There can’t be many bands who can write songs that sound like Humpty Dumpty stumbling around after an all-night bender and pull it off with aplomb. Since their inception, Gothenburg circus metallers Avatar have toyed with eclectic sounds while always keeping things unmistakably on brand. But just when it feels like there’s nothing left to explore, their ninth studio album pulls them in new and surprising directions.
“Why have drums, why have bass, if people don’t move their feet?” is the question posed on the accompanying bio to Dance Devil Dance. From Gotta Wanna Riot’s 60s surf groove through the glitterball beat of The Dirt I’m Buried In to the table-flipping punkish smash of Hazmat Suit, Avatar have plumbed Dance Devil Dance with all sorts of weird and wonderful flavours, all engineered to get you grooving.
There are moments here that hark back to Avatar’s previous albums. On the opening title track, the versatile Johannes Eckerström growls, sings and wails over the death metal riffs that Avatar have always woven in so well. Sinister fretwork also prevails on sleazy groover Do You Feel In Control and the blackened Clouds Dipped In Chrome. Meanwhile, Valley Of Disease conjures images of a painted and maniacal Johannes stomping around a moshpit and getting up in the audience’s faces.
But where Dance Devil Dance comes unstuck is its inability to be seamless. Nine albums in, Avatar should be experts in eclecticism, and while there’s a charm to their cheekier dance-floor-inspired moments, it doesn’t quite mesh. It’s jarring to hear On The Beach’s vaudevillian playfulness sandwiched between two of the album’s heaviest tracks, while the smoky jazz club vibe of Train is one Mike Patton move too far. No doubt Johannes Eckerström is already concocting a visual spectacle to go with their sonic mayhem, in which case Dance Devil Dance might make a lot more sense in the live arena.