Avatar: The 10 Albums That Changed Johannes Eckerström's Life

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When he’s not playing ringmaster in Sweden’s Avatar, commanding the audience with his cane, Johannes Eckerström can be found listening to all kinds of music. From his early obsession with Beethoven, through to his appreciation of fellow countrymen The Haunted and Teutonic titans Rammstein, it’s all fed into his band’s unique, carnivalesque identity. Here are the albums that made him the man he is today…

The Beatles – 1962-1966 (1973)

“I must have been around eight years old when I heard this. They played She Loves You on a children’s show around Christmas. Both me and my older sister got hooked on it right away, and dad picked out the old, red compilation album on vinyl. The song had been played so much and was worn out, so it was really distorted. Yet there it was, that magic song. As far as I can recall, this must be the first time the idea of a band being something that existed hit me. I’ve been obsessed with The Beatles ever since, and they keep playing a major role in how I approach even the most brutal, grinding death metal song.”

Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys: Part II (1988)

“That was the day my hair started to grow. My brother, being three years older, had already dived into the deep end of the pool when it comes to metal, and I had been hearing the music pour out from his closed bedroom door for years. We were on our way home from the family vacation, and we had been given a Walkman each to keep our mouths shut during the long drive. I mustered up the courage to ask if I could borrow one of my brother’s albums, and he ordered me to start with this one. It’s a bit cheesy, but true how it really held the keys to everything metal for me. I’m not tired of it yet.”

The Haunted – The Haunted Made Me Do It (2000)

“We haven’t really come to an agreement in the band if this or the first album [1998’s The Haunted] is the best, but this is my pick. It was so raw and aggressive. It felt dangerous, but with such amazing songs, melodies, riffs and arrangements to back it up. It was an album to set the world on fire to and also to study, deeply. A huge part of our style of playing and writing in the early days can be traced directly back to this album. [Vocalist] Marco Aro was and is a big inspiration to me. When I have seen him more recently with The Resistance, he still looks dangerous. I know I never will, but I try.”

Beethoven – The Best Of Beethoven (1988)

“Thanks to my parents, my first love in music was classical, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has a crazy hook. Before truly being aware of anything rock or metal, or even Michael Jackson, I wanted to be a conductor, and I used to put this CD on, standing on a chair, leading the orchestra I saw before me. I was four or five years old, and it was a useful way for my mom to have me watch my baby sister, as she would be the audience. I think this might have given me the first hit to want to do music and have an audience, but at the same time it was just playing a game between taking the Batman outfit off and watching cartoons.”

Immolation – Close To A World Below (2000)

“I was one of those people who claimed I hated death metal because of the vocals. It wasn’t even singing, and you couldn’t hear a word they said. A slightly older friend was deeply into it, and through his constant blasting of it I warmed up to it a bit. He lent me 10 CDs at once, and this was the first one I put on. I could hear every syllable. So without that excuse left, I guess I sold my soul to the Devil then and there.”

The Impaled – The Dead Shall Dead Remain (2000)

“This was another one I got to borrow from my death metal friend. As a wee lad, I took things way too serious, and I opposed the brutal lyrics as I couldn’t condone the whole necrophilia thing. This album might have been the one where the humour finally clicked and I got the fantasy aspect. It was like a horror movie. Later, I started to listen more to Carcass instead. The Impaled might not have been the best, but they were my first.”

Marduk – Those Of The Unlight (1993)

“My death metal friend had a black metal friend, and history repeated itself. I borrowed 10 CDs. Burzum never did much for me, and at the time I took great offense to what was written on the back of Transilvanian Hunger [1994 Darkthrone album, with the lyrics of four songs written by Burzum’s Varg Vikernes, and artwork including the sentence ‘Norwegian Aryan Black Metal’]. But Marduk! I had this one and [1999’s] Panzer Division. This one had more atmosphere, and black metal has always been about the atmosphere for me.”

Ozzy Osbourne – The Ozzman Cometh (1997)

“I wrote ‘OZZY’ on my knuckles every day in high school, but more than anything, I am and have remained a Black Sabbath fan. This album opened up with a demo version of the song Black Sabbath, which sounded silly the first time I heard it. I wasn’t used to primitive recordings like that, and it didn’t click until later. Once it did, however, it was a delayed jump scare. I can’t recall any older example of me being drawn in by darkness in music like this. Then there was Crazy Train and Randy Rhodes and all the Zakk Wylde, and that whole journey led up to Over The Mountain and and I Don’t Want To Change The World, which still stand as prime examples of what I want from my guitarists in terms of solos.”

Cryptopsy – None So Vile (1996)

“As soon as I heard a well-articulated death metal singer, I stopped caring about articulation in death metal singers. I wanted to be Lord Worm. That was the most brutal thing I had ever heard, and we discussed a lot whether it was real or if he used some effects of sorts. Cryptopsy still release some of the best stuff on this planet. I can’t think of any extreme band that can make technical stuff so emotionally intense and fun. They truly write songs, and most groups shredding like they do fail in that. No one can touch them.”

Rammstein – Reise, Reise (2004)

“I’ve chosen this album to represent an idea of Rammstein that I read in an interview. If I remember, they grew up wanting to rock out like Faith No More or something from California, but along the way realised they could never do that, because they’re not from there. That wasn’t who they were. So instead, they started to dig into an idea of being German, and the rest is history. They taught me, and I’d say the whole band, a lot about finding our own voice. It’s the good ol’ kid’s show message to be yourself no matter what. It has been very rewarding.”

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