A Look Back on the Life of Avenged Sevenfold Drummer, The Rev

On what would’ve been the Rev’s 40th birthday, find out how the musician rose to fame and why his legacy still lives on.

On this day four decades ago began the life of one of the most renowned and tragic drummers of all time. A staple of any 2000s metal fan, the waves created by The Rev, although brief, resonated with millions across the globe.

Now, on what would have been his 40th birthday, take a look back at the story behind the musician and his impact on the music industry. From his avant-garde, Prog origins to his vital role in Avenged Sevenfold, discover what allowed The Rev to leave his everlasting mark on the rock and metal world.

Born James “Jimmy” Owen Sullivan, it was just a few years into his life that it became clear he was destined for greatness. Whilst now firmly established as a metal drummer, growing up, Sullivan was a child raised on some of the most technically experimental and virtuosic music of the 1970s and 1980s.

Influenced by the more niche and avant-garde artists of the time, Sullivan was taught at a young age to appreciate all genres- with Frank Zappa and King Crimson fast becoming some of his biggest inspirations. Devoted to both Prog and Jazz, it was this style that first inspired The Rev. Beginning learning to play the drums at just ten years of age, he found himself quickly advancing to become one of the top performers of his class within just one year of playing.

Yet, as is the case with most music lovers, it was The Rev’s adolescent years that proved to be the real turning point for the musician. 

Discovering the rapidly-growing metal scene as he hit his teenage years, it was acts such as Slayer, Pantera and Metallica that began to resonate with the drummer- opening him up to a new world of technicality and angst unlike anything else he had heard prior.

Firmly placing his initial influences to one side, the drummer exchanged his mellowed-out style for the showboating flair and charisma of acts including Mötley Crüe and Guns N’ Roses- now developing the unique style and precision that would ultimately catapult him to fame.

Originally the drummer for Suburban Legends, a small-time band of the Third Wave Ska genre, Sullivan, aged just 20, decided to hone in on his passion for metal, forming Avenged Sevenfold with the other founding members, Matt Sanders and Matt Wendt. 

Taking names from the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, the alias of “The Rev” emerged, helping to launch the band into stardom with his drumming, songwriting-abilities and backing vocals.

Now heavily influenced by some of the biggest and most impressive names in metal, The Rev incorporated the playing styles of Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy, Slayer’s Dave Lombardo, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich and Pantera’s Vinnie Paul into his own projects.

It was from these inspirations that he formed what he coined as “The Double Octopus” technique. This is where the drummer set Avenged Sevenfold apart from the masses with his excessive technical ability: able to double up at a fast tempo between double bass and ride cymbals… all whilst showboating to the crowds.

Whilst immersed in his primary project, Avenged Sevenfold, taking the reigns with composing and songwriting tracks including ‘Afterlife’, ‘Almost Easy’, ‘Buried Alive’ and ‘A Little Piece of Heaven’, The Rev also took it upon himself to return to his Avant-Garde origins. 

Venturing back into the obscure and fantastically-obscene starting points, the drummer began his side project with Synyster Gates, Buck Silverspur, Derek Eglit and former Avenged bassist, Justin Meacham, entitled Pinkly Smooth.

Although releasing just one album with the band, Unfortunate Snort, the unique hybrid of American heavy Metal alongside the unorthodox and experimental sound of Mr Bungle allowed the drummer to narrow down his precise and distinctive edge when it came to drumming. 

In fact, it was this distinctive edge that established The Rev as one of the biggest names on the scene, earning him the “Best Drummer” award at the second annual Revolver Golden God Awards and marked him as a fan favourite on Ultimate Guitar’s poll to find the Top Ten Greatest Drummers of All Time– surpassing Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward with his No.8 position.

Yet, despite the widespread critical acclaim and warm reception amongst the metal community, underlying health conditions were becoming more prominent, with his enlarged-heart condition and battles with prescription drugs beginning to take their toll. 

Although warned by the other members of Avenged Sevenfold, The Rev’s gradually increasing dependence on prescription medication and alcohol began to change the drummer, with him reportedly becoming more distant and needing to enter rehab multiple times.

As Christmas Day began to approach in 2009, the drummer delivered what would be a parting gift to each of the band members: a rough recording of a new song for their upcoming album called ‘Fiction’ (originally entitled ‘Death’). 

On the morning of December 28th, The Rev was found unresponsive by his girlfriend, Leana. It was following this that the musician was ruled as having died of an accidental overdose of prescription medication and alcohol- aged just 28 at the time. 

Just over a week later, the musician was laid to rest at a small, private service, with Synyster Gates providing a eulogy to his family and friends. 

Although they initially considered disbanding following his passing, the band decided to persevere and reconstruct their upcoming album from a concept piece, into a homage to The Rev. That following summer, Nightmare was released, featuring ‘Fiction’ and The Rev’s inspiration, Mike Portnoy on the drums.

Reaching the No.1 spot on the US Billboard Charts, Nightmare solidified The Rev’s legacy in the band’s most successful release to date. Although meeting a tragic fate, The Rev continues to inspire generations of future musicians, with his technical precision and unique hybrid of genres continue to provoke awe in drummers across the globe.

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What are your thoughts on The Rev and Avenged Sevenfold? Share your thoughts with us via the comment section!

To read more about Avenged Sevenfold, check out our piece on their album, Nightmare, HERE!

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