Pick Your Rock and Metal

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Avatar deliver a dark carnival of the apocalypse

IN the mid-20th Century writer Ray Bradbury published the seminal dark fantasy book, Something Wicked This Way Comes, about a carnival of nightmares - a novel only spoiled by its sickly sweet ending. Sweden's Avatar have no such sweet endings on their soon to be released album, Hail To The Apocalypse.

Avatar's dark vision showcases bloodied armies, tortured souls, and a palace of music where doubt sits with sadism and masochism. Laughter? That only comes when you are in on the joke.

A weirdly compelling mélange of metal styles draws listeners in, much as Bradbury's fictional carnival was a draw for the teenage protagonists in his novel.

Add a dash of comedic metal, a dash of melodrama, circus guitar riffs, a drop of black metal and a dash of death metal and you may, just may, get close to what Avatar deliver on this album.

From the furious opener, the eponymous 'Hail To The Apocalypse', the circus elements reign on the hypnotic 'I Don't Know' followed by death metal riffs come fast and furious on 'The Death of Sound'

Johannes Michael Gustaff Eckerstrom performs vocal gymnastics throughout the album but it is Tom Ohrstrom and Kunn's guitars who add the flourishes, the strange combination of styles from straightforward riffing on 'Vulture's Riffing' through the dark melancholia on 'Something In The Way' and 'The Tower'.

Lyrically, behind the mask of the demented ringmaster, Eckerstrom delivers with panache punchy lines that range widely, but all have an inherent darkness that is in itself challenging.

Standout tracks 'Murderer' and 'Tsar Bomba' sum up the experience, with the former's incantations behind metal riffing and dark melodies, and Tsar Bomba's black metal charge only softened by a stunning range of solos that range from the sublime to the plain silly in an enjoyable exercise.

The challenge presented to John Alfresson (drums) and Henrik Sandelin (bass) to keep up with the varied pitches and rhythms inherent on this platter is undoubtedly more than just coming in on '1'; but as both have been with the band since its inception from 2003 they are no doubt used to the weirdness, such as on the funfare that is 'Puppet Show' and the wacky journey on 'Get In Line'.

Last time out Avatar enjoyed success with the release in 2012 of Black Waltz, hitting the Swedish album charts at #25; but as openers for Avenged Sevenfold/Five Finger Death Punch's autumn/winter tour they have gained valuable road chops. They're now beginning the European tour cycle for Hail The Apocalypse, including the June 12th date at Belfast's Oh Yeah Centre.

How they bring to life the over-the-top dynamism of Hail The Apocalypse and Black Waltz to the stage in smaller venues is as intriguing as the lyrics of 'Something In the Way' (one of the lines is: "It's okay to eat fish, because they don't have any feelings...")

What is certain is that Hail...deserves a wide audience, an audience prepared to live with pathos, bathos and belly laughs together with the frowns of concentration just trying to keep up with the madness.

Album closer, The Tower, is perhaps the most 'straight' song on display, with its menacing atmosphere, duplicitous themes and haunting melody building to a traditional heavier mid section and a gradual fade out.

So, raise your drinks, your horns and salute the apocalypse, buy a ticket to the dark carnival and ride the merry-go-round where you may just meet your deathly clone.

Hail The Apocalypse is released on Sony/Gain on May 14th.

The June 12th Belfast date at the Oh Yeah Centre is a Distortion Project show. Tickets, priced at £12 available from Ticketmaster and usual outlets. This is a +14 show, and no alcohol will be on sale (but there are a number of bars nearby for older fans...)

Below is the video for the title track from Hail The Apocalypse...a small taste of the Dark Carnival...

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