Eschewing the concept album path that both previous albums ‘Feathers & Flesh’ and ‘Avatar Country’ ventured down, the rapidly rising Swedish Metal outfit Avatar opted for a more traditional approach on studio album number eight; ‘Hunter Gatherer’. Ten individual tracks, no concept, same mission though: to blow the minds of the citizens of Avatar Country.
Produced by Jay Ruston in L.A. ‘Hunter Gatherer’ was recorded with the band performing altogether, playing as one in the studio the way bands used to. And the end result is quite staggering.
‘Hunter Gatherer’ is much darker than the vaudeville-genius which was 2018’s ‘Avatar Country’, it’s also very diverse. The melodic death metal sound is still very much prevalent, but with more bottom-heavy sludge and with added downtuning. ‘Silence in the Age of Apes’ begins with a trademark buzzsaw riff from The King himself: Jonas Jarlsby, before one of the most underrated drummers in metal; John Alfredsson brings the power. Johannes Eckerström improves as a vocalist with each outing and there are moments on ‘Hunter Gatherer’ where he is in unbeatable form. To say that his vocals are merely a mixture of harsh and clean vocals does him a great disservice as there are times where his harsh vocals change within the same song, almost if there are multiple vocalists.
‘Colossus’ has Avatar mixing Down-esque sludge, with subtle electronic samples and Faith No More grooves. Eckerström begins the song in a low, deep tone similar to both Peter Steele and Nick Cave, before launching his incredible clean high vocals, followed by the harsh chorus (which also features Mr. Corey Taylor). Bassist Henrik Sandelin is having an absolute ball on this one. Taylor also appears on ‘A Secret Door’, but not in the way that the listener might have expected. Instead of a Jesse Leach/Howard Jones ‘Signal Fire’ type of duet, Taylor helps out on a beast of a track – with his impressive whistling talents. So much going on during ‘A Secret Door’ that at times it’s dizzying, almost like a musical suite. The melodic guitars from The King and Tim Öhrström are sublime, but the towering drum sound from Alfredsson does steal the show. He also plays a crucial role in ‘Scream Until You Wake’ which begins like some insane souped-up training montage from a bastardization of Rocky IV-meets-Fury Road. Isolate Eckerström’s vocals and concentrate on the background arrangements, Rocky in the Siberian snow with the guitar playing nutter from Fury Road along for the ride. No? Even bringing the vocals back in, mid-song it does have that underlying ‘80’s feel to it.
The quality and aggression don’t let up when the album enters its second half, beginning with ‘Child’ which features an almost nursery rhyme-like refrain from Eckerström throughout. The harsh vocals have a bludgeoning effect, as do the pounding beats. The constant change in pacing and vocal styles is dazzling and at times quite creepy and unsettling, but then again; this is Avatar. After ‘Justice’ pummels the listener, ‘Gun’ totally wipes them out. A stunning example of flooring the listener without battering them with volume, speed, and power. It’s Eckerström at his most fragile, with a simple, stark piano sound taking centre stage. The vocals and piano notes gradually build into a towering track which in essence is ‘Hurt’ for a new generation. A bonafide, jaw-on-the-floor moment. Not long after the listener picks themselves up from the floor, ‘Wormhole’ knocks them back down again with its slow, sludgy grooves, multiple changes in direction, and an overall sense of ferocity.
Expect to see ‘Hunter Gatherer’ in many end of year best-of lists.
Available now on Century Media.
Review – Dave