wings of Maidenesque guitar harmonies before Shadows commanding vocals hit the highs again. He really is a great singer – surprisingly powerful live, and an engaging frontman. But he’s second fiddle again now, Gates and Vengeance pulling their best Smith and Murray tricks outta the kitbag with rabble rousing results.

Everyone gets a bit of a breather with the extended jazz-guitar tones of the intro to Buried Alive drifting out across the arena, but the audience is still so hyped most of the nuance is lost on them – they’ve come to rock, dammit, and though they chant along with the Hammettesque picking you know they just want to let rip again.

Actually Buried Alive is more Pantera via Metallica, but who’s counting when that big wall-shaking riff hits home and we’re all banging our heads or punching the air again? No-one. That’s who. Avenged Sevenfold in the live arena are beyond – possibly far beyond – carping about ‘influence’ or ‘copying’. They provide the ballast for a bloody great night out – and isn’t that what the best heavy metal is all about?

Certainly at this point in the evening in London you’d be hard pressed to find anyone to disagree with that statement, especially when the harmony guitars explode into the stratospheric upper reaches of the arena and every man, woman and child in the place goes along with them, clutching the coattails of the savage rifferama likes it’s the last train outta hell, aural salvation from the daily humdrum. This is music as an arena-sized contact sport, and you can feel the vital essences being sucked out of those near you and deposited on your head in a fine, fine mist. It’s inclusivity at it’s basest, but most glorious level. Gut-wrenchingly primal yes, but more importantly, fun, Fun, FUN!!

Momentum drops during Angels and the ensuing drum solo, but that’s not a bad thing in the context of a night that seemed on a personal level to be spiralling out of control and provides an opportunity to take onboard some much-needed fluid – although not too much at the extortionate prices being charge at the bar…

Still, a break’s a break and the second half of the evening’s festivities kicks off in breakneck style with a ripping reading of Nightmare, the band locking down and rocking out in ruthless, panzer-division style. The sound’s a bit iffy again in our section, but frankly it’s too late to care now. Notebook safely tucked in the back pocket of the jeans, it’s time to shift some dandruff.

The band are cruising at high velocity now – little false endings thrown in for one another’s enjoyment to show just how in control they are, Shadows proving they ain’t just an inhuman riff machine with some more chirpy crowd interaction before joining with his troops to absolutely raise the roof with an insanely heavy Almost Easy. And damn my ears if the band don’t almost nail all of the gorgeous harmonies on the chorus too! Heaviness, lightness of touch, songwriting smarts – they’re all on display here and the crowd absolutely love it, taking their levels of adulation to new levels as the song ends.

Sunny Disposition takes its cues from a Dead Kennedys song – Holiday in Cambodia? I don’t know, and Sentinel Daily’s prince of punks Micky Stronge isn’t here to tell me yea or neigh – and gets the moshers slavering at the front, but it doesn’t quite have the impact or bombast of Almost Heavy and sort of drifts by, in as much as an A7X song can actually drift.

Planets and Acid Rain end the set proper and as I cast a sweat-eyed glance around my immediate neighbours there are a lot of spent souls clutching on to one another for support, succour and celebration, all determined to make their way to and through the encores if it kills them. And when the encores start with a hellacious rip through Bat Country well, we all get that armful of adrenaline we needed to make it through to the finish line.

As we make our shaky, partially-deaf way out of the exits, a young girl embraces here boyfriend in front of me and bellow-whispers into his ear “WHAT AN AMAZING NIGHT!!” and I honestly can’t think of a way to put it better myself. Avenged Sevenfold get a lot of stick from those who condsider themselves the cognoscenti, but on a night like this with quite a few thousand (seventeen thousand, actually) like-minded souls in attendance, the cognoscenti mean nothing. Avenged Sevenfold are, quite simply, the dog’s bollocks.