Pick Your Rock and Metal

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

LIVE REVIEW: Avatar...Marmite? Well loved in Belfast

When a band like Avatar comes along they immediately have a polarising effect on the metal world, with approximately half thinking “WTF is this?!” and the other half going “wow, these guys are interesting.

A room full of the latter half gathered in Belfast's Oh Yeah Centre on a chilly Monday night to witness the return of Avatar to Northern Irish shores.

Up first (and running a 'standard rock star' half hour late) fellow Swedes The Last Band were tasked with warming the crowd up, which they did in spades.

With a startlingly sudden crash of the snare drum they begin, all flailing hair and leather; both a visual and audible cross between Velvet Revolver and The 69 Eyes, if you will.

Their frontman, the hilariously named Coffe Blood, is both witty and fierce, keeping the crowd entertained with a steady stream of silly banter and belting out tracks in his raspy snarl of a voice. “It's so nice to see so many awesome people here on a Monday!” he beams approvingly, before telling said awesome people that tonight's gig, being the first on the tour, will be extra special as “we'll be drunk as fuck after this so it'll be the only show we remember!” - very rock and roll

Their snappy set of dirty, sleazy, punk-tinged rock is slightly shambolic but highly entertaining nonetheless.

The fact that Avatar describe themselves as simply 'metal' does a serious disservice to their gloriously over the top and avant garde sound: an Avatar show is a spectacle, a big top performance, with frontman Johannes Eckerström as their grinning, gurning ringmaster.

Making their flamboyant entrance onto the stage (following half an hour of, er, Swedish folk music) they immediately dazzle the eager crowd with their theatricality and 'blow to the head' heavy songs.

Playing their most well known hit, the whirling 'Hail the Apocalypse' almost right off the bat is a bold move but they manage it with aplomb, filling the rest of their ninety minute set with their instantly recognisable songs such as 'Murderer' and a stomping 'Bloody Angel'.

Their gaudy uniforms -  Eckerström's in particular – combined with their flashing backdrop create a visually striking show that is simply mesmerising; you cannot take your eyes off them.

He truly is the master of ceremonies: a man who constantly beams so broadly that he almost doesn't need the Joker-style black smile painted onto his face and who talks with a baroque campness that's as delightful as it is silly; he really is the hammiest frontman since PT Barnum.

He prowls every inch of the stage, leaning into the crowd and talking often to them about belonging together as outsiders and how much he loves Belfast (which he of course renames 'Avatar country' for the evening).

The music itself is impressively heavy and impeccably performed tonight, but it's also rather whimsical and gleeful – rather like Eckerström's onstage persona, in fact.

Every song has that gyrating, breathless guitar style and circus feel that mark it instantly as Avatar; there are also twin guitar sections, huge singalongs, and solos aplenty – there's even some proper old school glam rock harmonies on the likes of 'House of Eternal Hunt', not to mention a “world premiere”, as Eckerström explains, as they play 'Black Waters' live for the first time.

The crowd, for their part, lap it up ecstatically. Although small in number – there must be only about one hundred or so black clad bodies here tonight; it is, after all, a school night for many of them – are explosively vocal and hugely enthusiastic.

This reaches its zenith when Eckerström begins his spiel about freaks prior to 'Smells Like a Freakshow', the theme tune for tonight if ever there was one, with a gloriously OTT “woah-oh” ending that even the sound desk dude joins in on.

They file offstage then quickly return, playing a single track encore in the form of 'Sky Burial', a rather solemn song that sees the frontman in a rare moment of stillness.
Then it's time for individual and groups bows, before they finally depart, leaving behind a crowd that's breathless in its happiness and sweatily satisfied that they got to witness such a brilliant gig.

It's true, Avatar are one of those so-called 'Marmite bands' that tend to divide heavy music fans. But shows like tonight prove that they simply don't care: there are enough like-minded fans out there for them to begin taking over the world, one freak at a time.

Review by Melanie Brehaut
Photos by Liam Kielt Photography

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