Friday, 6 November 2015

Avatarium - 'The Girl With The Raven Mask' (Album Review)

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 23/10/2015
Label: Nuclear Blast


At the end of it all, there is the feeling that you have heard something very unusual, but also very enjoyable. It is not a difficult record to listen to and some of the melodies and imagery conjured up are just sublime. It is most definitely a natural progression from the first record- with a more defined sound and identity perhaps, albeit that the first record was very much its own beast. Certainly, this is doom, but of a different kind and it stands alone in the genre. Simply put: make sure you hear it. It is essential.


‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ CD//DD//LP:

1. Girl With The Raven Mask (4:11)
2. The January Sea (7:55)
3. Pearls And Coffins (7:03)
4. Hypnotized (6:26)
5. Ghostlight (6:38)
6. Run Killer Run (5:18)
7. Iron Mule (5:50)
8. The Master Thief (6:37)

Avatarium is:

Leif Edling | bass
Marcus Jidell | guitars
Lasse Sköld | drums
Jennie-Ann Smith | vocals
Carl Westholm | keyboards

The Review:

Avatarium, the Leif Eidling project has really gathered pace since the release of their debut a couple of years ago. I reviewed the debut (here) at the time and its enchanting mixture of the murkiest doom and the most enchanting melodies brought fairy tales to aural life. While the music here remains firmly rooted in the realms of Candlemass, the fantastical/melodic elements are just as prevalent this time around, if not more so.

The title track opener is as fine a piece of melodrama that Dio ever committed to tape- seriously; the overwrought vocal is superb as is the music. It is a barnstorming opener akin to perhaps something like “Neon Knights”. ‘The January Sea’ then ramps up the doom, while keeping the sense of drama intact. Again, Jennie Anne Smith's vocal is superbly delivered. Returning to a theme I mentioned in a  recent review, a great and distinctive singer can really set a band apart- and has done so for most of the bands that you revere (apart from ones that are purely genre based, perhaps). The importance of Smith's vocals cannot be overstated as they compliment the melancholic and dramatic music perfectly to produce a unique doom record. The opener is the shortest track at just over four minutes and thereafter the usual tenets of the genre present themselves- all songs over five minutes and most are longer by some distance.

There are elements of 70's rock monoliths like Jethro Tull in the folkish inflections present in some tracks; there are Sabbathian moments of heaviness and moments of drama to rival the most theatrical pieces on ‘Mob Rules’. While I initially mistook the refrain of ‘Pearls and Coffins’ for the words “Persian Coffee,” the track (once that was cleared up) reveals itself to be a rather downcast ballad which again acts a showcase for Smith's voice. The Hammond organ solo is excellent and segues nicely into a musical passage of crashing chords before a dynamic shift. The album does reference the likes of Tull and Wishbone Ash- even Uriah Heap, but it never does so with a purely retro outlook. That marks the difference between Avatarium and myriad other retro rock/occult rock/any- band-with-vintage-instruments-who have enlisted a female vocalist: they have a sound which takes the best parts of their references and makes something new. This is not a retro album or backwards looking in any way.

‘Hypnotized’ again uses keys to good effect as a kind of counter melody (percussion overdubs included, showing thought has gone into the production and vibe of the songs). The riffing fits the classic doom template of being heavy without being aggressive, while the central hook is strong. ‘Ghostlight’ is a perfect winter soundtrack with its snowbound imagery and northern winds; it is a kind of modern cousin to ‘No Quarter’- but with phantoms rather than warriors taking the central role. The structures of most tracks are/can be a little ponderous- the vibe is the thing here, not necessarily economy- but that is true with most doom records. Then again, there are barnstormers such as ‘Run Killer Run’ to break things up with their full on powerful riffing and driving rhythms.

Naturally, ‘Iron Mule’ is as plodding as you might expect from the title, but features some excellent bass work (great sound, incidentally) and a great solo to boot. ‘The Master Thief’ features more darkness and melody and has mainly quiet passages. Indeed, a feature of the record (as with the debut) is the use of dynamics. Rarely does the band just go for all out noise and power- instead tempering things with instrumental breaks and only going full heavy in bursts. The dreamy lyrics again draw on fairytale/mythological imagery to good effect and allows a different dimension to assert itself.

At the end of it all, there is the feeling that you have heard something very unusual, but also very enjoyable. It is not a difficult record to listen to and some of the melodies and imagery conjured up are just sublime. It is most definitely a natural progression from the first record- with a more defined sound and identity perhaps, albeit that the first record was very much its own beast. Certainly, this is doom, but of a different kind and it stands alone in the genre. Simply put: make sure you hear it. It is essential.

‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ is available here


Band info: official | facebook

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