I had no idea this album was even happening until late Friday evening. It arrived in the Promo Department and Madam X sent a minion scurrying to my stately offices inquiring if I was expecting something new from Avatarium. After said minion was soundly whipped for making eye contact and disturbing my righteous Steelsleep, I reflected on the question. Having heard nothing whatsoever of a new album I assumed it was just an EP, remix or some such nonsense. Not so, as it’s actually the third album of bluesy, 70s influenced quasi-doom rock from Candlemass founder Leif Edling and company. That’s a pretty big deal around the AMG offices, because to date Avatarium has done no wrong, starting life as a folksy doom band, then morphing into a 70s rock monster. Hurricanes and Halos continues the evolution, following Opeth down the rabbit hole into 70s psychedelic prog rock. The moments that qualify as doom are now few, but the material is still heavy in its own way and the band has a charm that’s tough to resist, even when they explore sounds far afield from their doom roots.

The album certainly opens with a bang, as “Into the Fire – Into the Storm” charges hard with a Deep Purple-esque guitar and Hammond organ assault. Songbird Jennie-Ann Smith’s sultry, jazz club vocals soar over the urgent rock to deliver a snappy and simple chorus, and the guitar solos conjure the glory days of Rainbow. This makes for an instantly likable dose of 70s doom rock, light on the doom. The truly interesting material begins with “Road to Jerusalem” – a folksy, jaunty, Middle Eastern flavored number with a bouncy swagger, beautiful vocals from Mrs. Smith and gorgeous guitar-work on tap throughout. The extended guitar jams are a joy and it’s a great little number full of atmosphere and mood.

The album centerpiece is the nine-minute epic “Medusa’s Child,” and it’s a pretty unusual creature, leaping between quasi-doom and strange Jefferson Airplane-styled weirdness with Jennie joined by creepy children’s sing-alongs. It feels a bit long in the snake after a spell, but the inspired keyboard and guitar jams are worth the price of admission. The album’s best material arrives late with “The Sky at the Bottom of the Sea” which could have wandered off a Hellwell album. It’s a herky-jerky, schizophrenic mess with crazy organ runs and a generally mushroom addled vibe. Jennie completely owns the chorus and her powerful voice offers a firm guide rope through the tumultuous prog-rock extravaganza. Imagine Ann Wilson of Heart jamming with Yes and Genesis and you’re in the general ballpark.

The album standout for my money is “A Kiss (From the End of the World),” which is a mammoth, olde-timey doom nugget recalling the classic Dio-era Sabbath platters. The heavy riffs feel very welcome after an album nearly devoid of them, and Jennie gives her best performance on a simple but powerhouse chorus. It has a sad, forlorn feeling1 and to my ears it almost sounds like a response to Sabbath‘s “Lonely is the Word.”

At a trim 44 minutes, Hurricanes is an easy listen despite a few long cuts. However, I’m not overly enamored with how it closes out on the mostly-ambient instrumental title track. It comes across like a mix of the Clockwork Orange soundtrack and a graduation march, and ends an interesting, eclectic album on a bland note.

As with every Avatarium release, Jennie-Ann Smith’s vocals are the main attraction. She has a warm, lovely voice, capable of real power and a smokey, nightclub purr. No matter where the music goes she is able to fit in and own her surroundings. She reminds me a lot of Ann Wilson and she adds gravitas and charisma to whatever the band comes up with. Soen guitarist Marcus Jidell once again impresses with all sorts of 70s rock stylings, showing his affinity for psychedelic and prog rock while never dragging the music too far from a given song’s logical path. His solos on tracks like “Road to Jerusalem” and “Medusa’s Child” are wonderfully tripped out and he plays with a lot of emotion and feeling. The keyboard wizardry of Carl Westholm (ex-Candlemass) also deserves praise, as it bathes the material in a thick coat of 70s rock glory. There’s a lot of Jon Lord in his playing, and a fair amount of Ray Manzarek too.

Hurricanes and Halos finds Avatarium very comfortable in their own skin doing whatever they want creatively, and I admire that. It isn’t as powerful a collection of songs as their debut or The Girl With the Raven Mask, but it’s another impressive showcase for the talents of those involved. Highly recommended.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 275 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast [NA][EU]
Websites: avatariumofficial.se | facebook.com/avatariumofficial
Releases Worldwide: May 26th, 2017

Show 1 footnote

  1. It was written for guitarist Marcus Jidell’s late father.

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  • Diego Molero

    I love The Girl With the Raven Mask, and while the embedded track was good, I’m not completely sold (yet). Still, this is a welcome surprise.

  • Brutalist_Receptacle

    NO.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      I gather you are not a fan.

    • Thatguy

      This is the comment I always wanted to make…but I don’t hate this.

