'Feathers And Flesh'
Release Date: 13th May 2016
Theatrical Swedish Metallers Avatar have never lacked ambition. They have always been pushing the boundaries of the use of their inner thespian matched to their patented sub-death groove Metal style. On their last album, 2014's 'Hail The Apocalypse', they ramped up their carnival of madness image into a rollicking circus freak Metal rollercoaster. Now with that album's follow up. 'Feathers And Flesh'. they seem to have found the confidence to really crank the creativity into overdrive and to hell with the consequences.
Avatar have bowed to the inevitable and made a concept album. In the words of singer and frontman extraordinaire Johannes Eckerstrom it is "...a fable about an owl who goes to war to stop the sun from rising." Yes really! This a hugely complex and multi layered morality tale about the human condition told through a traditional kind of fable with talking animals and a host of other quirks.
If this sounds mad, it kind of is but personally I love that they have taken to territory which would make even psychedelic prog and power Metal bands hesitate and totally gone for it. If you doubt their commitment (which I didn't) they have decided that the tale told by the album is too complicated to fit into a CD cover and they are releasing a book of the story alongside the album.
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All this lyrical focus is fine and dandy but what makes this album really something special is that the music matches the theme in scope and aspiration. There are so many musical styles given an outing here it's astonishing. 'Regret' has classic era Alice Cooper groove all over it but follow up track 'House Of Eternal Hunt' has melodic power Metal twin lead guitar and double bass drums aplenty. Meanwhile 'The Eagle Has Landed' has an unbelievably catchy jaunty circus Metal vibe but the frantic 'For The Swarm' is the band showcasing that they can do madness just as well as System Of A Down can.
Their death Metal roots haven't been abandoned entirely and Eckerstrom can still growl with the best of them behind a crushing riff on 'Raven Wine' but he can really sing in an interesting theatrical style too and atmospheric moments like in the laid back 'Fiddler's Farewell' are a worthy edition to their repertoire.
The concept and the multi-layered styles of music could have made the album a disjointed mess but what keeps it all together is that the song writing is excellent. This is a band that really can write a memorable metal tune and 'Feathers And Flesh' is them absolutely on top form.
Avatar are a cracking live band and in Eckerstrom they have the real deal, a proper old fashioned frontman with charisma and presence. For me the music has only occasionally matched that talent on album up to now but no more. Avatar have stepped things up a few gears and the result is extraordinarily good. Park any reservations about the madcap story or their death Metal roots and check out an album which could do for them what 'Operation Mindcrime' did for Queensryche.