Jeez Leif – take a break man! I’ve only just reviewed Candlemass (and the rest…) bassist Leif Edling’s impressive Doomsday Project album earlier this year and here’s a new Avatarium album vying for attention. I’m sure right now he’s working on some new Candlemass stuff, probably planning a new solo album, producing another band, thinking of new exciting musical collaborations, learning how to salsa and enrolling in a pottery class at his local college. OK, maybe not the last two (but who knows?), but the great thing is that although all these projects bear his name and trademark riffing and arrangements, they all have their own identity, and Avatarium can sometimes prove to be the most interesting of them all.

It sounds like guitarist Marcus Jidell (also in The Doomsday Kingdom with Edling) has seen Avatarium as his chance to channel a little Ritchie Blackmore, and where appropriate the band have chosen to run with it to great effect. Up-tempo opener ‘Into The Fire, Into The Storm’ has more than a dash of classic Purple about it, with Gillan-esque vocal lines, some splendid Hammond organ (courtesy of the excellent Carl Westholm who is fabulous throughout the album) and some Blackmore style lead-work. There is also an inkling of this on the album’s second track ‘The Starless Sleep’. It continues the Hammond backdrop expertly with Jennie Ann Smith hammering home an excellent chorus to back up her already engaging vocal work. But throughout the listener is reminded that this is of course a Leif Edling band and it’s almost like the darker, doomier side of his songwriting steadily starts to envelop things, like a looming shadow behind each track, waiting…watching…choosing it’s moments…

Continuing on with the Blackmore theme briefly (and tenuously, granted), ‘Road To Jerusalem’ might have it’s roots in ‘Gates Of Babylon’, with it’s Eastern vibe, but it feels like an altogether darker beast which prowls it’s way malevolently towards the next song, the nine minute ‘Medusa Child’, which is based around a classic Edling doom riff behind the verse – although the bridge introduces a little King Diamond sinisterness, before exploding into a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on any Candlemass offering at any time. The Blackmore influence reoccurs however with the Dio-era Rainbow of ‘The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea’ both in vocal/musical arrangement and delivery, possessing a welcome skippier rhythm and an up-beat arrangement, with again some fabulous Hammond/guitar, along with another great chorus.

There’s a bar-room blues type track to follow where Smith gets to display a laid-back smokey blues voice, followed by a dark and doomy monolithic beast of a creature in the guise of ‘A Kiss (From The End Of The World)’, which is on the surface the most recognizably Edling/Candlemass trademark song on the album, yet as it gets the same musical treatment with Hammond etc. as earlier songs, it fits perfectly well into the shape of the album. Everything gets rounded off with a quirky, reflective and emotive instrumental.

I think the thing I enjoy the most about Avatarium over Edling’s other bands is that there sounds like a desire to give the other musicians involved the freedom to take the songs in a direction that they see them developing, rather than the more obvious tried and tested Edling way. I may be wrong, but Avatarium have a true ‘Band’ feel to their albums and they seem to be pushing things further and improving with every release – long may they continue!

(8/10 Andy Barker)