Tag Archives: Avatarium

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos – Album Review

1000x1000

Artist: Avatarium

Album Title: Hurricanes And Halos

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the title given to the third studio release from Swedish doomsters Avatarium, a band that was formed in the minds of Leif Edling (Candlemass) and Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, Soen) before becoming a reality in 2012. Their sophomore album, ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ was released in 2015 and, quite rightly, it garnered much critical acclaim. If the world was beginning to take notice of Avatarium, this record catapulted the quintet into the full glare of the heavy metal spotlight.

But much has changed in the world of Avatarium since the releae of ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’. The band is now a sextet of sorts, but the back story is much more complicated than a simple addition to the ranks. Leif Edling has now stepped away from the bass but remains involved and can claim the song writing credits to six of the eight tracks on ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Into the vacated bass slot therefore, comes Mats Rydström and he is joined by fellow newbie and organ player Rickard Nielsson who has replaced keyboardist Carl Westholm. The rest of the band remains the same however, with co-founder Marcus Jidell on guitars, Jennie-Anne Smith behind the microphone and Lars Sköld on the drums.

Given the comings and goings behind the scenes, it could have been easy for Avatarium to take their eye off the ball and deliver a new album that wasn’t up to the standard of their last. But to think in such a way would be a mistake and would be to do the members of Avatarium a huge disservice. When you have musicians of the calibre of Jidell, Smith and Edling, you’re almost certainly not going to get anything substandard. If anything, ‘Hurricanes And Halos’, which features a bigger song-writing contribution from the handsome couple of Jidell and Smith, is another confident step up for this band.

When I reviewed ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’, I remarked that it generally takes a lot for me to get excited about an album that has one foot firmly planted in the realm of doom. Well, that statement remains true but Avatarium prove once again that they one of the few bands that can manage this feat. There’s something about this band that speaks to me.

This becomes even more unfathomable in many ways when I add in to the equation that Avatarium are also heavily steeped in 1970s nostalgia as well as seemingly professing an admiration for blues, classic rock and an occasional dalliance with psychedelia. If I take a look at my personal music collection, I have a hard job finding very much that fits within any of these genres. And yet, I love Avatarium. And I love ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Go figure.

avatariumband2017_638

In trying to do just that and figure out why I have such a connection with this band, I have hit upon many possibilities.

Firstly, there is the raw honesty and genuine depth found within the compositions themselves. You get the distinct impression as you listen, that nothing has been left at the door with these guys – it is all or nothing. When Jennie-Anne sings, she sings with such passion and richness that you can’t help but listen, rapt as she delivers her gritty monologues with finesse and such resonance. This is most definitely Jennie-Anne Smith’s best performance so far and at times, she threatens to steal the show entirely, such as within the chorus of the opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’ as one of many examples.

With lesser musicians behind her, that might have easily happened. But not in Avatarium. In Marcus Jidell for example, Avatarium are blessed with one of the very best guitarists that I know of. I must have said all this a hundred times over the years, so once more couldn’t hurt. His style is not to belt out lightning fast lead runs or to show off with fancy gimmicks. Instead, he has a grace and elegance that means that he can convey an emotion or a thought with one carefully crafted note or a series of well thought-out chords.

As demonstrated in the aforementioned heady opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’, Marcus has not forgotten how to rock out either. The song begins with a strong 70s doomy riff that gets things off to a bold and striking start. The Hammond organ of the equally impressive Nielsson joins the party briefly before becoming an integral part of the grand chorus and later, offers an indulgent but entirely fitting lead solo.

‘The Starless Sleep’ is another superb track, one that underlines the doom credentials of Avatarium as well as underlining the strength of the oft-unsung rhythm section. Skold’s drumming is precise but has a loose, carefree feel to it, whilst bassist Mats Rydström delivers a really satisfying low-end rumble to inject gravitas to the music.

The stripped back and darkly textured ‘Road To Jerusalem’ is the perfect song to act as contrast to the higher-octane opening tracks. It also showcases the beautifully organic and honest production to ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. This is not an album to be smothered in clever, modern effects or polished to within an inch of its life. Instead, in keeping with the music itself, producer Marcus Jidell alongside David Castillo (mixing – Katatonia, Opeth) and Jens Bogren (mastering – Soilwork, Sepultura) have created a living, breathing, colourful beast that loses none of the music’s potency along the way.

