AVATARIUM — Death, Where Is Your Sting

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AVATARIUM - Death, Where Is Your Sting cover
4.86 | 3 ratings | 1 review
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Album · 2022

Filed under Doom Metal


1. A Love like Ours
2. Stockholm
3. Death, Where Is Your Sting (5:22)
4. Psalm for the Living
5. God Is Silent (6:06)
6. Mother, Can You Hear Me Now
7. Nocturne
8. Transcendent


- Marcus Jidell / Guitars, Backing Vocals, Piano, Cello, Keyboards
- Jennie-Ann Smith / Vocals
- Mats Rydström / Bass
- Andreas Johansson / Drums, Percussion

About this release

AFM Records
CD, Ltd ed 2 x CD, Vinyl, Digital
Released 21st Oct 2022

Thanks to Nightfly for the addition


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Started ten years ago as a side-project by legendary Candlemass bassist Leif Edling, Avatarium have risen to become a reckoning force in the doom metal/rock arena. Album after album, as Edling’s involvement in the band gradually decreased, the Swedes kept carving a unique and remarkable path for themselves, skillfully balancing their doom heritage with swathes of 1970s psychedelic prog as well as jazz and blues influences that are testament to singer Jennie-Ann Smith’s background. This masterplan has finally come to full fruition on the band’s fifth full-length LP, Death, Where Is Your Sting, out on October 21, 2022 via AFM Records. There is no way around it: the new record is not only the band’s strongest effort to date, it is a bona-fide masterpiece and a top contender for my album of the year.

The first thing that I loved about Death, Where Is Your Sting is that it reminded me of the reason why, as a teenager, I became irredeemably attracted to metal: the guitars. Now, keyboards and synths have become a staple of modern metal, but there was a time where these instruments were viewed with hostility in the metal community (I still remember CD stickers proudly promoting the album as “keyboard-free”). Not by me, though: I have always loved the use of electronica and synths in metal, even back in the 1990s when the trend was just starting. However, over the years I have also come to appreciate how (excessive) reliance on keyboards may give guitar players an excuse for lazy songwriting and arrangements, because “the keyboards will take care of texture”. Not here: Marcus Jidell’s six-stringed instrument lies at the very heart of the album’s sound design and texture. One can find all sorts of guitar tones and techniques on this album, making it such an interesting listen through and through. When Jidell is not busy churning out massive riffs with his signature fat, fuzzy distortion, he is bending his strings dramatically or holding long notes to deliver the best Gilmouresque, weeping leads and solos you’ll hear this year. But there’s more: strummed and fingerpicked acoustic guitars are at the very forefront of the music, especially on the album’s first three tracks. In fact, I struggle to recall a recent metal album featuring so much acoustic guitar as this one. And, as if this was not enough, Jidell also takes out his cello in a handful of songs to deliver amazing solos that add a whole new dimension to the album. The acoustic and electric parts are mixed together masterfully, balancing one another and giving the album a multidimensionality and depth that is rare to find in today’s metal productions (more on this later).

Death, Where Is Your Sting deserves multiple spins if only to appreciate the nuance of the guitar parts. But there’s more: the other prominent ingredient in Avatarium’s sonic cauldron is Jennie-Ann Smith’s beautiful voice. Her vocal tone may not grab you immediately: she has a trained, clear and dry voice that one immediately associates with jazz standards and may feel cold and detached at first. But her presence in the music grows with repeated listens, her subdued blues twang becoming more and more spellbinding and her evocative phrasing increasing in power. Eventually, one comes to appreciate Jennie-Ann for a quality many singers do not really have: she truly knows how to use her voice to perfectly fit the music. She can be fragile one moment, and powerful, almost messianic, another, as the song grows in intensity. She effortlessly switches between delicate falsettos and a deeper vocal tone, exploding in forceful screams when the music requires it. It’s a fantastic performance: subtle, nuanced and poetic as no others I have heard this year.

