At the risk of parroting the driest of film Twitter takes, Avatar really haven’t had much cultural significance, have they? Granted, that’s dependent on what ‘cultural significance’ you expect from a metal band fronted by a fella dressed as a demon ringmaster in 2023, but even in native circles, they don’t branch out much. It’s not even a case of diminishing returns either, as much as Avatar releasing albums, them not catching on that much, and then trying again a few years later. There’s also the case to be made that, as a band, they aren’t exactly fantastic. They aren’t bad either, but what they can achieve successfully looms above them as a ceiling that’s basically impenetrable.
That’s all while acknowledging the bells and whistles and zaniness that are presumably there to avoid that exact thing. And on Dance Devil Dance, where the additional bloat of all those histrionics finally seem to have caught up with them, the ineffectiveness is blatant. Despite no significant uptick from previous albums, it’s a lot more intrusive this time, culminating in a heavy-handedness that slathers on Avatar’s inherent goofiness more than is sustainable.
In fact, the majority of songs on Dance Devil Dance end up hamstrung by quirkiness, often centred around Johannes Eckerström‘s vocals. Yes, the whole point is that it’s over-the-top and theatrical to the nth degree, but it reaches this degree of ‘silly-voice’ metal where most of these techniques are simply too disparate, and far from good. The way that Chimp Mosh Pit strains to scrape its highest register becomes actively grating to listen to, as does the vamping, caterwauling Gotta Wanna Riot, or Hazmat Suit’s rampant oversinging that taints what would otherwise be a terrifically propulsive song. Honestly, the screams and growls that Eckerström has become best known for remain the most effective, namely on Valley On Disease when they’re in the highest quantity. It’s just way more indicative of the power Avatar have bubbling away and how it can be let out; that’s probably the reason why Lzzy Hale is mixed so much higher on Violence No Matter What, as a more reliable source of it to close the album on a high.
Despite how wildly uneven it is at practically every juncture, Dance Devil Dance does indeed have a few more highs at its disposal. They’re all basically limited to when Avatar stick to full-on metal, mind, but in a bubble, as isolated fragments even within their own tracks, there are shades of the technically proficient band that probably wouldn’t have lasted as long if that weren’t the case. Instrumentals are its silver lining, when Chimp Mosh Pit, Do You Feel In Control, Hazmat Suit and others—taken on the sole basis of storming riffage produced with a sheen that remains satisfyingly heavy—are easy to pluck out. On an album predominantly buoyed by its embodiment of the rockstar spirit, it’s no wonder it’s at its best when producing the cleanest path to that, something that Avatar really could pull off more regularly and more successfully.
That’s where the notion of it all ‘catching up’ with them comes from, not just because there’s some remarkable inconsistency that kneecaps how entertaining Dance Devil Dance is, but how it mainly stems from the theatricality that’s supposed to be Avatar’s calling card. When On The Beach dips into clunky funk-rock-cum-circus-music, or when The Dirt I’m Buried In anchors itself in thinned-out dance-rock, it’s more than ever like eccentricity shoved to the fore to force a reaction. It’s even worse on Train, as a fairly strong melodeath passage is sandwiched between two truncated Ghost impressions, in which the wispy air of ‘mystery’ or ‘spookiness’ has no real mood to it, with the vocals there almost exclusively to plug in the gaps. As idiosyncratic as it wants to be, it’s just totally oversold.
It’s a box that most of Dance Devil Dance can be placed into—that of trying to forcefully deviate from ‘normal’ metal (which Avatar have done successfully in the past) but having the errant clunk in maybe one area that’s so preventative of that. It’s worth saying that not one song on this album feels unsalvageable, but that just highlights how misguided Avatar’s attempts on this specific album are. They feel overcompensatory when there’s really need to; fine-tuning what they had before would’ve worked just fine. Instead, in embracing the wackiness that’s causing them to unravel, Avatar are losing their footing in notable ways.
For fans of: DevilDriver, System Of A Down, Nekrogoblikon
‘Dance Devil Dance’ by Avatar is released on 17th February on Black Waltz Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall