Theatrics in heavy metal seem to roll in and out with the tide. In the ’80s, it was almost an expectation for bands to give listeners an over the top experience that mashes together both their music and their stage show for an over the top experience. As time went on, bands began to pay less attention to the appearance side of things, and show up onstage looking little different than the people in the audience. It’s a good gesture generally, with all people in the room being equal, but many still want a heightened sense of reality that metal can bring. It’s the mission statement of Avatar to do so.
The Swedish metal group has been around since 2001, and have been incrementally perfecting both their sound as a band and the experience they offer. Their newest album Avatar Country is the most succinct representation of their full message as a group. If you need a guiding light to understand the world of Avatar Country, it’s that all things are in tribute to their King. The country is a little hard to pin down, but essentially their King promises to uphold all values of heavy metal and keeping the genre a formidable thing. which is why every single song on the track listing has The King in its song name.
The ten song, 43-minute adventure that Avatar sends listeners on covers a lot of geographic ground when it comes to a spectrum of genre. Their past work in the world of melodic death metal seeps into focus at times, giving songs an undeniable crunch and heaviness. More interestingly though is when the band’s love for classic rock n’ roll and older pop music comes into focus. The opening track “Glory to Our King” sounds like it could’ve come straight off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club, a warm and over the top introduction to the rest of the album.
Of course, you shouldn’t be expecting them to rely on only classic pop, as the very next song “Legend of the King” pushes the heaviness and metal hard in its eight minute run time. Even though it’s heavier, it still keeps things pretty pristine sounding, including a dramatic beginning section that leads into the harsher vocals of singer Johannes Eckerstrom. The song is reminiscent of maybe a more polished Manowar, with much reverence for metal as a whole.
Rock is equally represented, with the song “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country” truly showcasing this. The track switches pace into a joyous rhythm that holds a good smattering of ’70s hard rock in its DNA, and by design, a little hint of southern rock and “Country” thanks to the song title. The band turns down the theatrics on its next song, “King’s Harvest” which has a satisfying riff for any fan who errs more on the side of the group’s heaviness.
The first four songs detail out a big appeal of the record, which is its fluidity in approaching heavy metal from many different angles. If there were a constitution for Avatar Country, it would probably read something about respecting all different forms of the genre, and holding the highest regard for guitar work. It’s why guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby is portrayed both in videos and onstage as The King, giving all hails to the man in charge of delivering extremely satisfying compositions.
Beyond all the stylistic change-ups through the record, you can be sure that you’re in for an undeniably fun listen. Though Avatar may present bringing theatrics back to the genre, at the core of what they do is keeping the music from going into a too dour or overly serious territory, instead of acting as a representation of why we all fell in love with the genre from the very beginning.
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