  • RDGEEK

    Glad to hear the two tracks released so far are just the tip of the iceberg. Stumbled across this band when they placed high on Decibel’s end-of-year list (2012?). Discovered Blood Ceremony thanks to the same list. That was a good list…

    • andym

      Blood Ceremony are fantastic. Alia and co just evolve their style and songwriting every album whilst seemingly always touring. Always been impressed by the fact she sings, plays the keyboards and flute too.

      • RDGEEK

        “Seemingly always touring” is not how I would describe Blood Ceremony, unfortunately. Still waiting for them to play in the U.S.

  • defjam

    Nuclear Blast have been mailing about this (and all upcoming releases in fact) since early April, so, Lord Steel, get yourself sorted and use your minions effectively.

  • Bas

    Good its moving away from doom..to me all current Leif Edlings sound too much alike.. Not sure I will like it though.. Too many bands like this already…

  • sir_c

    Luckily, it does not sound like Opeth. Why does every other band using a Hammond organ gets associated with this band?

    • Thatguy

      Nothing like Opeth. While not my thing, the embedded song is more fun than anything on the last two Opeth albums.

    • This was originally meant to be a project for Edling and Akerfeldt but Mikael couldn’t get his schedule to behave.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      I guess those comparisons come from people who have only (or at least, mostly) heard Hammond organs in Opeth.

  • R.Daneel Olivaw

    tragic!!

  • HeavyMetalHamster

    With the plethora of female fronted occult / doom releases lately, the well of individuality is running dry.
    Whilst quirky vocals and atmosphere cover many sins, nothing beats great songwriting.
    I hope this is the case with this new album.

    • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

      Nothing beats great songwriting. NOTHING. You’re absolutely right about that.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Hammond organ? That’s all it takes to get me to check this out.

    • jetblindracos

      After Dusk + thrash + hammond organ = ??? err good.

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Sorry, but I have no clue… what?

  • Levly

    Everything I heard from the record sounds great, I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
    Btw, did you get to listen to The Doomsday King?

  • John Mosley

    Following Opeth up their own shrivelled collective arse…

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    This year is starting to really pick up for me. Having two of my favourite vocalists in Jamie Myers and Jennie-Ann Smith dropping albums that I wasn’t expecting is a real treat.
    The Starless Sleep sounds great. Lief is one classy hombre, the tones and feels he puts into the song are so good. and Jessie- Ann’s vocals are so damn smooth it’s like honey to my ears… Excuse me I think I need a cold shower.

  • Sharp-Blunt Boy

    I ordered the CD yesterday, so excitement builds.

    I am kinda hoping the guitar/keyboard mayhem you speak of reaches the heady heights of The Ebony Throne. While many don’t rate that Mass album, that song is just unadulterated genius because of the dueling leads and glorious chorus.

    Bring it on!

  • Norpal Nordickson

    As someone who is bored to tears by Opeth, I just gotta say I find that comparison pretty damn baffling.

    • i didn’t say they sound like Opeth. I said they’re following a similar influence.

      • Norpal Nordickson

        I feel like you could’ve just said something like “Hurricanes and Halos continues the evolution, burrowing deeper down the rabbit hole into 70s psychedelic prog rock” without the needless namedrop.

        Not trying to be snarky here, I just don’t see the point of bringing Opeth into the picture.

        • Because that was my choice as the writer of the review. Both bands are evolving or devolving into 70s prog rock, though they are not identical in sound. This was also supposed to be project Mikael Akerfeldt was a part of, so it isn’t surprising I made a connection.

          • Norpal Nordickson

            Whoa whoa whoa hold the phone

            AMG lets you make your own choices? What manner of anarchy is this?!

            Seriously speaking though, I was not aware of that Mikael Åkerlund connection. It does make more sense in that light.

      • John Mosley

        Similar influence… Killing their careers through self indulgence?

  • I like the embedded track quite a bit, but Into the Fire is really dull. I’m a little unconvinced, but it sounds better than Raven so far.

  • RuySan

    The overloud mixing kind of spoiled the last 2 albums for me. This one unfortunately sounds the same. Too bad having a 70s inspired band without anything of that decade’s sound.

    Btw, where is Leif in that band photo? Did he left the band?

    • Javier Merino Ortiz

      He is the second guy starting on the right I think.

      • RuySan

        Looks younger, but yes, it’s surely him

  • David Prawira

    70’s like night flight orchestra

  • Nate Sweet

    All this name dropping is getting me all hot and bothered…
    Unfortunately embedded song doesn’t do the same :(

  • Tofu muncher

    I may come to like the embedded track better than I do the whole The Girl With the Raven Mask album.

  • herrschobel

    thanks for bringing this to my attention…now i know what to hate !… i have to listen to Trap Them now just to clean my Ears …….