NSNTM loves all that is over the top and eccentric about metal and Avatar are definitely a bit out there. It’s fair to say that the most recent efforts, including an album about an owl that declares war on the world to stop the sun rising (and loses) and followed up by an album dedicated to your guitarist as Despot King/Dictator of a country named after your band, are a pretty batshit mad run. The later release has not met with universal critical approval so it was with mild trepidation and wholesome intrigue that we prepared for an evening with Avatar on Friday 16th March 2018 at Islington Assembly Hall. But first up were long time Avatar collaborators Hellzapoppin’.
Hellzapoppin’, Bodies Droppin’…
It was a fitting change up, for Avatar to have a circus sideshow as a warm-up act rather than a band. It definitely piqued the audience’s interest as the venue was at least 2/3s full when their performance began. I can only assume they saw the same video that I did and wondered how it would work in a medium size music venue…
Sadly, what we got was a much cut down version with few members of the group and limited stage to work with (due to reasons which would soon become obvious). No breezeblocks being smashed over people, no arrows being shot at people with balloons in their mouths. Instead swordswallowers and escapes from straitjackets were the order of the day, impressive but not quite the danger factor I was hoping for. That said there was a moment which could have turned nasty when the man with no legs was dancing on a table covered in glass and the table collapsed. The show must go on though and the group barely missed a beat, the next act appearing even while their stricken colleague was checked for damage.
There were highlights though, and it is hard to argue with the man who flew halfway round the world to stick a meathook in his nose and hang weights from it, or the irrepressible MC who inserted a condom into his nose with a screwdriver the pulled it through his mouth, that’s entertainment!
Avatar Country – do you believe?
Before the band took to the stage we were treated to reports from the Avatar Country news network including items about the King’s Jobs for Headbangers programme and reports on the King’s sporting prowess. Sadly these didn’t match the achievements of actual dictators, former North Korean autocrat Kim Jong-Un still holds the record for a round of golf with 38 under par and 11 holes-in-one.
As the band took to stage, the genius of Avatar’s latest album as a theme revealed itself. What better way to draw your fans into your world than literally creating a country about you, complete with heraldic logos. The band, sharply dressed, appeared as the King’s attendants. The King himself (Jonas Jarlsby) rose through the stage atop his throne, majestically shredding out the initial solos of “Legend of the King” before descending from on high to join the rest of the band in completing the 8 minute epic opening number.
By this point it was clear what sort of a night we were in for as Johannes Eckerström was already in full ringmaster mode, conducting the crowd, adorned in a fetching jacket embroidered with the Avatar Country crest, and his customary clown make-up. In this ensemble he really is one of the charismatic people (let alone frontmen) I’ve ever seen. Some combination of his unfathomably large maniacal gaping grin, sheer height and over the top gestures, come together like a camp Marilyn Manson to create a hypnotising stage presence.
The set itself was a blended mix of old, new and favourites. “Let It Burn” and “Bloody Angels” were cracked out early, and older material included the likes of “War Song” and “Reload” towards the end. They picked the strongest songs off the new album to intersperse through the set with “A Statue of the King” and “The King Wants You” particularly huge, the later having one of the hookiest riffs of the year. Multiple instances of the band leading the charge ensued, with fully synchronised circle moshing.
What surprised me about Avatar, given that I’m only really familiar with their more recent material, is the variety in their back catalogue. “War Song” sounds almost early-Trivium/Killswitch/BFMV-esque, “For the Swarm” has hints of SOAD. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of an Iron Maiden riff, other times its full on raging death metal influenced.
Other standout moments included Johannes playing the trombone, Johannes controlling drummer John Alfredsson with strings to start “Puppet Show”, Johannes coming on stage as some sort of nihilist shaman. and the general banter and chemistry between the band and the crowd. It was a real feel good show with a lot of love for Avatar’s performance and when towards the end of the show Johannes gave a monologue about how much the band love doing what they do, you knew it was the truth.
Then they ended with Hail the Apocalypse and I nearly ran out of oxygen.
Verdict: Sufficient breakdowns for a mild bangover and fully raging pit throughout, completely bonkers, completely brilliant