The news that Mr Candlemass, Leif Edling’s side project Avatarium turned into a real band came as great news to me. After the band’s amazing self-titled debut in 2013, I wasn’t sure whether they would keep the band going or it it was just a one-off album and since that record totally floored me right off the bat, I was really happy to hear that they had decided on continuing the band with a new record. I had huge expectations on 2015’s The Girl With The Raven Mask and it’s safe to say that those expectations were met. With the honor. Because that album was just as great as the debut and with that album, Avatarium showed us that this was a real band, a force to be reckoned with and not just another Leif Edling side project. Now, Edling is part of Avatarium only as a song writer and has stepped down as the band’s bass player due to health reasons which makes the new album the first Avatarium record without Edling’s bass playing on it. It needs to be said that Edling was never part of the band as a touring member and live, singer Jennie Ann Smith, guitarist Marcus Jidell (also in Edling’s new project The Doomsday Kingdom, Soen, ex- Royal Hunt, Evergrey, Jekyll & Hide, The Ring), drummer Lars Sköld (Tiamat) and keyboardsman Carl Westholm brought in ex In Flames bass player Anders Iwers. On this album, however, Smith, Jidell and Sköld has brought in new members Mats Rydström (bass) and Rikard Nilsson (organ) to create a more stable line-up for the band – and again, expectations are sky-high. This is also the first Avatarium album where Smith and Jidell has contributed to the song writing. Exciting news indeed.
The album opens with “Into The Fire – Into The Storm” and it actually caught me off guard a bit. The raging Hammond ala Jon Lord bites hard and the tune have a more 70’s progressive vibe, like Opeth meets Uriah Heep with a big groove in a faster pace. It’s not as doomy and gloomy as I had expected but the main melody is very Avatarium recognizable with Jennie Ann Smith’s wonderful voice on top. “The Starless Sleep” takes a bit of a 60’s turn style wise and have this hippie-feel over it. At the same time as it is uplifting and light it also have a dark vibe over it and even if this song moves more towards classic rock than doom it’s not without heaviness at all. The whole tune is very unpredictable and you can’t anticipate where the song will go. The over-all melody and chorus is also damn catchy, but not in a radio-friendly way. Brilliant song.
“Road To Jerusalem” takes yet another turn with a folksy and 70’s proggy vibe but it doesn’t end there. There’s also a quite big swamp-blues influence and a psychedelic twist, big on acoustic guitars and the late 60’s vibe is everywhere. The melodies are really intense and memorable and the minor Middle Eastern flavours bring a really cool twist to the song – pure brilliance! The epic 9-minute “Medusa’s Child” is probably the most comprehensive track on the entire album. It is heavy, dark, doomy and at the same time it has this straight-forward classic hard rock sound. It’s a very melodic track and despite the catchiness the melody has traits of both Mercyful Fate and later day Therion – the latter probably totally unintentional. The classic rock influence is quite prominent as well. The trippy guitar / keyboard jam that ends the song brings The Doors to mind and the ending of the jam takes a The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” meets doom turn. The tune is a masterpiece, folks!
“The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea” is a faster paced heavy rocker that’s not a far cry from what Opeth does today, only more kicking. There’s a Hammond going off over the whole thing that together with the brilliant 70’s hard rock riffing takes a Deep Purple turn and the progressive vibe brings out shitloads of character. The vocal arrangement and the main melody still screams Avatarium – and it doesn’t sound schizophrenic at all. “When Breath Turns To Air” is a slow and heavy blues ballad, dark yet beautiful, heavy yet smooth and emotional. Smith’s voice here is both taciturn, fragile and powerful – amazing. “A Kiss (For The End Of The World)” is slower, heavy and doomy and the distortion jumps at you to beat you up bad and the whole feel of the song is rough and raw. Again, there’s a somewhat trippy feel over the tune but the Sabbath-like heaviness takes over for the most – another bad-ass winner. The final track, which is the title track, is probably the most surprising one. First, it’s an instrumental. Second, it doesn’t sound like anything Avatarium has recorded before. It’s slow, dark, monotone, melancholic and spaced-out. But there’s also a very clear melody that somehow sticks without being that catchy at all – very cool.
When it comes to Avatarium, one thing is clear – like it or not but they will never make the same album twice. Where this album’s predecessor was more of a continuation from the debut – without being repetitive at all – this album is breaking new ground. And then some. While it’s easy to hear that it is an Avatarium album because of some of the arrangements and their very personal melodies, style wise this is quite a big change. There is still both doom and gloom here and there but this record is way more progressive and unpredictable than their previous records. Classic rock, 70’s prog, folk, pop, hard rock and psychedelia takes prominent space here and it marries brilliantly with the heaviness that is always present. It’s a brave move and there will probably show up a few disappointed fans here and there but my guess is that they will make many new friends with this record. Because the songs are so amazingly good and it’s so invigorating with musicians that dares to take chances and refuses to play safe. An unpredictable, exciting and captivating album. Highly recommended!
More Avatarium reviews
1. Into The Fire – Into The Storm
2. The Starless Sleep
3. Road To Jerusalem
4. Medusa Child
5. The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea
6. When Breath Turns To Air
7. A Kiss (From The End Of The World)
8. Hurricanes And Halos