Avatarium_The Girl With The Raven MaskCandlemass‘ 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus had a big impact on my young metal mind and made me a lifetime convert to Leif Edling’s concept of what doom metal should sound like. Decades later, he surprised me again with his Avatarium debut and how it leveraged the prodigious vocal gifts of Jennie-Ann Smith to create a refreshing take on the classic doom template. While I expected The Girl With the Raven Mask to be a quality follow-up, I wasn’t prepared for how freaking fantastic it truly is! This tops their debut in every way and allows Jennie-Ann to shine in a different and much brighter light on songs that jump out at you like a crazy cat lady, hurling feral felines until she has your undivided attention. It’s a much more wide open, free-form album, approximating retro progressive doom with jazz fusion. That’s a tough concept to imagine and it’s a strange machine indeed, but a great one.

The opening title track goes for the throat from note one, demanding your attention and plowing you over with fat, aggressive doom riffs. When Jennie-Ann comes in, all dials move to red. She has such an enchanting, captivating voice – as close as it gets to a real life siren – often gentle, but able to sound edgy and even a little scary. She reminds me of a young Ann Wilson (Heart) and she delivers a skull-caving performance on this irresistibly rocking doom tune. Follow-up “The January Sea” is easily one of the best songs you’ll hear this year. It’s doom through the prism of a tripped-out Jefferson Starship concert circa 1968 and Jennie-Ann channels Grace Slick’s eerie and seductive power, hopscotching between menace and melancholy as the music marinates in the psychedelic rock of the past, replete with fuzzed out solos and Hammond organ swells. It’s a powerfully emotionally and strangely beautiful song and the chorus is sheer brilliance – sweet and sad in a way doom almost never pulls off.

But wait; “Pearls and Coffins” is also amazing, sounding like a gorgeously downcast ballad from the 60s fused with subtle jazz influences, especially in the vocals. The chorus is an absolute triumph and the song inexorably drags you back to the days of hippies and flower power. But is it doom, you ask? Maybe not, but who cares!

Avatarium_2015aThe rest of the album is great too and quite diverse – from the haunting “Hypnotized” to the very Catherdral-esque riff-fest of “Run Killer Run,” and the odd American folk mixed with indie rock of “Iron Mule.” The album winds out with “The Master Thief” which sounds like something you’d hear in a dark, smokey jazz club.It’s here Jennie-Ann fully unleashes her jazz cabaret tendencies for a smoldering, heartfelt performance. There are mild doom riffs floating in and out, but this is much different than any doom you’ve ever heard.

At the risk of earning myself a restraining order, I can’t stop singing Jennie-Ann’s praises. She impressed me on the debut, but she’s a absolute revelation here, making every song come alive and crackle with sultry energy. Sometimes she reminds me a bit of Jex Thoth (Jessica Bowen) and the aforementioned Ann Heart, but she really has her own unique style and it’s perfect for what Leif Edling is doing with this material. He seems to be trying to bridge all his various projects (Candlemass, Krux, Abstrakt Algebra) into one fully-realized, wide-open musical vehicle and he’s knocked it out the park with this album. Alongside Jennie-Ann, guitarist Marcus Jidell (Soen) does amazing work, offering up fat doom riffs and some positively smoking solos with a big foot in the 60s psychedelic scene. The solo breaks on “The January Sea,” “Hypnotized,” “The Master Thief” are perfect and he’s great at underplaying for maximum effect. Carl Westholm also deserves praise for his moody keyboards which drench the songs in a warm, nostalgic feel much like the recent Opeth output.

Avatarium_2015b

The sound is also very warm, organic and inviting, like something recorded in the early 70s. The mix is fine and everyone can be heard clearly. I was actually surprised with the DR6 score and you can rest assured, it won’t impede your enjoyment of this monster one bit. The only thing keeping this from a perfect score is the slight dip in quality after the first three monstrous tunes.

You may be looking at the Album o’ the Year right here, folks. It’s definitely the one that grabbed me the most so far in 2015 and it will grab you too. It’s not a traditional doom album, but it seems Leif decided the genre was due for another shake up. Well played, good sir. Do not attempt to leave the hall.


Rating: 4.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 160 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU][US]
Websites: avatariumofficial.se  | facebook.com/avatariumofficial
Releases Worldwide: October 30th, 2015

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  • Grumpyrocker

    Just added this to my Google Play library, shall give it a go later. Looking forward to it.

    Anyone compared to the amazing pipes of Ann Wilson is worth listening to.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Jeepers, Mr. Druhm, you’re gushing like Dr. A.N. Grier. Must check this out.

    • Take that back.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Open your bag wide, and I’ll give you a Snickers AND a Three Musketeers.

  • Pimpolho

    Funny thing, the first time i heard this record i thought ”Damn, Steel Dhrum would just love this.” I guess i wasn’t wrong, eh?