The icing on the cake with ‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the surprising amount of variety on offer. Already I’ve described the full-on power and the more subtle sides of Avatarium, but there’s more to uncover along the way.

‘Medusa Child’ is a thoroughly engrossing piece of music that begins in commanding and heavy fashion. The hooky chorus then comes out of nowhere, at an almost complete right-angle to the more aggressive and potent music that surrounds it. And then, at the half-way mark, it morphs again. An eerie child’s voice sings the chorus lyrics whilst underneath, the band veers into almost ambient, post-rock territory as a quiet, subtle melody begins to build into a rousing finale, almost threatening to implode as it does so.

‘Hurricanes and Halos’ is as far as I can tell, as much an exercise in creating interesting and multi-faceted soundscapes as it is about crafting intelligent doom-infused rock music. This point is proven eloquently via the brooding ‘When Breath Turns To Air’ with its exquisite and melodic fragility. But it is then hammered home by the closing title track which is quite different in construction and tone, but is equally poignant and captivating.

For me, it is the perfect way to end the record, a record that has impressed and moved me in equal measure right from the off. I can think of no other band in the modern era who does this kind of thing better than Avatarium. That in itself should speak volumes about just how good it is. I doubt I’ll hear a more compelling doom-infused rock album all year.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love – Album Review

ZR001

Artist: Rikard Zander

Album Title: I Can Do Without Love

Label: ZR / Border Music

Date Of Release: 11 March 2016

I never find it comfortable reviewing music by artists that I know and would refer to as friends. However, the Blog Of Much Metal is all about trying to support artists that deserve the assistance. So when I heard that Rikard Zander, keyboardist with Evergrey, had recorded his debut solo album, I had to offer my assistance.

I had heard snippets of the material via social media and knew that I was not in for Evergrey Mark II. But, with Rikard’s nervous-sounding comment of ‘it is very different to Evergrey’ ringing in my ears, I must admit I was aprehensive to press play on ‘I Can Do Without Love’. In order to retain credibility as a writer, I have to be honest. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to have to write negative things about an artist that I respect and someone who has become a friend to me. ‘Please let me like this’, I therefore whispered in mantra-fashion as I pressed play.

Fast forward more than a week and here I am writing the review. I have listened to ‘I Can Do Without Love’ a silly number of times and it is with relief and genuine pleasure that I can report that the listening experience is a largely positive one.

It is true, anyone looking for some extra Evergrey material between albums will be left very disappointed and possibly slightly confused. Despite featuring Evergrey’s bassist Johan Niemann and drummer Jonas Ekdahl as well as Avatarium and ex-Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell, this album is an entirely different beast to the day job. This is not a heavy metal album; in fact, at times, it’s not even a rock album, not in the classic sense. ‘I Can Do Without Love’ has as much in common with pop, country and blues music as anything else. It is the vehicle via which Rikard has been able to showcase his singing and keyboard-playing skills, not to mention his song writing abilities and on that score I have been left surprised. This surprise is partly because of the overall direction taken on the album but also because of the strength of the material.

‘I Can Do Without Love’ is an intensely personal and honest collection of songs, displaying a sensitivity and undeniable charm that snares you in and captivates, whether or not this kind of music is generally your ‘thing’. And it’s safe to say that this isn’t normally ‘my thing’.

Photo by Patric Ullaeus

Photo by Patric Ullaeus

The first thing that hits me is Rikard’s voice. It is so smooth and melodious but with a fragility to it that creates real emotion when the music requires it. I knew that Rikard occasionally engaged in some backing vocals for Evergrey but I never knew he could sing this competently.

If you’re looking for an example of Rikard’s great vocals, look no further than the opening duo of the title track and ‘Another Lonely Night’. The title track is relatively simple in its construction but aside from Zander’s voice, it benefits from a really addictive central melody and beautiful, emotional and soulful lead guitar work from Marcus Jidell, firmly in keeping with the sorrowful feel of the song.

‘Another Lonely Night’ is without doubt my favourite song on the album. The acoustic guitar and keyboard melodies, coupled with more brilliant lead guitar embellishments are beautiful and Zander’s voice oozes emotion, sounding like his voice might crack at any point. A distorted guitar enters the fray late on to add a nod towards Zander’s metal background but it remains strangely subtle and understated, merely enhancing the atmosphere of the song.

