Hail to the king of Avatar Country! Seven albums and almost two decades into their career, Swedish metallers Avatar are still gaining momentum thanks to their hugely theatrical live performances which have seen them play on the main stage at Download festival and tour with the likes of Avenged Sevenfold and Halestorm over the past year. Their most recent album ‘Avatar Country’ is a concept album about the eponymous fictional land and its monarch, and the stage setup tonight is built to reflect that.
Beginning with a request for a (not so well-observed) minute’s silence, the show begins with the king (guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby) rising up above the drums in full regalia on a giant throne, launching into the chugging riff of ‘A Statue Of The King’ before quickly being joined by the rest of the band. Led by flamboyant lead singer Johannes EckerstrÃ¶m in character as a kind of sinister circus ringleader, it’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him throughout the set. As if that wasn’t theatrical enough, Kungen’s throne is then wheeled to the front of the stage so he can show off his technical prowess on the galloping power-metal intro to ‘Legend Of The King’, flanked by some spectacular pyro effects.
It’s difficult to pin down Avatar’s core sound because they can switch seamlessly from Iron Maiden-esque operatics to brutal death metal passages, with the likes of ‘Paint Me Red’ and the softer ‘Bloody Angel’ showcasing not only the band’s more melodic side, but really highlighting Johannes’ vocal ability. “It’s our second show of the year, but it’s the first in which I remember the lyrics!” he exclaims, asking the crowd “do you remember the lyrics?” to affirmative cheers.
There’s also a playfully eccentric side to the band’s music that manifests itself in tracks like ‘For The Swarm’ and the catchy ‘The Eagle Has Landed’, inviting comparisons to System Of A Down’s quirky metal arrangements and keeping things interesting. With bassist Henrik Sandelin operating a spring-loaded microphone stand for backing vocals and Johannes regularly taking swigs from a petrol can, the show is as visually spectacular as it sounds and the whole band contribute to a riveting performance that gives Avatar an edge over some of their peers.
Acknowledging “the freaks and the outcasts” with a humourous rallying cry ahead of fan favourite ‘Smells Like A Freakshow’, Johannes instructs the crowd to “bang your heads!” with little encouragement needed down at the front for the riff-heavy ‘Torn Apart’. Possibly the biggest curveball in Avatar’s set follows with recent hard-rock blues stomper ‘The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country’ as the stage is filled with bubbles and the band change costume into white uniforms.
Finally after a passionate speech about the longevity and steadfastness of heavy metal, Johannes pays tribute to Birmingham as the birthplace of the genre before closing with the excellent ‘Hail The Apocalypse’, receiving a deservedly rapturous reception from the crowd. There’s a little bit of everything up for grabs at an Avatar show, and with this much variety and showmanship on offer, it’s no wonder the band’s live reputation keeps on growing.
The supporting bill for this tour might seem a little odd at first glance, but it’s all a part of the bigger picture to provide a varied show. The Mahones are a Celtic punk outfit from Toronto who mix the Irish spirit of The Pogues with the anthemic punk of The Replacements, and they provide a high-energy set characterised by brash guitars and accordion. Frontman Finny McConnell’s exuberance is infectious and although some factions of the metal-favouring audience are initially wary, tracks like ‘Give It All Ya Got’ and ‘Punk Rock Saved My Life’ get a significant amount of the crowd onside by the end of their set.
Irish folk singer Dylan Walshe is an even braver choice of opening act, and he faces a mixed reaction from the audience who largely aren’t expecting a singer-songwriter armed only with an acoustic guitar and a harmonica to open up the show. Vocally he’s a very impressive performer, and with politically-edged songs such as ‘The Trickle-Down Effect’ and the traditional ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ he tackles his set from different angles to great effect. “I’ll try my best to rock it up a bit, but I’m just a guy with an acoustic guitar and a box” he shrugs. Top marks for effort, and those in the audience with an open mind are rewarded with an accomplished and interesting performance to kick off the night.
Reviewer :Ian Paget
Photographer: Adriana Vasile