Debut albums tend to fall into three distinct camps- there’s the “oh, with a bit of work, this might have a bit of potential” camp, a place it’s quite nice to visit from time to time. There’s the “oh, my life is not long enough to put up with this rancid bilge any longer” a place that’s not quite as nice to visit, unless you’re in spleen venting mode. Then there’s that rare beast, that “where have YOU been?!” camp of beautifully crafted, imaginative, life affirming, challenging music. Step forward then, if you please, Avatarium. This debut record is absurdly well crafted- by turns epic, heartbreaking, joyous, mournful- but never anything less than captivating, it is probably the best doom record I have heard all year ( at the moment it’s having a bit of a doom laden punch up in my house with Cathedral) and, given I am a bit of a morose sod at times, that is some praise.
Crafted out of the remains of Candlemass and delivered in less than eight months, this could have been an absolute car crash of a record: it is anything but. The overriding feeling is one of effortless accomplishment; of a band utterly at ease with each other and their art. Those of you looking for remorseless heaviness will find plenty to champion in the structured, epic songwriting of bassist and main architect Leif Edling; juxtaposing that with the delicate, bluesy vocals of Jennie Ann Smith is the masterstroke- to these ears it totally shifts what we should expect of doom metal and plays with our prior expectations in a thoroughly delightful way. Clearly, there are dozens of female fronted metal bands- some good, some less good- but it’s the charm, beauty and sheer warmth that comes across throughout the record that truly sets it apart- it may have been done before but I’m struggling to remember when it has been done THIS good before.
As you might expect from a doom album the shadow of Black Sabbath looms large but you also hear the ghosts of Richie Blackmore’s Rainbow and the playful quirkiness of Blue Oyster Cult deep in the grooves. However, this is no painting by numbers pastiche. Not a bit of it. The quality of the songwriting is consistently excellent, from the epic and crushing heaviness that underpins Moonhorse to the more delicate, warm melodiousness of Lady in the Lamp, here is the sound of a band that intuitively understand the power of the riff, the importance of narrative and the essential leitmotifs that keep us coming back again and again to the joy that is heavy metal. Avatarium have arrived, without fanfare, but completely fully formed. This is a dramatic album, hewn of granite, dipped in just enough melodrama and delivered as if their lives depended on it. You believe them. Brilliant.