Review by Rick Ossian
A female-fronted Psychedelic Doom band from Stockholm. A rare entity, you might say, hopefully with tongue firmly implanted in cheek? Avatarium are just that, but they may be slightly different from what you’re used to hearing when the above description is used. How are they different, you might ask? For one thing, the chops are just as much about the blues or heavy rock as they are about psych or prog. They also feature a name familiar to Doom fans. This group have really got their act together, musically speaking.
Here we have their second offering, then, an EP according to title, but lengthy for an EP, I must say. There are two studio tracks, the title cut and Deep Well. There are also three live tunes, Pandora’s Egg, Tides of Telepathy and Bird of Prey. The three live songs were recorded at the 2014 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands. This gig was the second ever for Avatarium and the first outside of their Swedish homeland. While we are getting the technical info out of the way, then, let us introduce the personnel: Avatarium are Candlemass‘ Leif Edling on bass, Jennie-Ann Smith on vocals, Marcus Jidell on guitar, Lars Skold on drums and Carl Westholm on keys. There is also a special guest worthy of noting, one Michael Blair (Tom Waits, Lou Reed) on “psychedelic percussion”. According to Jidell, Blair “showed up with a ‘big bag of tricks’ with metals, crashers, shakers and a lot of strange things which he made sound like if you throw in a punk rocker at Woodstock and fed him with psychedelic pills!”
The title track kicks things off with some extraordinary vocal prowess from Smith. Apparently all she wants is the ‘eternal flame‘, and I say we give it to her! Two minutes in we get a guitar solo of sorts, all awash with feedback — but it is not the last, as you might assume. At 3:20 there is more serious shredding, complete with all the wah and feedback resonating that a guitar aficionado could want! I was duly impressed with Smith’s range, and was reminded of Pat Benatar in terms of sheer vocal power.
Next up on the studio side of things is Deep Well, an appropriately deep, heavy blues with a couple of guitar solos (of course). One is at the 2:30 mark and then again at about 4:20. Solo number two is more of an atmospheric shred, if you will, that goes nearly to the end of the tune and fades out. The vocals are nothing short of acrobatic!
The live tracks, which form Side Two if you are a vinyl junkie, are not just knock-offs, as one might expect from studio/live EP’s past – they are all independent tunes that hold up just fine on their own. In fact, these three live tracks feature heavily on the band’s self-titled debut. Pandora’s Egg is a near 7-minute juggernaut, with a powerful, eerie vocal delivery and plenty of Heavy Metal/Blues riffing. The intro is sort of a psych/key/synth/guitar jumble, but it makes sense when you listen. There is some fiercely bluesy shredding in the solo (3:10), and some rather enigmatic, stately riffing with a neat crescendo at about 5:30. ‘The gate is open/The seal is broken’, wails Smith, and before we know it there is a bit more guitar at the fade-out. This one was over all too soon, in my opinion.
Tides of Telepathy is an 8-minute monster with an ominous keyboard/bass intro, soon morphing into an obvious guitar vehicle. Jidell does himself proud here, with a brief guitar interlude at about 1:15, soaked in wah and feedback (of course). There is also a drums/keyboards return (2:30) and plenty more guitar work (3:15 and 5:30). At about 6:15, he even channels Hendrix for a moment or two!
Bird of Prey is a showcase for the keyboards, among other things. It is another stab at heavy metal mixed with the blues, and there is some great riffing going on here. A guitar solo (2:30), some great riffing overall, and a bit of tinkling of the ivories (5:00), and again another beautifully wrought live track ends FAR too soon in this scribe’s mind (and ears).