From humble death metal beginnings, Avatar have pushed the boundaries of their ambition and imagination with every release, and evolving their flamboyant, often macabre, spectacle-heavy metal: think American Horror Story’s Freak Show. But on their eighth album, the circus has moved on, plunging the band into dark uncertainty. Read on to find out what everything you need to know about their latest record, the tense and fearful, Hunter Gatherer.
It’s not a concept album
There’s more to Avatar’s sensory overload than joker makeup and circus ringleader costumes. Their last two records were concept albums that displayed a level of imagination most prog bands would kill for. 2016’s Feathers & Flesh was a cautionary examination of politics and history – told through the eyes of a warring owl and eagle. Their last album, 2017’s Avatar Country was a batshit, through-the-keyhole journey into their titular kingdom, where the Swedes crowned founding guitarist, Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jarlsby, as their supreme leader and recorded their own National Anthem. This time round, Avatar are exploring real life topics from climate change to science to politics and it all seems to suggest the end of the world is imminent. “I’m angry at it all,” frontman Johannes Eckerstrom told Metal Hammer. “I’m calling out the world, but also my own participation in it. I need to set an example to myself of how I want things to be done.”
This is their darkest album yet
Oh Toto, I don’t think we’re in Avatar Country anymore. The bright, carnival-esque fun of their last album has faded, and on Hunter Gatherer, the rabbit hole burrows deep into a darker realm where man’s greatest fears cast monstrous shadows on the walls. The band revisit their Gothenburg death metal roots on the brutal Scream Until You Wake, and slog through deliciously doomy Sabbath sludge on Wormhole, while in Colossus, which lumbers like a long lost All Hope Is Gone cut, they’ve recorded their biggest banger yet. “We got our Manowar album out of our system with Avatar Country,” says Johannes. “With this one, we wanted to make an aesthetic statement: something darker, something heavier, something more aggressive.”
Technology is probably going to kill us all
Can humanity maintain control of the technology we’ve created? Avatar think we might have bitten off more than we can chew. The album opens with, Silence In The Age Of Apes, a horrifying look at the future via chunky riffery, and frantic System Of A Down-style idiosyncrasies. “We're at this fork in the road where we're choosing which future we're heading towards,” Johannes says. “It could be this awesome Star Trek future, or it could be terrible like Terminator 2. And we're accelerating faster and faster towards it, and we can’t slow down.” According to these guys, Judgement Day is not going to be pretty.
It was recorded by Stone Sour, Slipknot and Anthrax producer, Jay Ruston, who took the band back to basics
To capture apocalyptic, nervy tension that roars throughout Hunter Gatherer, Avatar headed to Sphere Studios in Los Angeles, California, to work with producer Jay Ruston who had also manned the decks on Avatar Country. There, they recorded the album live, for the first time since 2014’s Hail the Apocalypse, and entirely to two-inch tape, capturing the raw, restless energy of their sinister live freakshow.
Corey Taylor appears… for a whistle?
Slipknot’s nihilistic influence looms large over Hunter Gatherer, so it’s only appropriate that the mischievous Swedes should rope in Corey Taylor himself to lend his fearsome pipes to the album...right? Erm… Sure, Corey pops up on bleak track A Secret Door, but probably not in the way you’re expecting. “We thought, ‘Hang on, he’s this icon of our generation, maybe we should ask him to do something…’, recalls Johannes. “We didn’t want it to be duet. Instead, we thought about how, in the first season of South Park, they got George Clooney to be a dog and Jay Leno to be a cat. It was: ‘We've got this big star, let’s do something completely unexpected and not obvious.’ So we asked him to whistle on this song, and he was kind enough to be open to the idea.”
It will be the album that confirm Avatar a modern metal powerhouse
In many ways, Hunter Gatherer feels like a missing piece in Avatar’s kaleidoscopic discography, a bridge between the growling death metal of their early years and the theatrical ingenuity of the last decade. It all sets the scene for the band to launch their bid for metal domination and promises to ensnare any fans who might have been left cold by their more theatrical sensibilities.
And… it features Johannes’ best vocal performance to date
It feels like Johannes is still a criminally underrated vocalist, but his performance on genius cut, Child, should provide the cold splash to the face required. It’s a fucked-up nursery rhyme where the singer skips merrily between guttural roars, massive cleans and unhinged sing-speak narration, sounding like Chucky breaking out of the toy box to go on a gore-stained murder spree.
Hunter Gather is available via Century Media now. You can grab the latest issue of Metal Hammer now, as well as a special bundle featuring Avatar and exclusive Hunter Gatherer goodies. Deluxe bundles are also available.