Avatar – ‘Hunter Gatherer’

By Ellie Odurny

Swedish metallers Avatar have been honing their craft for nearly 20 years. From their early days as a melodic death metal band to 2018’s conceptual ode to the King, ‘Avatar Country’, they have shown over the course of seven studio releases and countless live shows that their particular brand of circus themed metal is a constant crowd pleaser.

Described as “an unflinchingly ruthless study of a clueless humankind’s ever-increasing velocity into an uncertain future”, new offering ‘Hunter Gatherer’ is slightly less gimmicky than previous release ‘Avatar Country’, not least due to the fact that not every track has ‘King’ in the title. In fact, Avatar have delivered an entire smorgasbord of different elements of power metal, thrash, rock and folk that somehow meld together in a way that works. The album was recorded onto tape, with all the band in the studio at the same time. This nod to a more traditional recording method, combined with the intensity that comes with performing as an ensemble, may be the magic that glues ‘Hunter Gatherer’ together and stops it feeling clunky as it moves through so many different paces and dynamics.

Opening with single ‘Silence in the Age of Apes’, the listener is immediately bombarded with vocalist Johannes Eckerström’s quintessential metal scream, combined with fast paced drum licks and guitar trills aplenty. The pace of following track ‘Colossus’ is slower but still just as heavy, with an electronic intro, a foot stomping beat and a repeated chant of the title word that is bound to have fists pumping the air as soon as it’s able to be heard with a live crowd.

The first of the surprising changes of pace comes from the Wild West style whistled intro to ‘A Secret Door’, courtesy of Slipknot front man Corey Taylor. He also contributes to the group vocals towards the end of the track, the rest of which is filled with more of Avatar’s melodic metal grooves and crushing riffs.

‘God of Sick Dreams’ and ‘Justice’ showcase a more old-school metal feel, the more modern sound of Eckerström’s screams completed with an anthemic chorus, heavy riffs, and a headbanging beat. ‘Scream Until You Wake’ continues the vibe of the Maiden-esque metal era, combining a touch of operatic vocal with classic metal guitars and just a faint nod to Avatar’s death metal beginnings. This mixing of new and old is something this band do very well, with the classic sound of dual guitars layered effectively over thrash rhythms and snarled vocals.

‘Child’ jumps from a heavy bass intro into to an almost folk-like vocal section, into those familiar growls and a further melodic chorus. It shouldn’t work at all, but it does with the knowledge that Avatar don’t take themselves too seriously. They somehow manage to stop just short of becoming a parody of themselves, with quirky twists and dramatic changes in tempo that remain fun, engaging, and interesting rather than farcical or ridiculous.

A prime example of another sudden change in tempo is ‘Gun’, which comes from leftfield with a gentle piano intro and slow, acoustic vocals to deliver a full-on ballad. It does stick out a little, but in itself it’s not a bad track. If anything, it shows the breadth of Eckerström’s lyrical skill, laid bare without the theatrics of the band’s full scope of noise.

A total 180 into “When All but Force Has Failed” takes us straight back to frantic thrash beats, guttural vocals, deft guitar sections and nifty speed drumming. ‘Wormhole’ closes the album by combining more distorted guitars, down tuned bass, growls, clean vocals, a grinding half beat, and spoken word passages to remind the listener of everything this band are capable of.

Despite the theatrics and drama, Avatar’s musical talent shouldn’t be overlooked. Fancy but not overly indulgent guitar solos and churning bass add to John Alfredsson’s complex drumming patterns and Eckerström’s varied vocals, with a sense of cohesion that you might not expect from a band with so many musical styles scattered throughout the record. Yes, there is an element of circus, of over-the-top performance, but it’s not a joke. It’s just good, fun, concept-driven heavy metal.

ELLIE ODURNY

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