So, Avatar then – Swedish, black-and-white greasepaint and a decidedly death metal heritage. However, one listen to “Hail the Apocalypse” – their fifth full-length album since forming in 2001 – will dispel any notion that these eccentric Scandinavians are shoe-gazing church burners that only worship at the altar of demo level black metal noise. No, these guys approach their craft from another angle, one of theatrical showmanship and musical crossover that mixes together the bizarre carnival shenanigans of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie with the industrial chug of Rammstein and some death metal heaviness that shows they haven’t lost touch with their roots.
The fact that the band have toured with the varied likes of Impaled Nazarene, Avenged Sevenfold, Obituary, In Flames and Helloween shows you that there is an appeal here that transcends the limitations of the scene that spawned them. The opening title track launches things in style with a heavy riff that evokes Slipknot at their most devastating but the song rumbles along on a delicious groove that the masked Iowan’s never really got going. However, ‘What I don’t Know’ follows and is less straightforward, bringing in the carnival bizarre vibe. ‘Bloody Angel’ and ‘Murderer’ continue the madness, upping the psychotic element of their sound in a way that American Head Charge used to do when they could get it together. It’s a throwback to the heavier end of the nu metal spectrum of the late-90s/early-2000s but the thick production keeps it firmly in the present, the harsh death growls and whispered cries chopping and changing the dynamics of the songs and disorientating you, but not in a bad way.
Although Avatar have clearly transcended death metal, the crushing remnants are never far away, like in the brutal thrashings of ‘Death of Sound’. However, it is when the band use death metal as an influence and add the heaviness to the industrial grooves of danceable tracks like the mighty ‘Vultures Fly’ that they really excel. What is clear, though, is that you really need to see this band in the live environment to really capture what they’re about as, like with most of the bands namechecked in this review, the music is only half of the package. They recently played Hammerfest here in the UK and, by all accounts, went down a storm. Hopefully, when they return to play their own shows we can get the full Avatar experience as the band intended it. Until then, “Hail the Apocalypse” is a solid enough appetiser that doesn’t quite hold its momentum all the way through its eleven tracks but when it’s good, it’s very good.