It's been two years since I discovered this band, and I must say that I've followed their steps ever since. I was indeed eager to know what would come after Feathers & Flesh, which was a break with their previous sound back in the day and which I now consider to be a transition to a new approach, consolidated in this new album.
Whatever your opinion about the band is, it is clear that they leave no one indifferent with their so characteristic and unique sound, so hard to define in a single genre. But what can you expect from this new piece? To be honest, I bought the album and decided to review it after attending the show in Bilbao, which provides further understanding of how every piece fits in this puzzle. Anyway, there we go...
As always, I first give the booklet a look and, oh surprise! This time all the lyrics are in there, unlike with Feathers & Flesh, where I missed them so much. These are little things I am fuzzy with about the format. Nothing important, but they add kind of satisfaction and quality of experience.
We are introduced to this new land with the anthem to the King, Glory to our King, which serves an ode to a living legend that has just come true and that is spoken about in the next song, A Legend of the King. Its lyrics, mighty and epic, could well remind us of a power metal song, unlike the sound. A Legend of the King gives the listener a great mix between melodic parts, such as the intro and fast, strong, rhythmical verses sung gutturally, along with catchy choruses and some bluesy elements presented in a brief breakdown.
After we listen to his legend, the King welcomes us into his utopic world: The third cut of this album sounds more like a classical hard-rock piece in terms of harmony blocks, vocal and guitar melodies (the guitar lines here are probably my favourite of all the album) and atmosphere, but still keeps the characteristic touch added by some disonances at the beginning and the end, Johannes's vocals and perfectly ensembling backing vocals by Tim and Henrik (while everyone sang along with Johannes, I was singing along with Tim, ha!), and a well contrasting bridge towards the end.
Next cut, King's Harvest, could perfectly belong to Hail the Apocalypse. One more reason to state that whatever the approach, Avatar's music always sounds like them. The atmosphere set by this song is darker and the lyrics are indeed powerful. This effect is partly accomplished by the almost total guttural singing. In fact, King's Harvest is, hands down the less melodic song in the album.
We're almost halfway through the album, when the king calls us to join him the American style. The King Wants You reminds me of that advertisement we all know in which Uncle Sam wants us to join the army. With its groovy riffs, hard-rocker style and fresh percussion lines (cowbells and tambourine included), it is possibly the catchiest song and also the most surprising as far as Johannes's vocal ranged is concerned.
Then, The King Speaks, acts as an interlude to let the previous material sink in, as well as giving a funny insight into the King's thoughts through a speech in both Swedish and English. It brings together the whole concept of a country led by a monarch and gives coherence to it. Besides, it fits perfectly with what follows, if we take into account that the video released for A Statue of the King is thought of as a big meeting with a speech, so The King Speaks is also a perfect prelude to the song that comes next. The so-called song flows frantically due to drum, bass lines, melodic speech (when the song is not sung gutturally) and how the lyrics are conceived and rhymed, transmitting the urge to have a statue of the leader.
The end comes nearer with King after King. During the album each and every instrument is given the chance to outstand and here, bass is arguably the real protagonist, giving a melodic dimension to the rhythm base laid by the drums. This the most remarkable feature of the cut, of which nothing else can be said that hasn't been mentioned before.
Finally, Avatar Country comes to an end with two instrumental pieces whose only aim is to keep setting the right atmosphere until the last minute, the first of it being more relaxed and far more descriptive (regarding the name of the song) than the second.
All in all, it's been a pleasant journey through this land presented in the album. The impovement of Johannes keeps surprising me. No matter if guttural or clean: he always sounds better, higher, louder, growlier, and more powerful. Drums keep on being one of my favourite parts, though the great talent of the King, Tim and Henrik is just undeniable.
Avatar Country is an album that needs more than one listen, a bit puzzling during the first one. This is why I consider it not to be so good as Feathers & Flesh which caught my attention from the very first second. But the more I listen to it, the more I like it and the more little details I find that complete the map of this universe put together by the album. Welcome to Avatar Country and glory to our King!