AVATARIUM

Doom Metal / Heavy Psych • Sweden
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Avatarium is a Swedish doom metal band that released their self-titled debut album in 2013. The band features Candlemass bassist Leif Edling, Tiamat drummer Lars Sköld, former Evergrey/Royal Hunt guitarist Marcus Jidell, and Jupiter Society keyboardist Carl Westholm. The group is rounded off by lead singer Jennie-Ann Smith, Marcus Jidell's wife.

Following their debut Avatarium released the EP All I Want in 2014 and their second full-length album, The Girl with the Raven Mask, in 2015.

Leif Edling later stepped down from recording and performance duties but still wrote most of the band's third album, Hurricanes and Halos, released in 2017.

- Biography by adg211288 (last updated May 2017).
Thanks to adg211288 for the addition and Nightfly for the updates

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AVATARIUM Discography

AVATARIUM albums / top albums

AVATARIUM Avatarium album cover 4.14 | 23 ratings
Avatarium
Doom Metal 2013
AVATARIUM The Girl with the Raven Mask album cover 4.05 | 17 ratings
The Girl with the Raven Mask
Doom Metal 2015
AVATARIUM Hurricanes and Halos album cover 4.11 | 13 ratings
Hurricanes and Halos
Heavy Psych 2017
AVATARIUM The Fire I Long For album cover 4.32 | 7 ratings
The Fire I Long For
Doom Metal 2019
AVATARIUM Death, Where Is Your Sting album cover 4.86 | 3 ratings
Death, Where Is Your Sting
Doom Metal 2022

AVATARIUM EPs & splits

AVATARIUM Moonhorse album cover 4.67 | 3 ratings
Moonhorse
Doom Metal 2013
AVATARIUM All I Want album cover 4.14 | 7 ratings
All I Want
Doom Metal 2014

AVATARIUM live albums

AVATARIUM An Evening With Avatarium album cover 4.50 | 1 ratings
An Evening With Avatarium
Doom Metal 2020

AVATARIUM demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

AVATARIUM re-issues & compilations

AVATARIUM singles (2)

.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
God Is Silent
Doom Metal 2022
.. Album Cover
0.00 | 0 ratings
Death, Where Is Your Sting
Doom Metal 2022

AVATARIUM movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

AVATARIUM Reviews

AVATARIUM Death, Where Is Your Sting

Album · 2022 · Doom Metal
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lukretion
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]

AVATARIUM An Evening With Avatarium

Live album · 2020 · Doom Metal
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Kev Rowland
Very few bands were able to complete a full tour in 2020, due to obvious reasons, and I am not aware of many live albums recorded during that period, but here is an exception to the rule. This was the set the band expected to take around Europe, but fortunately it was recorded in Stockholm for both a CD and DVD release. When the band came together in 2013, they were something of a supergroup, with Candlemass bassist Leif Edling, drummer Lars Sköld (Tiamat, Jupiter Society etc), former Evergrey/Royal Hunt guitarist Marcus Jidell, and keyboard player Carl Westholm (Tiamat, Jupiter Society etc), with singer Jennie-Ann Smith at the front. Only Marcus and his wife Jennie-Ann are still there from the original line-up, which is now completed by bassist Mats Rydström (Abramis Brama, Backdraft), keyboard player Rickard Nilsson and drummer (Christian Liljegren, Narnia, Royal Hunt etc).

Avatarium are a band whose career I have followed closely and feel all four of their studio albums are worthy of further investigation, although I am aware there are some fans who were not happy with the change in direction between ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ and ‘Hurricanes and Halos’ where they moved somewhat away from doom and more into an early Seventies rock direction. Hearing these songs in the live environment, in many ways it is a perfect amalgam of the styles, as the doom numbers are thunderingly heavy with organ lifting them firmly into the early Seventies style, while the rockier numbers have here been dealt a serious amount of doom. While there are sometimes concerns when musicians bring their partners into the band, there is no doubt that this time Jennie-Ann is solidly there on merit. Whatever the guys are dishing out, with the slabs of metal coming out of the speakers, she deals with it, rising high above the maelstrom.

