Release Date: February 14, 2012
If one were to dismember Alice Cooper, KISS, Rammstein and In Flames and throw them back together with the blood of Charles or even Marilyn Manson for glue, the resultant abomination might sound something like Avatar‘s Black Waltz. The Swedish melodic death metal troupe has returned with its fourth album, the first for eOne Music, and the first to see a U.S. release. Black Waltz is an ultimately twisted and brilliantly dark slab of caustic nirvana.
Avatar was formed over a decade ago by drummer John Alfredsson and former vocalist Christian Rimmi. The latter was soon replaced by Johannes Eckerström, who is the mad carnival barker leading us through the nightmare soundscape of Black Waltz. Rounding out this circus are bassist Henrik Sandelin, and guitarists Jonas Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström. The quintet has been together since 2003. This is my first taste of the band, so if Black Waltz is any indication of what I’ve been missing I’ll soon be kicking my own ass.
From the outset, let it be stated that Avatar has developed a niche sub-genre of extreme metal that taps into melodic death metal, gothic metal, hard rock and industrial with moments of electronica with even a few folk and blues moments in the mix. What is phenomenal about Avatar is that they are bringing something new to metal and making it exciting again. Black Waltz has something for all metal fans of nearly any ilk. Each song is unique unto itself, and while each maintains continuity with the whole, you simply can’t get bored with this record.
While most bands front-load albums with their strongest songs, one could argue that Avatar has done nearly the opposite. Black Waltz gets progressively more intriguing with each passing song. In cranking up the album opener, “Let Us Die”, Avatar jump straight into some groove that even Max Cavalera would be proud of. A chugging , heaving mass of auditory mayhem. Seriously, I think Sepultura mated with Marilyn Manson on this track.
The rhythm takes more of a rolling tilt on “Torn Apart”, with Eckerström wailing like a demented wraith. The song drives along until about the halfway mark, then it slows down for the anguished despair of the lost souls as another fallen angel is shredded by its demons. You can almost feel Eckerström being literally torn apart as his guttural cries spiral up from the depths.
One of the divine aspects of Black Waltz are the addictive and tasty riffs the band spits out. “Ready For The Ride” has a metallized 60s surf riff that just buzz-saws its way into your cranium.
Next up is “In Napalm”, which offers up another decidedly wicked riff. A clean vocal chorus chant makes the song catchy and memorable, contrasted to Eckerström’s deathy whispered rasp. The guitar work here is amazing, and the nuances are what make this and all the tracks on this record so ingratiating. In a genre with too many bands filling albums with easy to forget songs, Avatar bring back that vibe that made classic rock and metal so special. The listener waits for those added touches; a guitar trill here, a drum fill there, or a vocal dynamic that stands out.
The title track really gets into that Bob Ezrin produced, Alice Cooper Welcome To My Nightmare vibe. Eckerström leads the band like possessed ringmaster, as the carnival of bleakness swirls around him.
With a rapid fire delivery, “Blod” has something of a punk-tinged feel early on. As with all of the songs on this record though, nothing remains quite as it sounds for long. John Alfredsson pounds his way along like a human jackhammer and Sandelin’s bass just rumbles.
My personal favorite, “Let It Burn” mixes a bluesy Southern rock style riff and jams it up the ass of what could rightly be an edgier version of an 80s hair-metal anthem.
“Paint Me Red”: Think a possessed Lady Gaga going through an exorcism. More harsh vocals with a clean chorus, and a guitar solo breakdown that recalls early Ace Frehley and KISS.
On “Smells Like A Freakshow” the band comes unhinged. It feels like Korn collided with Lamb of God. Another of the album’s many standout moments.
Closing it all out is the near-10-minute epic, “Use Your Tongue”, which throws everything in the cauldron like beastly gumbo. Time to wake up from the nightmare, but guess what? You’re already awake. Oh the depravity. Every member of the band gets to rise and shine on this track, and no one gets out alive.
Avatar‘s Black Waltz roots around in the rock and roll cellar and comes up with the discarded remnants of metal gone by, welding it all together in sonic masterpiece of aural chaos. Easily one of 2012’s best early releases and a genuinely pleasant, if not at times disturbing, surprise. A massive record of exacting technical prowess, decadent layering and textures, built from the sinew and marrow of the damned. Expect to find Black Waltz on many a year-end “best of” list.
Recommended tracks: In Napalm, Let It Burn, Black Waltz, Smells Like A Freakshow