Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Album Review: Avatarium - Hurricanes And Halos

For a guy who retired his main band, Leif Edling sure is busy. Not only did Candlemass not hang it up when it seemed they were going to, but he's been busy with a new solo project, and this band, Avatarium, who are on to their third album. For whatever reason, despite knowing of them, I hadn't gotten around to listening to either of their first two albums, which meant I was walking into this without thinking about the arc of their career. Sometimes that's the best way of approaching music, because we often complicate our opinions with details that don't matter.

Opener "Into The Fire - Into The Storm" is, as you would expect, a more upbeat number that could have easily fit on any of the recent Candlemass releases. Leif has his style, and it doesn't deviate, regardless of the project. The big difference is that Avatarium features the powerful vocals of Jennie-Ann Smith. She is rightfully presented as the highlight of the experience, because she is what makes this band stand out. The usual cast of doom singers are all fine, but there's a point at which their wailing all blends together. Honestly, I can't think of a single memorable thing Mats Leven has done in at least a decade. But I digress.

Jennie's voice powers Avatarium, because she not only has the power needed to sing doom, but she has just enough of a delicate edge to her sound to show nuance. Doom is all about big, blunt riffs, so nuance is not a word you often associate with the genre. Doing so is her greatest gift to the record.

It's also key that Avatarium is a band where each member is able to make the songs better by virtue of their playing. "The Starless Sleep" is a simple construction, but there are layers of dissonant guitars and Hammond organ that swirl in the background that add real flavor and texture to the proceedings, so that everything leading up to the sweet melody has a purpose and an identity. It's easy to have everything follow one simple riff pattern, but breaking away from that allows Avatarium to make their songs into sonic portraits, rather than prints.

When the band sticks to their focus, they make some remarkable music. The previously mentioned song, along with "The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea" are fantastic fusions of doom riffing and laconic melody. An entire album of that kind of music would be an easy favorite. However, there's a needling desire in the back of their minds to be more progressive, and that's where they get into trouble. "Medusa Child" has a chorus of young voices, which never work on record, no matter how many bands try it. And at nine minutes long, the song takes a few disjointed detours away from the main crux of the song. There's some good stuff in there, but not nine minutes worth.

But that's a small gripe, all things considered. The vast majority of "Hurricanes And Halos" is an engaging trip down the road of doom. In fact, even though they aren't purely a doom band, there aren't many doom bands that are more interesting than Avatarium. They could use a touch more focus, but they have great style. Sometimes, that's just as important.

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