REVIEW: AVATAR – “Feathers & Flesh”
Gothenburg, Sweden has long been known to produce quality metal bands, and recent years have seen the emergence of Avatar, who after their successful ‘Black Waltz’ in 2012, have only grown in popularity. Avatar is a theatrical melo death metal band, which needs to be understood by the listener before delving into their music. Vocalist Johannes Eckerström appears on stage and in photos in full black and white clown makeup, whilst his band mates don red and gold circus ringmaster outfits. How much you buy into this type of shtick will likely determine how much you’ll enjoy their music as a whole. Personally, they fall well short of Alice Cooper, but certainly higher than Manson.
‘Feathers & Flesh’ is their new work, and is a concept album. This made the predominantly prog fan in me quite happy as I have an admitted weakness and love for concept albums. ‘Feathers’ tells the story of an owl, who hating the daylight decides to try and enlist the aid of other animals to wage war to stop the sun from rising. One can only conclude that the owl is well caught up on her Chaucer and has been reading “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” frequently. That or she watched the early 90s cartoon “Rock- a- Doodle” a great many times as a young owlet. The band, however, goes into the story with great gusto and seriousness and so produced a fairly enjoyable melo death album.
The music throughout is rather bombastic, which given the philosophy behind the band should come as no great surprise. The band never tries to overwhelm the listener with feats of technical prowess, or mind melting key changes and solos; they do enough to keep me interested, but “wow” moments are few and far between. Instead they produced a very consistent riff and groove based album, which is also heavily melodic. Although certainly heavy, with plenty of screams and growls, ‘Feathers’ is a fairly light affair, highly accessible, not quite pop metal, but a far cry from the type of melodic death metal one typically associated with Gothenburg.
It comes as no surprise that Eckerström, being the head clown, is the main focal point of the album, as it is his singing that drives the story forward. He handles both clean and growled vocals well. Indeed his screams are quite reminiscent to those of Randy Blythe, and he bounces back and forth throughout most of the songs. Despite, or perhaps because, it is a predominantly scream oriented album, his best vocal performance could be found on the slower, melody driven clean sung “Fiddler’s Farewell.” His voice is suitably mournful throughout, and serves as a rather delightful lament and breaks up the album nicely.
The album was produced with well known producer Sylvia Massy (TOOL, System of a Down) and has a clear and bright sound, plenty of punch when the music requires it, but the softer; and gentler aspects and vocals are crisp and well defined as well. Avatar does not skimp on their physical releases either, for the serious fan a book is being released corresponding with the release of the album to flesh out the story more and let the listener delve into the owl’s world deeper than before.
In summation, ‘Feathers & Flesh’ works fairly well. How much the listener decides to buy into Avatar’s shtick will likely affect how they perceive and enjoy not only this album, but their work as a whole. Personally I can’t buy into it to a very great degree. However much of the music, while occasionally being borderline generic, works quite well, and is ultimately a fun hour of listening. This album should serve as a good, light holdover, until some of the more serious/heavy albums being released later this year.