Avatar's Johannes Eckerstrom: "Where are the Judas Priests and Motörheads that don’t sound like sloppy seconds?"

(Image credit: Johan Carlèn)

While countless bands languished in inactivity during the pandemic, Avatar were drip-feeding the world samples of their “heavy metal’n’roll”. Eighth album Hunter Gatherer dropped in August 2020, and then in 2021 we received a string of standalone songs. 

Now, after unveiling the snarling Valley Of Disease single, the Swedish jesters are maintaining their momentum with Dance Devil Dance. Frontman Johannes Eckerström gives Hammer the lowdown on why they’re making “death metal that fucks”. 

Metal Hammer line break

Last year you told Hammer that your runner’s high made you realise you’re the Devil incarnate. Apparently that’s inspired the new album. How so?

Johannes Eckerström (vocals): “This was during the pandemic. Me and my wife half-jokingly say that dealing with isolation, all the disappointment and anger, made us come full circle on a lot of philosophical matters. 

We went back to being 14-year-old edgelords where the Devil had all the answers. Making Dance Devil Dance – the album and the song – was me trying to articulate that. Satan became an important motif.” 

So is this a concept album? 

“You always end up with an album that’s more conceptual than you meant it to be, because it’s all written within a certain period of your life. There’s definitely the vibe of a big party at the end of the world; a ‘going out with a bang’ feel. I’m more angry than I’ve been before. One song says, ‘No one gets to be a fucking fascist.’ We haven’t bothered getting too political prior to this, but saying that shouldn’t be political; it should be the baseline. Don’t drown kittens and don’t be a fascist.” 

Why the title Dance Devil Dance? 

“The ‘Devil’ part celebrates all the archetypes, symbols and spirituality of darker things that pulled us into metal to begin with. ‘Dance’ is the important half: it became important for us to treat heavy metal like dance music. There are no techno beats, but we wanted to focus on what heavy metal should be: a subgenre of rock’n’roll that’s supposed to get people to move.” 

You’ve said that you want to “save heavy metal” with this album… 

“I mean, we don’t need to save Megadeth! The masters will continue to be the masters, but what’s going on now is too intellectual. It’s castrated. It’s too brainy, with not enough dancing. There aren’t enough speeding tickets gathered to this music. Where are the Judas Priests and Motörheads that don’t sound like sloppy seconds?” 

So will this be the most concise and energetic Avatar album? 

“Yes, 100%. I know that we have made an album that fucks. [In metal] you can either do violent songs about fucking or fucking songs about violence, and we’ve done the latter.” 

Is Valley Of Disease a good representation of the album? 

“It’s on the heavier end. A couple of songs go deeper into death metal but, again, it’s death metal that fucks. Remember old-school death metal, when it sounded like they’d murdered someone? We’re bringing that in, along with our rock’n’roll and melodic side.” 

Why did you record this in your family’s summer house in the middle of nowhere? 

“We wanted to create a lo-fi environment where we couldn’t overpolish things. We didn’t want to be in LA again. We wanted grit, pressure, filth and dirt under your fingernails.” 

What do you want Dance Devil Dance to achieve for Avatar? 

“I want to become a multi-platinum seller and the first billionaire to come out of metal this side of the millennium. You’ve heard a million bands say, ‘This is the best album we’ve ever done,’ but this is the best album we’ve ever done – ha ha!”

Dance Devil Dance is due February 17

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.