With two such great performers as Smith and Jidell, the album is inevitably constructed around voice and guitars. This is best exemplified in “Psalm for the Living”, a powerful hymn where Smith’s vocals and Jidell’s mournful arpeggios truly constitute the near totality of the music - except for a few bars of sparse percussions provided by drummer Andreas Johansson. Elsewhere, the rest of the band play a more prominent, but still restrained, role. Daniel Karlsson adds tasteful piano flourishes in a handful of songs, while Johansson and Mats Rydström (bass) provide a backbone that is remarkably sparse and understated, often just keeping the beat with very little added embellishments. Jidell’s sound production and Mats Valentin’s mix tastefully place each instrument on different sonic planes - the guitars and voice upfront, then the rhythm section, and finally Karlsson’s keyboards more in the background. This creates a sense of depth and contrast in the mix that stands out compared to many recent metal production - almost like the difference between a 3D and a standard 2D video - and is truly a pleasure to listen to.

The point I tried to make so far is that Death, Where Is Your Sting has a great sound: interesting, rich and deep. But the album’s true trump card is its exquisite songwriting. This is where Avatarium’s superior firepower really comes through. Each of the album’s 8 songs is a gem. The melodies are memorable but never obvious or cheesy. The transitions between verses and choruses are subtle and classy: this is not an album of big, overstated chorus lines being force-fed to the listener over and over again. The progressions feel natural and there are plenty of digressions from the basic verse-chorus structure, which keeps things interesting and not predictable.

The album also offers extraordinary variation across its songs, which makes for a fun and dynamic listen. The first three tracks are more acoustic and explore in depth the band’s 1970s progressive and folk rock influences, from the delay-drenched dark atmospheric rock of “A Love Like Ours” to the almost Johnny Cash vibes of the title-track. The sparse, delicate “Psalm for the Living” serves as an interlude before Avatarium introduce three heavier, doom-inspired pieces. “God Is Silent” is a Sabbathian mammoth that will crush you with its dramatic rises and falls. “Mother Can You Hear Me Now” is a moving ballad featuring one of the best guitar solos I heard in recent years, while “Nocturne” plays beautifully on the contrast between fast, classic heavy metal guitar riffs and 1970s-infused upbeat vocals, a trick Avatarium have proven to master in previous albums as well (Hurricane and Halos). The album closes with the moody instrumental “Transcendent”, a dark, introspective piece swinging dramatically between acoustic moments and heavy sections that almost veer into blackened doom territory (check out Johansson’s double bass drumming in the middle section). It’s a spellbinding conclusion to an awesome journey, exploring themes of death and rebirth through different facets of doom and progressive rock, in a way that feels fresh, genuine and emotionally compelling.

Comparisons are futile because Avatarium sound like no other, but let me nevertheless indulge into an observation. Death, Where Is Your Sting breaks boundaries between genres, exploring darkness through the lens of different musical traditions (doom, classic heavy metal, prog rock, psychedelia, folk) in a way that reminded me of two kindred-spirit artists: Opeth and Oceans of Slumber. Neither band sound anything like Avatarium, but their drive to stretch the boundaries of extreme metal and merge it with other styles into new, extraordinary hybrids, is similar. Echoes of the darker corners of acoustic prog (Comus, String Driven Thing) can be heard both here and in Opeth’s most recent records, not to speak of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s one-off collaboration with Steven Wilson, Storm Corrosion (I bet Åkerfeldt and Wilson would have loved to have written the acoustic arpeggio that opens “Transcendent”). It’s also interesting to compare Avatarium’s Death, Where Is Your Sting with Oceans of Slumber’s Starlight and Ash, also released this year: on these records, both bands took their doom heritage and filtered it through 1960s and 1970s influences to usher in a new, timeless form of darkness. The results that can be heard on the two albums are radically different, but the trajectory towards new sonic landscapes is of a similar nature, and ties in with the recent revival of Occult Rock (Ghost, The Devil's Blood, Dool, Molassess), but with unparalleled class and musicality.

Death, Where Is Your Sting is one of the great albums of our time. It’s the pinnacle of Avatarium’s career to date - combining the experimental drive of Hurricanes and Halos with the velvet finesse of The Fire I Long For to produce a superior brand of dark rock/metal. It showcases a band with a unique voice and in full command of their artistry. This is simply a mandatory listen this year for anyone into the darker side of music.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

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