AvatariumIt’s the second full-length outing for Swedish Dark/Doom/Heavy Metallers Avatarium, the band that features guitarist Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, ex-Royal Hunt, The Ring etc.), his missus Jennie-Ann Smith doing a sterling job on Vocals, bassist Lief Edling (Mr. Candlemass etc.), Carl Westholm’s atmospheric and dramatic keyboards (who knows Lief from their time together in Krux and Abstract Algebra) and Tiamat skinsman Lars Skold rounding out the impressive line-up. But of course, you know all that already because you heard their 2013 debut (and maybe even last year’s EP?) and therefore you know all about their Melodic Doom Infused Swedish Metal?

Thought so…but if not then you’re in luck, because elsewhere on Ave Noctum Matt describes their debut perfectly and Martin brings things nicely up to date by expertly putting into words last year’s EP. Both a little too well from my personal point of view because it’s left me bugger all to say about the band! I agree with everything they already said, so all I can do is come at this new release from my own perspective – after all, I like … and I’m rather partial to the non-Messiah albums of Candlemass (which Avatarium are closer to). Avatarium is certainly from the classic Swedish doom camp, but as is invariably the case when Lief is involved in something that isn’t Candlemass, it has a tendency to lean towards the more melodic and progressive. This is in no small part provided by the undeniable guitar talents of Marcus Jidell, a highly respected member of the Swedish Metal scene in his own right and keyboardist Carl Westholm whose contributions are invaluable to the band’s rich and varied sound. Major credit must also go to the vocalist too, because Jennie’s sometimes smoky, sometimes powerful vocals suit the music perfectly. Some comparisons have been drawn to Jex Thoth and Blood Ceremony etc, but personally I think she does a similar job to say Thomas Vikstrom on Candlemass’ “Chapter VI” or the aforementioned Mats Leven, though she has the conviction and drive of someone in their first proper, major band, untainted by other projects, which gives the songs just a little more urgency.

The opener and title track is the only song under 5 minutes and the most up-tempo on the album. It certainly sets the scene and this great track is a real attention grabber but almost a false start – it’s a stand alone track (though part of ‘Run Killer Run’ – another album highlight with it’s fabulous main riff – touches a similar tempo, before heading off in another interesting direction). Second track ‘The January Sea’ is more representative of the riff-heavy, darker, gloomier, slower and more epic macabre feeling that the rest of the album purveys. The talent involved means expectations are high so great riffs, doom-laden bass, powerful drums, swathing keyboards and a fabulous production are pretty much a given. It’s almost taken for granted, so thankfully the album doesn’t disappoint in those aspects either. So much so that maybe all this reviewer has left to do is to re-affirm these things and pick out a few highlights.

Like for instance the great chorus, pounding rhythm and wonderful keyboard touches in ‘Pearls and Coffins’ (which reminds me pleasantly of Lake Of Tears at times, and just oozes class right down to it’s fabulously bombastic outro section), or maybe the ebb and flow of moods on ‘Ghostlight’, which is a blueprint for the epic enormity through to stripped back sparseness that intertwines throughout the album. There are a lot of other interesting influences mixed in to the band’s sound from all sorts of eras and genres – giving it a real feeling of “If it sounds right, go with it” which is refreshing and probably quite liberating for the musicians involved. It is maybe what defines them from other bands with a similar format. So this is not Candlemass, it’s not Evergrey either (in fact, the two up-tempo tracks remind me more of Marcus’ time in the underrated and too-short-lived Jekyll & Hyde!). It’s retro in many ways…but in SO many different ways that it can only be a current release. And It’s rather bloody good, but then, that’s what you expected wasn’t it?

(8/10 Andy Barker)