Review by Rick Ossian
Avatarium are a 5-piece outfit from Stockholm; their members include Candlemass‘ Leif Edling on bass, Jennie-Ann Smith on some extraordinary vocals, Marcus Jidell on guitar, Lars Skold on drums and Carl Westholm on keyboards. They may be one of the single most exciting acts from Sweden when it comes to psychedelic and/or progressive rock. This eponymous debut may be one of the best records I’ve heard all year.
Proceedings begin with the enormous epic Moonhorse, just shy of 9 minutes long and not short on anything it seems. Powerful riffs and doom-laden chords lace this powerhouse of a tune, and the main riff is fantastic. Doomy opening chords alternate with plaintive vocals and guitar strumming, just one instance of the dichotomy operating here musically. Two minutes in things step up a notch as the main riff kicks back in. It is NOT the last we will see of the heavy riffing, either. At 3:20 there is a different heavy riff, then a glorious guitar solo. There is a great jam at the four-minute mark, and then more strumming at about five minutes in. We are almost to the six-minute point when Riff City is once again in our sights, and then we experience a brilliant guitar solo from about 6:15 until 7 1/2 minutes in! Talk about a lengthy solo! Some of the lyrics are a bit bizarre (‘Mother, are there horses on the moon?’ or ‘Mother, are there tigers in the sea?’), but overall still a very good tune.
Pandora’s Egg is relatively short compared to its associates, but still stands firmly on its own. It begins life with a cool little guitar intro, then at about 1:00 the main riff kicks in. At 2:45 there is another lengthy guitar solo (he fades out at about 3:50). At 4:50 the main jam kicks back in, and we are done before we know what hit us!
Avatarium (Track #3) is another 8-minute beast, positively ringing with cool lyrics that kind of rhyme with the title (sanitorium, cerebrium, etc.). It features some rather bluesy, introspective guitar and vocal work, but is a bit mellower than the norm here so far. Lyrically I am bound to mention a couplet that stood out for me: “So many voices inside my head/They speak of the living/They speak of the dead“. At 4 minutes in we get to hear the obligatory guitar solo, then at 4:40 there is a bit of a BASS guitar solo, of all things. At five minutes in things return to ‘normal’ as the guitar returns to the forefront. The main riff returns at the close, and there is some heavy riffing at the fade out.
Boneflower, another shorter tune when compared to its fellows, comes in with a cool chord sequence at the beginning. This is a heavy track with textures of both light and darkness. Smith promises us ‘a one-way trip to the promised land‘, and then the band delivers an appropriate jam at about two minutes in. There is a very wah-drenched solo at 2:20 that carries us all the way to the 3:30 mark, then the vocals make a slight return. The ending belongs to a keyboard solo this time out!
Bird of Prey is not just any old bird of prey. He is a ‘Man in mask/Human bird of prey/Like the plague/He elevates from the sewers of decay/Merciless and grim’. I will confess that I was sort of hoping for Avatarium’s take on the old Uriah Heep number when I saw the title. This is possibly even better than that, if you can believe it! The main riff kicks in at about 1 minute in, then shifts to a double-bass drum slammer at about the two-and-a-half minute mark. At 2:55 there is a lead guitar solo that has elements of flamenco style in it, then proceeds to get heavier…At four minutes the vocals kick back in, and at 5:00 we get more soloing from the keyboards! At 5:30 there is another shift, then some very pretty piano playing for the vocal and key-fueled outro.
Tides of Telepathy is another doomy number that begins with marching drums and ominous guitar creeping in. ‘Psychic technology/Ancient machinery‘ is quite possibly one of the best lyrical couplets I’ve heard in a long time. A return to doom seems in order at the 2-minute mark, and then we get drums, guitar and doom again at about 3:25. The four-and-a-half minute mark finds us enjoying more psychedelic guitar (laden with wah-pedal histrionics), only to return to the doominess at 4:45. The vocals return at 5 minutes in, then there is another wah solo at 5:45 that continues shredding mercilessly through to the end. A total jam on this number!
The closing track, Lady in the Lamp, is a vocal tour-de-force that begins with a cool guitar lead, mainly single-note picking, and some wickedly cool lyrics: “Trapped inside a prison made of glass/Gives her little dance in the Necromancer’s hand“. I also liked the lines “Enchanted in her cage/She sings before the mage“. Very cool stuff indeed. At the four-minute mark there is a guitar solo, then some big shredding again at about 5:15. There is a creepy, ominous vibe throughout, but at this point that shouldn’t surprise anyone – right? Looking forward to hearing much, much more from these folks!