Avatar's Johannes Eckerström: "To have a reunion in your 70s, you have to make that mean something - Sabbath dropped the ball”

(Image credit: eOne)

Johannes Eckerström knows a thing or two about bringing colour to metal. For the past 20 years he has been the ringmaster (and oftentimes, court jester) of Swedish metal madmen Avatar. Unpredictable as they are entertaining, the band put out three singles in 2021 that swung from raging death metal (Barren Cloth Mother) to theatrical rocker (Going Hunting) and folksy acoustic ballad (So Sang The Hollow), such is the scope of their craft. With their proposed UK tour now postponed to 2023, Hammer's Matt Mills caught up with the band to talk bad interviews, New Year's Resolutions and why Abba are better than Black Sabbath. Erm...

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You have a podcast with your wife where you do the odd interview. How often are you being interviewed by a journalist and think, “I could do a better job of this”?

“It’s scary how often that is. I can have nice conversations with wonderful people and sometimes we’ll click, because we’ll talk about something we both give a damn about. That being said, there are a lot of times where I get a question and I go, ‘I’m just gonna answer this question I made up in my head.’”

You tweeted that the Abba reunion is better than the Black Sabbath one. Why would you say something so controversial yet so brave?

“Yet so true! I am a bigger Black Sabbath fan than Abba fan, but I felt that the Sabbath stuff with Rick Rubin [who produced their final album, 13] ended up being kinda contrived. I think Rick told them to pretend that they’re 25 and that doesn’t work. It didn’t have that energy and it didn’t transform into something else. Abba, with this new album [Voyage], there’s a song where I go, ‘This is divorce disco!’ Ha ha ha! These are songs by people in that age bracket, with the life experiences of that age bracket. To have a reunion in your 70s, you have to make that mean something. Sabbath dropped the ball.”

You’ve released three standalone singles this year: a death metal song called Barren Cloth Mother, melodic rocker Going Hunting and the acoustic So Sang The Hollow. Is this you lot flexing and showing off your diversity?

“Ha! That multifaceted thing is a huge part of what we’re doing. It’s the Queen/Beatles approach of multiple songwriters who can do whatever but it sounds like you because of your DNA. It’s not a conscious flex.”

Where does Construction Of Souls fit in with the rest of the singles? What’s its identity?

“The main identity of it is [hums riff]. Good luck putting that in print! This is a proper heavy metal song. It’s a bulldozer of a song. Thematically, it’s almost a Christmas song, inspired by discussions we’ve had in the band about the next step in evolution being that we should just hand the keys over to the robots.”

That sounds Christmassy.

“Well, they’re a bunch of robots building shit. From that to elves building shit, the step is very short.”

And what about that next single?

Construction Of Souls is about all the humans dying and the robots taking over, so it’s kind of a lighthearted song. With Cruel And Unusual, it’s about depravity and perversion. Where’s the line between pain and pleasure? Sometimes there isn’t one. It’ll be the perfect way to start the new year.”

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

“I want to continue my 13km runs. Runners’ high is like meditation. I realised the other day that I am Satan.”

How are you Satan, Johannes?

“The more things I attribute to the symbol of Satan, and then I see what kind of force I want to be in the world and what kind of forces I see as harmful, I think, ‘OK!’ There’s not a guy with a halo above or a guy with horns below; it’s only us here and whatever we attribute to ourselves, so suddenly I felt strongly that, to the extent that that winged creature exists, I am that.”

You mentioned earlier that, if you don’t like a question, you’ll answer one of your own. We’ve gone from New Year’s Resolutions to Satan…

“Exactly! I steer things to what I find important. Ha ha!”

Barren Cloth Mother, So Sang The Hollow, Construction Of Souls and Cruel And Unusual are streaming now. Avatar's Going Hunting tour resumes in the US tonight

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.