Avatar – Feathers & Flesh
Label: eOne Music
Release Date: May 13, 2016
Gothenburg, Sweden’s Avatar came of age in a country and an era of melodic death metal, and this is where the band, founded by drummer John Alfredsson, began its journey. Started in 2001 as Lost Soul, the band has evolved in both members and styles, toying with elements of nu-metal as well as their death metal roots. Guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby teamed with Alfredsson and the band became Avatar. The remaining core of the group; bassist Henrik Sandelin, and charismatic vocalist Johannes Eckerström, would come on board by 2003. The band would release three albums between 2006 and 2009; Thoughts of No Tomorrow, Schlact, and a self-titled album. Having reached a point of frustration, and having considered disbanding, the guys pulled together for their fourth album, Black Waltz. With nothing left to lose, the guys decided to throw out any expectations others might have and create an album that spoke to who they were as musicians. It was during this period that guitarist Tim Öhrström joined the ranks in time to tour the Black Waltz.
As Eckerström tells the tale, the music on Black Waltz came naturally, but the imagery of the clown came almost by accident…or fate. The album forged a new path for Avatar, one which they continued to blaze with their fifth effort, Hail the Apocalypse.
This year marks the band’s 15th anniversary, and in celebration Avatar will releases its sixth studio album, Feathers & Flesh, on May 13, through eOne Music. The album will be the band’s first concept record which states is Eckerström is “a fable about an owl that goes to war to stop the sun from rising. It’s a tragic story of someone ultimately being set up to fail. She will learn many lessons and encounter many other creatures with ideas of their own. In the end, however, one must ask if something was learned at all.” Guiding Avatar through this sonic journey is legendary producer Sylvia Massy, who made her mark with such bands as Tool, System of a Down, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The guys used a plethora of unconventional instruments on the record, as well as a pipe organ from an old church in Gothenburg.
The album begins with “Regret”, as most dark tales do. The feel of the song lends itself to a nightmarish dreamscape, and the dual guitar assault in the last half sets the stage for an album ripe with inspired riffage and solos. The album moves onto “House of Eternal Hunt”, a track which sounds like a mad, never-ending race. As it so often does, Eckerström’s voice dances about, weaving through the madness in Jekyll and Hyde fashion. More dynamic fretwork abounds.
“The Eagle Has Landed” opens in a swirl of groove-laden riffage. Eckerström’s voice leads the verses while the chorus brings the circus to town. The song is equal parts heavy and playful. “New Land” offers a somewhat progressive feel, while “Tooth, Beak, & Claw” showcases some California surf riffage and some portentous nursery rhyme vocal oration. Did I mention the stunning guitar interplay of Kungen and Öhrström?
Next up is the frenetic and mischievous insanity of “The Swarm” in all of its sub-two-minute glory. A track which ends in a hail of harmonies; vocal and guitar. The nightmarish feel returns for the Alice Cooper-like “Fiddler’s Farewell”.
Sandelin and Alfredsson lead the charge on up “One More Hill” with its shadowy reminder of “Let it Burn” from the Black Waltz album. The song is a chaotic bi-polar beast with elements of extreme metal balanced against an almost progressive rock vibe.
“Black Water” resonates with a muscular yet broody passage down the dark bayous of the South. Avatar manages to capture the Nola feel that bands like Crowbar and Down embrace, but with a more melodic sense. In contrast, “Night Never Ending” is almost buoyant, with Eckerström leading the upbeat parade. Some Thin Lizzy-esque guitars shine here amongst the big soaring vocals and hooky melody.
Alfredsson and Sandelin shake it loose to open “Pray the Sun Away” which is one of the album’s heavier yet more schizophrenic numbers. The song reminds me of something Australia’s Twelve Foot Ninja might come up with. The entire band delivers fantastic performances on this one, but the game ball goes to the rhythm section.
“When the Snow Lies Red” continues the protagonist’s quest with a grinding riff and caustic vocals from Eckerström. The song transitions back and forth between weighty, almost brutal moments, to sweeping cinematic movements. The song is an epic anchor on the album’s final stretch.
The dense tapestry of Feathers & Flesh closes out with “Raven Wine” and “Sky Burial” which combine for nearly 12 minutes of the album’s 70-minutes length. The former ebbs and flows with mordant assaults from Johannes and unexpected jazzy moments from the guitars. The latter reverberates with a desolate beauty. The drums tap out a military cadence and the bells toll the dirge, all under a somber and obsidian sky: An inspired end to the tale.
With Feathers & Flesh Avatar have crafted a creative and stunningly artistic album that defies expectations and transcends the genre. The album echoes with a bleak grace. It is not an album that everyone will get instantly, and it bears repeated listening to absorb the many textures and layers built by Massy and the band. However, it is worth every listen to internalize the full scope of the record. Avatar continue to be one of the most refreshing metal bands on the scene, and Feathers & Flesh elevate the band to a new level. The entire album is exhilarating with its many peaks and valleys, melody and brutality—a fascinating and monstrous affair.