But here is a band who are prepared to push both themselves and their audience into different directions, and one of the standout tracks must be the rendition of “In My Time of Dying”, which features just Marcus on acoustic with Jennie-Ann. For those who are unaware of the son, this was originally written and recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, a bluesman who use to attack his guitar with a harsh vocal approach and died some 75 years before this was recorded. They make the song their own with a totally different arrangement, and while it is totally at odds with the rest of the set, it highlights their strong use of dynamics and contrast. Another powerful example is the song which follows it, “Medusa Child”, where they flit between doom and commercial metal, all with tribal drumming in the background.

Over the course of their four studio albums, they have followed their own path, taking influences from different areas, refusing to sit still yet often imbibing their songs with a healthy element of doom, and this live album is a great look back on their career to date. If you have yet to come across Avatarium then this is the place to start.

AVATARIUM The Fire I Long For

Album · 2019 · Doom Metal
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Kev Rowland
Between the second and third album both Leif Edling (bass) and Carl Westholm (keyboards) left Avatarium, being replaced by Mats Rydström and Rickard Nilsson respectively. Then between the third and this the fourth, released towards the end of 2019, drummer Lars Sköld also departed to be replaced by Andreas ”Habo” Johansson, leaving only guitarist Marcus Jidell and singer Jennie-Ann Smith as founding members. I really enjoyed the third album, although some fans felt they had moved too far away from doom and into the early Seventies style they had been playing with on the second, but no-one can say they have continued down that road, as stylistically this sits between their self-titled debut and ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’. There have been changes in the line-up, yet the band have pulled themselves together and have gone back to their roots – all of which is somewhat strange given that the first two people to leave were both from Candlemass so one might have expected the doom to have gone with them.

We still get the Seventies-style songs where Jidell and Smith show they can do something different, yet they also bring the doom. Leif Edling actually contributed three songs to the album, and he and Jidell continue to work together in other areas, he just isn’t playing with the band. Jidell says the album “is emotional and it will always have those dark elements in it, it is all about light and shadow”. Adds Jennie-Ann: “Leif’s artistry, wilfulness and supreme songwriting is a great inspiration. We have a heritage to take care of but also a responsibility to propose growth and development for our music.” They have certainly done that, as this album contains some of their finest songwriting and performances to date, mixing the doom with dark gothic elements and early Heep. There is a Hammond passage on “Porcelain Skull” far heavier than most guitars ever manage, although Jidell does his best to match it.

Commercial, timeless, accessible yet stretching boundaries, this is doom for the 21st century which has its roots very firmly based on two great British bands from fifty years ago, as they take the best bits of Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep and turn their legacy into their own.

AVATARIUM The Girl with the Raven Mask

Album · 2015 · Doom Metal
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Kev Rowland
This 2015 album was the second from Avatarium, a project put together by Candlemass bassist Leif Edling, drummer Lars Sköld (Tiamat), guitarist Marcus Jidell (Evergrey, Royal Hunt), his wife Jennie-Ann Smith on vocals and Carptree keyboard player Carl Westholm (who also played with Candlemass). I have previously reviewed their debut which was released in 2013, and their third album ‘Hurricanes and Halos’ from 2017, but somehow missed this one out altogether! Although they started life as a doom band, by the time of this album they were already starting to move away from the genre, although still maintaining many of the styles one associates with that.

There are those who will think that Smith got the job as her husband is the guitarist, but while there is undoubtedly some truth in that, she is also a great singer and is definitely there on merit. She lifts the tone of the songs when the accompaniment is incredibly dark, taking it into new areas: it is dark, incredibly gothic, and always with an early Seventies feel. Songs such as “Pearls and Coffins” are exactly the sort of material which used to appear on Uriah Heep albums to change direction and give a lift, smothered in swathes of Hammond Organ. It also allows Smith to throw plenty of emotion and cracks into her vocals, as she relaxes and allows herself to be far more dramatic than when the band is at full bore. I have no idea how I did not listen to this album when it was released but have been more than making up for it recently. Avatarium are definitely one of the top bands playing early Seventies inspired Metal at present, and this is yet another incredibly powerful and consistent release.

