Saturday, May 31, 2014
Avatarium - Avatarium 
It comes as a surprise that seasoned musicians who showed their real flair with astonishing 80's masterpieces (in this case being Candlemass) can show similar if not equal proficiency with their resurrection as artists in the 21st century. Hence Avatarium. A five-piece from Sweden for which the legendary Lief Edling of Candlemass serves as the bassy powerhouse. All things considered, Avatarium's existence as band risen from the ashes of an old master, its hasty linkage with mainstream label Nuclear Blast, and the general outlook of its style make it terrible prone to suffer from becoming just another face in the crowd, another meager contemplation of modern doom metal which one could not help but adhere to sheer tripe. Yet the band almost masterfully steers away from such a detainment of skill. It refuses to be clouded with a lack of motivation, to be trod down by the rueful overtones that typical doom bands implement oh so recurrently, and their self-titled debut doesn't quite reinvent the wheel, it does manage to buy itself a parole from mediocrity.
Despite its relatively modern texture, I found this album to be one of the most fluent and enjoyable doom metal records I've heard in some time. The Candlemass influence is evident, even with some appreciation of early doom a la Witchfynder General and Black Sabbath, but the main story here is the percussive, and, most importantly, gothic sound put into the record that pervades into every square inch of the steady, concussive riffs that work their way to the listener's cranium like firm, gradual hammers slamming into a slab of half-molten steel, eventually creating a successful forgery. And what I mean by this is basically a more contemporaneous, forgiving approach to what Tiamat and its followers scraped up in the 90's as more personal, emotive alternative to the booming melodic death metal tradition of the time - not that this has to do a deal with the Swedes, but it's impossible not to make note of the soaring orchestral voluminousness of ''Moonhorse'', or the occasional acoustic interludes obtruding the crushing finesse of the grand, polished guitars. Indeed, in a firm elucidation of its desires and confrontations, ''Avatarium'' seems to encompass both traditional doom metal values with the inherent Candlemass sound, and a more accessible tone that belongs to its age.
Yet the band owes much of its awesome, crushing balance and clarity to the powerful, soaring female vocals of Jennie-Ann Smith; but she in now way proves a hindrance for the record. In fact, the wonderful eloquence of her pitch is a terrific thing to behold not just because it helps excavate the band from strict simplicity to epic panache, but it also refuses to be a pretentiously maudlin in its delivery. yet the band simultaneously achieves the sort of poignant fragility that so many others flounder at. This album is not just a pointless bridge of riff upon megalithic riff, either; you can feel each pounding veracity of each chord, a sublime metallic resonance, but keep in mind that a progressive touch that's heavily redolent of early Dream Theater spikes the atmosphere with sufficient technicality and mournful psychedelia to push the pastoral dream even deeper into the listener's emotional sanitarium. The magnitude of the riffs, the patterns and the melody, intertwined with blatant but effective chorus tropes is amazing. And the lush, yet strangely moving aesthetic is only coupled with the fantastic imagery of the poetic lyrics, like the unforgettable title track, making each track really, really fucking count despite the sheer length.
And what about the flawless modern-goth doom/rock tune ''Boneflower''? Its simplistic mid-paced verse riff, married with the impeccable adroitness of the vocalist make it one of the most memorable tracks of the year, and I'm not even biased. It's, as it melodiously proclaims, ''a one way trip to the promised land''. True, not all the songs hold up with the same rambunctious delicacy, and being essentially a melding of slow, lurching power chords, the album does get a tad redundant at times, but who the hell can blame you? For fans of Tiamat, (both early and late) Lake of Tears or Katatonia, this a reckoning that ought not be missed, a minute wonder of elegiac strength that has the strange ability to elevate the youthful spirit of a ''Clouds'' fan as magically as a sorceress resurrecting the souls of the doleful. It's jam-packed with 80's Candlemass and 70's nostalgia (thanks to the stupendous keyboard work) and while still no maverick in a market loaded to the tits with anything that's utterly uncanny and audacious, its still holds up splendidly. Give yourself in, spin it, savor the elegance and spin it again.
Bird of Prey