‘The World Makes Sure You’ll Die’ continues with the dark and sombre themes that loom large over this record but this time is comprised of just piano and vocals. Those familiar with Evergrey will no doubt recognise Rikard’s playing style and this is a song that, minus the vocals, could easily sit on an Evergrey album as an interlude-type piece or incorporated within a heavier track as a lead melody.

Whilst ‘I Can Do Without Love’ deals heavily with sorrow and regret, the music on the album isn’t always low-key and tracks like ‘Work Things Out’ and ‘Believe In Yourself’ are great examples of the brighter and breezier side of Zander’s song writing. The former has more of an up-beat bluesy country rock-inspired flavour, whilst ‘Believe In Yourself’ features some positive lyrics atop the kind of soft-rock song that could easily find its way onto mainstream commercial radio. Then there’s ‘Why Don’t You Leave Me’ which, in spite the lyrical content features a nice driving rhythm.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also room for a really excellent stripped-down cover version of ‘Disarm’, pretty much the only Smashing Pumpkins song that I like.

If I had one main criticism, it would be that the album is simply too short. In the time it takes to make a coffee, let it cool and drink it, ‘I Can Do Without Love’ is over and done. The songs themselves are quite short, generally around the three-minute mark and occasionally I find myself wishing that a few of the songs were a touch longer. But maybe that’s just the prog-head in me talking and anyway, this criticism could easily be turned into a positive: if I hated the music, I’d want it to end, not complain that it is too short. And isn’t there a saying about leaving the crowd wanting more?

Overall, I’ve been left mightily impressed with Rikard Zander’s debut solo outing, a conclusion that’s a relief but more so, is a delight to report.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 28

Can you believe that it’s already day three of my 2015 ‘Album of the Year’ countdown? I hope you’re enjoying my series and although it is early days, perhaps you’ve discovered something new or I’ve managed to change your mind about an album. Who knows, but what I do know is that, as intense and hard work as this series is every year, I’m really enjoying myself. I just love talking about music and I love giving plaudits to music that deserves it. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than giving space on my blog to artists that have, in some way, made a positive impression on me.

A reminder that 30-16 are only loosely and rather arbitrarily numbered. They are all extremely good and worthy of attention, hence the increase from a top 20 to a top 30 – it was too strong a year to only pick 20!

If you’ve missed the previous two instalments, you can read them here:

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 30
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 29

Number 28

avatarium coverAvatarium
‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’
Nuclear Blast Records

Those that know me and my music tastes will know that I’m not the biggest fan of doom per se. I love the symphonic melodic death/doom but when it comes to classic, down and dirty classic doom rock/metal, I’m not always so keen. Today’s pick is, therefore, another early surprise in this year’s list.

Avatarium could be referred to as a ‘supergroup’ of sorts given that the band is comprised of bassist Leif Edling (Candlemass), guitarist Marcus Jidell (ex-Royal Hunt/ex-Evergrey) and drummer Lars Sköld (Tiamat) as well as vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith and keyboardist Carl Westholm. It’s a mouth-watering line-up for sure and they have well and truly delivered the goods with their sophomore release, ‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’.

The core of the Avatarium sound is very much doom rock/metal with a rich and organic 70s vibe, where the synths and keyboards pay homage to a bygone era of music. But not content to leave things there, the quintet have added their own stamp to the eight compositions on the record. The result is something that feels both familiar and unique. Progressive flourishes blend in with dash of psychedelia and a harsher edge at times to create drama, whilst a soulful edge is injected via both Smith’s charismatic vocals and Marcus Jidell’s guitar playing.

The title track is a heady opening to the album, featuring some great riffs and a tempo that’s utterly infectious. It’s Avatarium in full flow and the result is truly glorious. Other favourites include the more ominously ponderous and sprawling ‘The Master Thief’ which features some beautifully subtle lead guitar work, full of expression. Then there’s ‘January Sea’ with its melodic chorus and great vocals, whilst ‘Run Killer Run’ is a groovy beast that lodges itself instantly into my brain and won’t let go.

As classic-inspired doom goes, there’s nothing to match Avatarium in 2015. ‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’ is, as far as I’m concerned, the absolute pinnacle of this style of music and has to be heard by as wide an audience as possible.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 30
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 29

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012