AVATARIUM – The Girl With The Raven Mask

Avatarium - The Girl With The Raven MaskLeif Edling has always – as long as I have had the pleasure knowing him, anyway – been a really sweet guy. Down to earth, humorous and not at all doomy and gloomy. But I have never been a Candlemass fan. I have big issues with their former singer Messiah Marcolin’s voice and the songs are just too damn doom, slow, dark and depressive. There is that one album, Chapter VI (1992), that featured ex-Talk Of The Town and today’s Therion singer Thomas Vikström, that I really dig. And there are some songs from the records that featured American singer Robert Lowe (how about that? Candlemass has had a Rob Lowe as a singer…) that I find really good. In later years, Mats Levén (Swedish Erotica, Treat, Yngwie Malmsteen, Krux) has been singing with the band on tour and with him in the band, new life has been given the songs. Well, the reason I’m bringing this up is that Avatarium started out as Leif Edling’s new side project and since I never was a fan of Candlemass and Edling’s solo material (well, Abstrakt Algebra’s debut album was really good and there’s stuff on the Krux records that I really enjoy), it took some time before I bothered to check out Avatarium’s self-titled debut album from 2013 (reviewed here). I just wasn’t interested enough, but when I finally decided to give it a shot, I was pissed off at myself for not checking it out right away. The album – that also featured guitarist Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, Royal Hunt, Jekyll & Hyde), Jidell’s singing wife Jennie-Ann Smith, Tiamat drummer Lars Sköld and keyboard player Carl Westholm (Krux)) – was one of the biggest positive musical surprises in my entire life. I will stick my neck out here and tell you all that that record is nothing less than a masterpiece and if you haven’t heard it yet, then for God’s sake do so now! Sure, it’s still very much doom, but with Jennie-Ann Smith’s beautiful, clear and very powerful voice, the bigger picture becomes more varied and nuanced. Also, the melodies is impossible not to surrender to and when you think of just how narrow this music is, everything is still very memorable and even catchy at times. There’s also a groove in there that really shook me up. Needless to say, when this project turned band now releases the follow-up to the fantastic debut, there are Mount Everest high expectations on it. See, if this album just turns out to be good, it will look like a failure – that’s how great the debut was. So, Avatarium sure had some pressure on their shoulders to come up with the goods for a second time. Good songs won’t cut it, they have to be at least great and that’s not a small thing to accomplish.

The album kicks off with the title track, an upbeat hard rocker, heavy and dark but not as doomy as I had expected. The melody is very distinct and it sticks immediately. It’s a brilliant track with Smith’s magnificent voice all over it. This album couldn’t have started better. The following track “The January Sea” is so magnificent I feel like crying. It’s heavy and doomy, but some parts are almost ballad-like and there is a melody here that reminds me a bit of Therion. The verses are a mix of Edling’s dark rhythms, Black Sabbath and even Bigelf. Yeah, baby! “Pearls And Coffins” is amazing. It’s a slow and heavy ballad with a touch of 60’s rock. The Hammond gives character to the song as well. Three songs in and I’m completely seduced. “Hypnotized” is another tune with some unexpected and unpredictable elements. It’s almost progressive with some psychedelic arrangements and Black Sabbath mixed with 70’s pop-rock – brilliant! “Ghostlight” is epic and a strike of genius. It’s heavy, dark, spooky and makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a horror movie. I hear some 70’s Alice Cooper vibes, mixed with Black Sabbath. Candlemass are also present here and Jidell’s awesome guitar solo has a pretty big Ritchie Blackmore-influence. “Run Killer Run” is more hard rock than heavy metal. It’s uptempo, has some catchy riffs and it reminds me of early Dio in some ways, but with Edling’s characteristic sounds, riffs and arrangements. Love it! “Iron Mule” reminds me of “Bird Of Prey” from the debut album a bit, but this song has some ballad-like parts, but it is always heavy and the brilliant melodies are really catchy. The last song is called “The Master Thief”, an unpredictable tune with a jazz influence and some spacey sounding stuff that makes me think of The Doors. The song is dark and heavy, it’s dramatic and almost cinematic, like it was written for a movie. An amazing song that makes me want to hear more. So, all I had to do was to look out for the version with the bonus track on it. The bonus track is called “In My Time Of Dying” and is a real killer and it should not have been reduced to a bonus track. It’s a heavy blues oriented track where the distorted guitars makes me think of MC5. It’s slow and emotional and breaks some of the mold a bit.

Yes, Avatarium has made it once again. And they made it without repeating themselves and making their debut all over again. On their second effort, the band has kept their sound, but they haven’t been afraid to add whatever they thought could better each tune. Avatarium are as heavy and dark as Candlemass, but with Jennie-Ann Smith melodic, clear, powerful and seductive vocals – think a female Ronnie James Dio with some Ann Wilson (Heart) thrown in – and Marcus Jidell’s catchy, yet heavy and muscular, yet melodic and sensitive guitar playing, makes the whole sound more accessible without being easy or light. The dynamics of this records also makes this album sound more like a band than a project where all the musicians have a big part in the making of the Avatarium sound. With Candlemass on their way to slowly lay their business down – they still tour and a 30th anniversary mini-album on its way and then, I guess, another tour to follow it – Leif Edling just might have another big thing to follow it up, because I truly believe with all of my heart that Avatarium can be just about as big as they want to be. I’m floored once again by another masterpiece. Thanks, guys.

10/10

Tracklist:

1. Girl With The Raven Mask
2. The January Sea
3. Pearls And Coffins
4. Hypnotized
5. Ghostlight
6. Run Killer Run
7. Iron Mule
8. The Master Thief
9. In My Time Of Dying (Bonus track)

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