Release Date: January 12, 2018
Label: Entertainment One, Century Media Records
Producer: Jay Ruston
Personnel: Johannes Eckerström (lead vocals), Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby (guitars), Tim Öhrström (guitars, backing vocals), Henrik Sandelin (bass, backing vocals), John Alfredsson (drums)
There are numerous bands that Ethan and I have reviewed on this blog that are straight-laced, serious heavy metal bands. They don’t screw around. They just pound your bones to dust (or spit them out) with their music. The Swedish, avant garde metal band Avatar is not one of these bands.
Avatar utilizes over the top and ridiculous story telling in their lyrics melded with accessible heavy metal. In fact, some of Avatar Country may ooze into the pop rock realm. Long gone are the early, death metal days of the band. Avatar seems to have honed in on their music-making craft, and is aiming to catch a broader audience.
Avatar Country is a concept album that is more upfront of what it’s about than perhaps some of Mastodon’s concept albums from their early days. For Mastodon’s works like Remission, Leviathan, and Blood Mountain, it is almost necessary to listen to each album in its entirety in order to capture the essence of the story being told, which makes it difficult to just grab a song here or there to quickly get your fix. Patience is necessary to listen to Mastodon’s early concept albums, and while Avatar’s Avatar Country is a concept album, I’ve found that it’s splintered into different genres of music that makes for easy listening. Rock, pop rock, country, and metal are all present in Avatar Country.
The story told on Avatar Country is a ridiculous, yet intriguing story of a king, whose origins are unknown, and catalogues his deliverance of the people of what we now know as Avatar Country. Where there was silence, he brings sound. Where there was no home, he creates one. Where the people were once born into starvation, they no longer want for anything in this utopian environment created by their savior, the king. No one knows how long the king has been around, since he just appeared unto the people and declared himself king one day. We do know; however, that he has been around for as long as visual art has been preserved, as we see his images on display for all to see. As I said, Avatar tells a ridiculous, yet intriguing story on Avatar Country, but the album wouldn’t be worth my time if the vocals and music telling it weren’t any good.
Thankfully, Avatar Country was worth my time, and impressed me with its variety and musical direction. “Glory to Our King”, the album’s opener, is a choir-like ode that pays homage to the king and showcases all singers in the band in harmony while setting the stage for “Legend of the King”, my favorite track. “Legend of the King” could have passed for three or four separate songs, with a runtime of eight minutes, and has many different movements within it. Early guitar portions of the song reminded me of early day Saxon’s “Frozen Rainbow”, until vocalist Eckerström channeled his inner Corey Taylor with his growling vocals. The song’s eight minutes quickly go by with the help of the song’s strong guitar riffs, vocals, and musical variety, and I’m sure it’s a load of fun at their live performances.
Image via Blabbermouth
“The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country” contains the more country sound that I alluded to, and is a lot of fun while it displays Eckerström’s vocal diversity. He begins sounding a lot like Brian Johnson, and had me wondering if multiple singers were singing lead parts on different songs, but it was always Eckerström’s pipes I was hearing. He is an incredible talent. Breaking away from old school heavy metal and oddly enough, country, “King’s Harvest” continues our story with heavy metal and growling vocals for the verses and clean vocals for the choruses. Diversity is a key theme throughout the album.
Being one of the band’s music videos that can be found on their YouTube page, “The King Wants You” is what I would consider more pop rock than anything else. It has an uplifting guitar riff throughout and upbeat drums in accompaniment to the incredibly high vocals. Unlike the song, the music video is corny, but good, and I think you’ll find it to be amusing.
Everything up to this point in the story makes sense. We’ve praised the king; we’ve heard of his legend, and he welcomes all to Avatar Country while he encourages us to fight in his army, but then we learn of the royal enema that the king has received to relieve him of his constipation. Say what? “The King Speaks” is a speech given by the king detailing his former struggles with constipation, and now that he’s been relieved and has even taken a bath, everyone can be productive again. There’s no music on “The King Speaks”, and honestly should have been left out, but it was hilarity at its finest. Thankfully, that was the only speech we had to endure from the king.
The album begins its end strongly with more modern sounding metal in “A Statue of the King” and “King after King”, while ultimately closing with two instrumentals – parts one and two of “Silent Songs of the King.”
Not without its flaws, Avatar Country was a welcome surprise to me considering I’d not heard Avatar’s work before. For their live performances, the band members paint their faces and dress up similar to clowns and put on what could be called a circus act. By all accounts, they back up their theatrics with stellar music, and Avatar Country affirms that. There’s no question in my mind that Avatar is a musically gifted and creative band that should continue producing excellent albums for years to come.
I’m going to give Avatar Country an 82%.
We’re planning on seeing Avatar this spring, so maybe we’ll do a write up on their live performance. I hear they’re a hoot!