This was a tough one. I’m a pretty big AVATAR fan, right? I really enjoyed Hail the Apocalypse and its follow-up Feathers & Flesh, even though it’s a concept album. No, no, no I don’t hate those. I guess I’m just burnt out on them. So when I learned that brand new record Avatar Country (out now, Entertainment One) was also a concept album I wasn’t exactly thrilled. But, I figured I’d have a little faith and wait and see/hear. I’m not sure what the exact storyline is here, just that all the song titles feature the word “King’ in them. So does it work? Well, yes…and no. This is an album that has some truly great moments and also some “What the FUCK is going on here?!?” ones.
So right from the start let’s get what I wasn’t thrilled with out of the way. First gripe is that there are only eight proper songs on an album that clocks in at roughly 35 minutes. There’s a 52 second intro with “Glory to Our King”. You all know how much intros bother me. Then midway through the disc we come upon a spoken word track, “The King Speaks” that is told through the eyes of a reporter (I guess) as said king addresses his subjects. Quite frankly this is complete and utter nonsense involving enemas and taking a bath. Again, this is one of those “WTF” moments I mentioned earlier. Now, let’s move on to what I did like, yeah?
“Legend of the King” is eight minutes of killer twin guitar riffs and solos courtesy of Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström, and vocalist Johannes Eckerström shows tremendous range as he moves from singing to screams with ease. But the real gem, I mean the undisputed champion of this album is without a doubt “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country.” File this under songs I must repeat six or seven times before continuing. The groove has a bluesy, foot-stompin’ feel to go along with vocal harmonies for days. When I first heard this one I was instantly blown away and that feeling hasn’t let up one bit with each passing listen. This is now right up there with “Hail the Apocalypse” as one of my all-time favorite AVATAR tunes.
“King’s Harvest” brings back some of that Melodic Death Metal found on earlier releases, while “The King Wants You” is more of a straight-ahead rocker. Both songs work, as they are different sides of the same coin, and the rhythm section of bassist Henrik Sandelin and drummer John Alfredsson really anchors the latter. The riff machine is fueled up and ready for “A Statue of the King” and this is another one that leans toward the heavier side of things. “King After King” once again features some blazing guitar work and will have heads bobbing and banging, I’m sure.
The record closes with a pair of instrumentals in “Silent Songs of the King Pt 1” and “Silent Songs of the King Part 2.” These two are as different as night and day, with the former being very subdued and the latter opting to really rock out. And just like that, it’s all over. When you look at Avatar Country as a whole, yeah it’s got some really cool stuff on there, but there’s also some wasted opportunity. We only get six songs with vocals, and to repeat, this disc is way too short for me. At the end of the day this isn’t a bad album; but it does at times feel like a step in the wrong direction. Still, they do kick ass live, so I’ll definitely catch AVATAR on tour.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country”, “Legend of the King”, “King’s Harvest”, “A Statue of the King”