Avatar - Feathers & Flesh - (8/10)
Published on July 20, 2016
Avatar has always been a very popular name for metal bands, Metal Archives states 16 of them throughout metal’s history, with this Swedish band being one of the bands that came in around the middle (so technically have no excuse for their generic name…). Stylistically the Göteborg-based band cannot be pinned down easily, especially since they have been morphing throughout their career, starting out as melodic death metal and then gradually adding more genre-foreign elements into their sound, bringing in healthy dose of modern metal, but their sixth effort Feathers & Flesh completely defies any single genre description.
Where some bands really stick very close to their guns, Avatar’s latest is a wide open space, where they paint their canvas in bold colours and different techniques to the point that they are teetering on the verge of incohesiveness, but at the same time this also is an opportunity for the band to really expand on their concept story, which is as extravagant as the musical realization. An owl is taking on an eagle in its quest to stop the sun from rising. Sounds a little “out there”? It is.
Feathers & Flesh main selling point and at the same time dilemma is the sheer variety of styles that are cooked up during this 68 minute roller coaster ride, setting out with some all out power metal with “House of Eternal Hunt”, which adds a few death metal vocals, but other than that has a ridiculous riff that will immediately infest the memory and is grinding good parts of this year’s already strong power metal crop into the dust. But once one has settled in and expects more of the same, “The Eagle Has Landed” takes a completely different turn and far more modern riffing introduces a track that has a carnival-like atmosphere and is the first true taste of flamboyant singer Johannes Michael Gustaf Eckerström’s theatrical vein, switching vocal styles in the blink of an eye, especially in the chorus.
At no point throughout the album can the listener be sure what to expect next, “Tooth, Beak & Claw” throws a surf rock riff into the fray, “For the Swarm” is the musical equipment of a swarm of bees, frenetic, intense and to the point, “Fiddler’s Farewell” is acoustic, toned down, slow, “Black Waters” digs into the sludgy Louisiana swamps of doom, “Pray the Sun Away” with its strong bass lines, dissonant guitars and groove-laden guitars, “Raven Wine” with its schizophrenia-bordering shifts from calm melody to brutal outbreak and back, closing “Sky Burial” and its solemn, elegiac atmosphere as final chapter to the story, no track is like the other, and all the while Eckerström growls, screams, sings, croons and almost everything in between, like a musical chameleon, leaving his distinct stamp on each of the songs.
Feathers & Flesh is an ambitious undertaking for Avatar and its diversity has the album on the edge of disjointedness at times, but in the end the band subjugates the music to the greater good of the concept story, resulting in over an hour of genre-bending fun that will appeal to as many people as it will repel. Either way it is one of the most varied albums of the year and a successful realization of a story as extravagant as the participants!