Contrary to what so many stoic, “trve-till-death” metalheads would believe, metal is an inherently silly genre. Regardless of how many subgenres it’s split into and the extremities they each go to, the sense of overblown theatricality that keeps a healthy distance from reality remains a common factor; just look at Iron Maiden or Cannibal Corpse for examples of how far that sort of thing can go. But with a band like Avatar, who blur the lines between perfromative world-building and just overt absurdity even further, that can be a bit harder to fully endorse. That’s not to say that they’re a bad band, especially in the context of the super-melodic death metal ecosystem they inhabit, but considering how out-there some of their recent efforts have been in terms of concept (see 2016’s Feathers & Flesh about the plight of an owl pitted against the world), it can tilt uncomfortably close to comedy over music.
So here’s Avatar Country, where Avatar perilously tightrope between a solid melodic metal album and an out-and-out farce. What’s more, it’s something that Avatar themselves must be aware of; what we have here is one general joke spread across the entire album, that being a series of dedications to the king of the titular nation that serves as a way for the band to let out their most over-the-top affectations. And yes, it is all really stupid, from the choral “national anthem” of Glory To Our King that kicks the album off, to the jaunty southern rock of The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country that could’ve easily come from a Black Stone Cherry album, to the mid-record skit The King Speaks, where he addresses his adoring public about the success of his enema and how nice his morning bath was. There’s at least self-awareness of how ridiculous this all is – you don’t get the sort of operatic clean vocals from Johannes Eckerström on a track like A Statue Of The King without a sense of humour – but it really is a bloated listen, retreading ground for no good reason other than filling their own thematic quota.
And yet, this isn’t some Steel Panther-style parody attempt, as Avatar Country sees its creators showing off some genuine musical chops, splitting the difference between big, theatrical cheese and Swedish melo-death in a way that does actually work. It certainly helps that Avatar don’t take themselves too seriously in this regard, as it leaves a bit more room for levity that’s much appreciated, particularly when it comes in the form of the bouncing grooves of The King Wants You, or even The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country, which is certainly the biggest curveball here, but is nothing if not likable. Even when moving into more traditional, straightforward metal, like the meaty riffs of King’s Harvest or the sprawling eight-minute odyssey Legend Of The King, there’s talent here that belies their comedic persona and really does shine through. Granted, the bloat isn’t exclusively limited to lyrics and does set in here too (see the totally superfluous two-part closer Silent Songs Of The King), but for the most part, Avatar make up for their glaring shortcomings with a genuinely enjoyable musical canvas.
And besides, even if Avatar Country doesn’t really come through with the comedic muscle that Avatar are clearly trying to flex, the fact that this isn’t a total disaster is something to at least be somewhat happy about. It might be a bit of an acquired taste and certainly not one for the more stony-faced metal fans, but Avatar Country is enjoyable enough, even if its overall longevity remains to be seen. Still, for an album that had every potential to be a total clanger, it’s still worth a listen in the end.
For fans of: In Flames, Dark Tranquility, Five Finger Death Punch
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Avatar Country’ by Avatar is released on 12th January on Century Media Records.