Review: Avatar – Avatar Ages: ‘Madness’

Had the pandemic not happened then Avatar would have no doubt spent 2020 on the road in support of their latest album: the astonishing ‘Hunter Gatherer’. The setlist for the tour would have, rightly so, focused on ‘Hunter Gatherer’, and no doubt with a handful of tracks from its predecessor ‘Avatar Country’ included, choice cuts from earlier albums would have been few and far between. But the pandemic did happen and tours were grounded. Cue the rise of the Livestream as a way for bands to promote new music, stay connected with their fanbase, and more importantly, keep earning some sort of living. Avatar has taken the concept of the Livestream and turned it on its head, and for four consecutive Saturdays in January, the Swedes have drawn outside the lines, pushed the envelope, and totally blown the concept out of the water.

Four Saturdays, four different themes, four different setlists which the Avatar fanbase played a major role in selecting. Tonight is the third of the four streams: ‘Madness’, and features tracks culled from 2012’s ‘Black Waltz’, and 2014’s ‘Hail the Apocalypse’, many of which, people were hearing live for the first time ever. A setlist curated by the people for the people.

Once the clocking counting down to showtime reaches its conclusion, the screen is filled with videos of fans chanting “Av-a-tar, Av-a-tar” over and over. Fans from all over the globe it would seem, given the number of flags on display. The screen goes black, the words “When you cannot come to us…we come to you” appear and the view is from inside a darkened house as a storm rages outside. The sinister figure of frontman Johannes Eckerström is seen peering through the window, as “Let us in…” appears on the screen. He kicks in the door and the screen cuts to him entering one of the many different stage set-ups, a room full of doors, and a drumkit. He passes another setup, this time a baby grand piano, and enters another, where the band is all lined up, frozen in time, drummer John Alfredsson is captured mid-swing with one arm in the air. Johannes notices the crank-up music box on the far side, smiles, and crosses over to it, as soon as he starts to crank it, the wall of screens behind him flicker to life, the band kick into ‘Hail the Apocalypse’ and all hell breaks loose. The quality of the audio and visual is astonishing, as is the sight of the three guitarists lined-up in a row, all windmilling in unison. The guitar work from Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström is incredible from the off, especially the sound that the pair coax out of their axes via the whammy bar.

The setlist is a best-of from both albums, and it’s a thrill that the band mixes it up by alternating between each album. ‘Torn Apart’ is the first visit to the ‘Black Waltz’ album and it’s a sight to behold watching Jarlsby and Öhrström, along with bassist Henrik Sandelin, windmill in unison as Eckerström marches back and forth in front of them. His legs are flailing like some sort of demented cross between John Cleese and Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Eckerström is an incredible performer, he does so much that at times it’s staggering how he can do everything and deliver some of the strongest guttural vocals around today. His clean vocals are just as strong and enhance the reputation that he has as one of the forerunners of the Metal scene today.

The fans on the live chat are going apeshit as each song unfolds, with each song met with its title in block caps and exclamation point, hence ‘Blod’, and ‘In Napalm’ become ‘BLOD!’ and ‘IN NAPALM!’. The live chat function is great fun, it can be disabled if preferred, but keeping it on, it becomes evident very quickly how much everyone has needed these Livestreams. It’s also evident how everyone agrees that drummer John Alfredsson is playing out of his skin, a task no doubt made harder by the tight, army-style tunic that he is wearing. The camera that is covering every move from Alfredsson is a personal favourite, as everything has to go through the drummer, and it’s mesmerizing watching this guy. Eckerström is equally as mesmerizing, a performer that is hard to take your eyes away from, especially when he is waltzing on his own, holding a bunch of balloons as the band smash their way into ‘Black Waltz’ on a different set-up, this time the room full of doors.

Highlights are numerous, and while it would be easier to say that the entire show was one big highlight from start to finish, some moments deserve singling out though; Kungen’s melodic guitar intro on ‘Let It Burn’ which recalls ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ from the Eagles; the wall of flames on the same song; the Vaudeville fight between Johannes and John as ‘Paint Me Red’ finishes, and the resulting chase between sets which could only be bettered by the addition of either the Benny Hill theme tune or the Scooby-Doo theme; Johannes breaking out a trombone on ‘Puppet Show’; the animation-filled screens on ‘Vultures Fly; Johannes at the piano for a spine-tingling version of ‘Tower’; Johannes performing ‘Tsar Bomba’ in German; a lone Kungen picking out the opening melodies to ‘Bloody Angel’; Every. Single. Riff. From Kungen and Tim. Christ, the list could be endless. The easiest thing to do is tune in to the unlimited replays which are available until Tuesday 11:59PM ET, and just let yourself go. There is so much going on that it takes multiple views to appreciate this Livestream for what it is – a work of art.

‘Avatar Ages: Madness’ is available to view for a limited time, the Livestreams comes to a conclusion with ‘Memories’ on Saturday January 30th. All relevant information on ticketing, replays, and merchandise can be found here.

Review – Oli

Frontpage image via Avatar Facebook page,

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