Avatar have been in metal’s ‘increasingly difficult to classify’ pile since they released their boundary-pushing self-titled debut in 2009. Since then, the theatrical Swedes have impishly skirted the concept of genre as though hopping over hot coals, going bigger on ambition with every LP and proving their penchant for spectacle extends far beyond superficial gimmickry.
Their last record, 2018’s gleeful Avatar Country, conjured its own fully realised world, accompanied by a crowdfunded mini-movie, but their eighth effort sees them moving in a different direction, swapping playful mischief for a darker realm where fear and anxiety permeates. Sure, some fans might miss the wackiness that painted their previous batshit-isms in carnival colours, but the band’s wicked sense of humour still bubbles away, albeit less overtly this time around. On A Secret Door, their ferocious collaboration with Corey Taylor, rather than having the Slipknot frontman lend the track his fearsome pipes, Avatar have got him on whistling duties. The jokers.
Hunter Gatherer is a return to the heaviness of their melodic death metal roots, but this time with the finesse and ingenuity of their later material. Wormhole is doomy, Sabbath-like sludge, whereas Colossus is a lumbering ’Knot-esque chug that sees the band find a new groove, amid filthy electronics and a ghastly Circus Of Horrors chorus. Silence In The Age Of Apes and Child continue the vibe, the former combining fiendish riffery with the band’s System Of A Down-style idiosyncrasies and death metal influences. The latter is a fucked-up nursery rhyme, which allows virtuoso vocalist Johannes Eckerström, who seems to have about 10 different singing styles, to leapfrog between abrasive roars, massive cleans and sing-song narration. In the hands of lesser bands, that scattershot approach to tone and style could come off looking faceless, but not so with Avatar. Amidst the chaos, they always sound completely like themselves.