AVATARIUM The Fire I Long For

Album · 2019 · Doom Metal
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adg211288
Founded by Leif Edling of Candlemass renown, Avatarium burst onto the doom metal scene in 2013 with their EP Moonhorse and self-titled debut album. Heavy as hell, lyrically poetic, and above all else just damn good, the debut album cemented the band's reputation and proved that they weren't just riding on the name dropping of member's previous work. Second album, 2015's The Girl With the Raven Mask, brought some changes to the band's sound. It wasn't as heavy, though still clearly rooted in doom metal, but more psychedelic influenced. That was exactly what made it so good though: Avatarium did not feel the need to immediately re-hash what worked so well the first time around.

Then Leif Edling left the band. And their sound changed to be much less doom metal based and more firmly rooted in (heavy) psychedelic rock and progressive rock. Yet this was actually quite the paradox, because Edling had still written the majority of third album from 2017, Hurricanes and Halos, even though he didn't play one note on it. So it was obvious that the change in direction away from doom metal hadn't been the result of line-up shifts. Now, Hurricanes and Halos is still pretty fine album, but for this reviewer's money it doesn't get as many revisits as the first two Avatarium records. Which is why I'm happy to say that with fourth full-length The Fire I Long For, Avatarium is back on track. Doom metal is in again.

This could be seen as a double edged sword of course. The first three Avatarium albums, while the general lack of doom metal may have proved a disappointment to many on the last one, had the great benefit that Avatarium had effectively reinvented themselves every time around, but not so much that they alienated fans completely. And while The Fire I Long For brings another change, it's much more of a change back opposed to changing into something new. The album quite comfortably sits alongside The Girl With the Raven Mask in terms of style. Which means that it's pretty psychedelic, with plenty of doom metal riffs, but none that are as crushingly heavy as those found on the debut. As is usual for an Avatarium record, there is also some softer material. Avatarium is one of those rare metal bands that is actually very good at doing softer material though (they are members of a very exclusive club where they keep company with prestigious metal acts like Blind Guardian and err, I can't actually think of another one, that's how exclusive the club is!), so that shouldn't put newcomers off, while returnees will know what to expect.

While we've established that for the first time that a new Avatarium record may not feel as fresh in context of their catalogue, The Fire I Long For does have two things going for it that make it a step up from Hurricanes and Halos. Firstly it's doom metal again as I've pointed out and while Avatarium proved a quite competent heavy psych act on Hurricanes and Halos, they're an exceptional doom metal act. This is the genre they started off in and it's the genre that they shine in. Doom metal, especially the psychedelic influenced kind as Avatarium play, seems to be tailor-made for a singer like Avatarium's Jennie-Ann Smith as well.

That isn't the second reason by the way. The actual second reason is that the song-writing is that much more memorable this time around. There sadly just aren't many details that I can recall about Hurricanes and Halos after some time away from it, except for the excellent opening track Into the Fire / Into the Storm. This isn't true of the first two albums, where hooks flood back without requiring a revisit, no doubt because there's only so long I can go before those albums pull me back. And as for The Fire I Long For, there are already several tracks that have infected me, not least the title track, Voices, and Rubicon. While it is still early days yet, I can't foresee a future where it doesn't go into rotation at least as much as the first two records.

A return to form all round and to be cliché, this was the album I longed for after the last one. Regarding which I have not meant to be disrespectful to in this review despite some comments that even when positive no doubt read as barbed. I quite like Hurricanes and Halos. It's one of those albums I enjoy when I do play it, but I rarely crave it. On the other hand I just love Avatarium, The Girl With the Raven Mask and now The Fire I Long For as well. It's a doom metal highlight for 2019.

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