In the past, Avenged Sevenfold's meathead simplicity pretty much excused all its bad behavior and even worse musical choices. It was as if the five members picked up, pored over, and then appropriated the Metal Band Rule Book before they learned even a single guitar chord. But that's what California metal is all about: Look good first, hone chops later. On its new self-titled opus (a sure sign these guys want to be taken seriously as artists), A7X not only produces itself, it also hauls everything from a string section to a children's choir into the studio to help secure its vision. And while the results can be muddled, overcooked, and just plain clunky, you gotta hand it to anyone who has the balls to unleash an eight-minute song called "A Little Piece of Heaven" that includes ethnic horns, Orange County ska-punk, and a flapper-era dance groove — all before the chorus even kicks in.