ALBUM REVIEW: Avatarium

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AVATARIUM
‘Avatarium’
Nuclear Blast (out November 1, 2013)
8/10

It’s impossible to listen to anything new that emanates from the darkness of Leif Edling’s cranium without a lingering prayer that it is going to be as earth-shatteringly awesome as his 1980s masterpieces. In 1984, Edling’s formative band Nemesis released the landmark ‘Day of Retribution’ EP, and he spent the next decade or so perfecting his art through Candlemass’ Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, Nightfall, etc. While Edling has never ventured a million miles from the doom metal framework that he was so instrumental in defining, during the intervening years the unassuming Swedish bass player has tried to push out the boat with varying degrees of success.

Alongside him in his latest venture’s line-up are guitarist Marcus Jidell (Evergrey), drummer Lars Skold (Tiamat), long-time collaborator Carl Westholm on keyboards and the relatively unheralded Jennie-Ann Smith behind the mic. We have to dispute the assertion that this is a kind of all-star doom supergroup. This is not some Scott Weinrich/Matt Pike/Bill Ward fantasy project; this is a real band and it’s trademark Edling through and through.

With Edling, Jidell and Skold delivering typically mid-weight doom with an easy confidence and precision, and Westholm lighting up the northern skies with his dazzling keyboard creativity, all eyes are on Smith to get the vocals right. She has a sweet, bluesy voice, but she sounds almost too fragile to express the emotional depth required of the genre. That said, it is a pleasure to listen to her sing, and there are times when she soars like Messiah Marcolin being fired out of (a very big) cannon.

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It is difficult to shake the sense that some of the tracks on Avatarium’s self-titled debut are simply discarded Candlemass demos that have been spun in a tombola. The opener ‘Moonhorse’ for example, is a pretty obvious latter-day Edling effort which suffers from a slightly jumbled stop-start arrangement. These problems show up elsewhere, too, such as on ‘Boneflower’, despite its Trouble-ish vibe and big chorus, and it’s strange that these were the tracks used to promote the album.

Strange because there are stronger songs elsewhere. ‘Bird of Prey’ is a cohesive and hugely enjoyable doom romp, safely within the Edling framework but no less pleasing for that fact. Likewise, the title track ‘Avatarium’ – which deploys standard spooky organ backing and swirling vocals – grows into a hypnotising carousel of a song, while ‘Pandora’s Egg’ (with its hilariously moreish “egg of evil” chorus) is a tasty lump of hard-boiled metal. Closing track ‘Lady In The Lamp’ provides a glimpse of what the band’s future might hold, featuring patient acoustic strumming and gentle keyboard caressing before finally unleashing a last-minute blast of Rainbow-coloured epicness that leaves you gasping for more.

Hopefully there will be lots more to come from Avatarium. Their debut album is strong and interesting, and it’s easy to imagine a hundred ways in which they develop and experiment further to concoct something even more magical. It sounds almost churlish to suggest, but perhaps Edling – now 50 – is rediscovering his youthful zest. Some of the lyrics on ‘Avatarium’ certainly hark back to childhood, and there are hints of older influences such as Blue Oyster Cult.

There is something exciting about seeing someone who has created so much great doom metal still searching for new pathways through the gloom. Is this as good as ‘Ancient Dreams’? Of course not, but maybe it’s time for some New Dreams.

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