Gothenburg’s Avatar describe themselves as “a dark, twisted circus sideshow that’s built around bombastically grooving melodic death n’ roll”. Now on their seventh album with a multitude of singles, a live pedigree and a larger than life persona, this album promised to be a bit of fun.
As an opener, “Glory to Our King” sent shudders down my spine. Images flashed up in my head of power metal pomp, religiosity or Monty Python. The flashy guitar work of the following “Legend of the King” told me it was the first of these. The instrumental work and variation are great. There’s plenty to get excited about as it’s flamboyant and colourful. I was less keen on the vocals. Neither the clean vocals nor growls were particularly convincing. Then a crowd-rousing hey-hey-hey passage added more cheese. I liked the plaintive vulnerability of the vocalist, which had a strong air of Kingcrow’s Diego Marchesi about it, but it didn’t seem relevant to the song’s theme. But all in all it’s an eight minute journey which was well worth taking.
A problem I had with this album was that I either found myself into the vibe, or it completely passed me by, as happened with the folksy bluesy jazz rock of “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country”. I kind of like the eccentricity, and these songs have an anthemic quality about them. “King’s Harvest” comes across in its heavy melody as a Swedish version of Rammstein, complete with death metal growls and eerie harmonies. It’s there to be enjoyed, and I did. Now “The King Wants You” – do you notice a recurrent theme here? – but this regressed for me. Old school rock and naff vocals lead to nothing of substance. Ah, News at Ten. No, it’s “The King Speaks” – a brilliant spoof. Bravo, Avatar. “A Statue of the King” is just as delightful thanks to its anarchic structure. Avatar prove their credentials for joining the Atrox school of insanity here. Oddness of form and an eclectic mixture of styles are a feature of Avatar’s work, yet it’s all couched in a classic rock metal cloak. This is very much a summary of “King after King”, which manages to incorporate a catchy beat and chorus with the sound of a sore throat. By contrast wintery ambience hits us with “Silent Songs of the King pt 1: Winter Comes When the King Dreams of Snow”. It’s totally different, instrumental and gently evocative. In perhaps the only predictable moment of the album, part 2 “The King’s Palace” follows. This time it’s a rock metal melody, competent but not as regal as its title might suggest and a limp way to end the album.
Well, there’s no doubt what the central theme is of this album. Avatar are to be commended for demonstrably throwing every ounce of their creativity into it. Yet “Avatar Country” is a strange album. For me it was like a collection of misfits but with ups, downs and sections to which I was indifferent. At its best it’s fun and I appreciated the humour in it. It’s also catchy, anarchic and atmospheric as well as being puzzling and banal. Furthermore, I struggled with some of the vocal styles. So you’ll gather that I can’t summarise “Avatar Country” in one sentence. I guess that has to be a positive quality.
(6.5/10 Andrew Doherty)