  • André Snyde Lopes

    4.5… 4.5 everywhere…

    • Yeah, it’s a back-loaded year.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Most years are but compared to last year, this one is just ridiculous…

    • jageorge72

      I have already expressed my displeasure with seeing this website handing out such high scores. Very depressing since I bet, in hindsight, most albums will not deserve their high ratings. BUT in this case, I would not be surprised at all if this new Avatarium deserves a 4.5. Their debut was absolutely fantastic. Can’t wait to hear this one.

      • There’s been some good stuff this year. I think our scores of under control most of the time.

  • Monsterth Goatom

    That carpet really ties the room together.

  • Philip Pledger

    Good heavens! What does this make: ten 4.0’s, six 4.5’s and a freaking 5.0 this month? The October ROTM decision is going to be an outright bloodbath and should be filmed for posterity.

  • I can’t wait for listening this <3

  • Martin Knap

    Hon är fantastisk!

  • RDGEEK

    Fell in love with the debut, and am eagerly awaiting my copy today. Just wish they would tour in the U.S…

  • RuySan

    I liked the debut, but the songwriting was very formulaic, like most post S/T Candlemass stuff that Leif released. He can never release bad albums since he can’t write a bad riff, but it’s a long time since I was excited by anything he did. Maybe this time…

  • Selim Baradan

    Are you guys planning to review “With The Dead” album? That is also another fantastic doom release, even though it is a much more different kind of doom. :)

  • Luis Onieva Marenco

    So at the moment, in the round will be Arjen Lucassen and a red haired MILF, Steven Wilson´s new attempt to cause mass suicides, Grymm´s 5 album and this one. Strap in, good sirs :D

    Btw, just saying, last Sunday I could see GloryHammer and Stratovarius Live and they were both freaking awesome. It´s a pìty that Gloryhammer´s new CD lacks of the needed trascendence to be Important (note the capital i)

    • SelfIndulgence

      Nothing can surpass Steven Wilson’s mass suicide LP for me. There have been many great releases up to this point, but I still find myself listening to HCE fully almost everyday and it still crushes me.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        I agree it’s an amazing record, but is it a metal record though? There will be some debate about that.
        To me it’s metalish with definite roots in metal.
        Either way it’s exemplar. I also still ‘feel it’ even though I’ve listened to it dozens of times!

    • Rasmus Steinke

      Anneke wins the beauty contest. Steven wins the acoustic one.

  • Feytalist

    “songs that jump out at you like a crazy cat lady, hurling feral felines until she has your undivided attention”

    I approve of this analogy.

    I was smitten with their debut, and I really really wished for this one to be good. Guess Christmas came early this year :D Or wait, is there such a thing as Halloween gifts? Heh.

    Good review, Druhm.

    • Halloween gifts include candy, scary movies and murder sprees.

  • KingKuranes

    This album has been giving me chills for the last two days.

  • Yeeeeah. This record is really good. Really, really good.

  • Solaire

    I loved the shit out of their first album, listening to this on Spotify now and it’s blowing me away!

  • I’m liking this. The words “upbeat doom” come to mind (in a good way, as weird as it sounds).

  • sssgadget

    Progressive Metal?

  • El Lado Oscuro

    Amazing record, almost as their debut. Great review

  • basenjibrian

    Cool!

  • Wilhelm

    The debut was a bit uneven, but still good. This embedded song is intriguing, so I’m sure interested in checking this one out. The vocalist is perfect for the music presented, she is indeed a great singer.

  • Grymm

    October has become a total WTF month for metal music this year.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    I’m so happy about this I’m prepared to overlook the lyric video and the rhyming of ‘home’ with ‘alone’.

    • FutureBeyondSatan

      Kinda picky for a guy with such Horrendous taste…

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        I presume you mean tremendous not horrendous

        • FutureBeyondSatan

          Must have been a typo!?

  • Levly

    Definitely a grower. I was a little underwhelmed at first, except for the amazing title track, but the more you listen the more the subtlety and richness of the record shines through. Quite excellent.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Thanks for the review SD I had no idea this was coming out.
    This really is a great band. I picked up avatarium after your TYMHM 2013 piece and it would have gone close to being my favourite album last year. His playing and her voice were seemingly made for each other. A recent listen to Avatarium inspired me to go and get a couple of the more contemporary Candlemass releases. Listening to them (Candlemass & psalms for the dead) has aside from giving me a lot of doomy satisfaction has also left me convinced that Leif is a goddamn genius!!! To still be releasing such quality after so many years..fucking amazing, massive respect to you sir!
    I love the sound of a smokier jazzy direction can’t wait to spend some time with this album.

  • ZEbyiUWvbe

    The embedded song sounds great. The singer immediately reminded me of Jinx Dawson from Coven (1969).

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    Jennie, Jennie who can I turRNn to.

    • FutureBeyondSatan

      You gimme something I can hold onto…
      Anybody know the next line?

  • Innit Bartender

    Yo Steel, Jefferson AIRPLANE was the good band, Jefferson Starship was the shitty one! Nice review though, I loved the debut!

    • basenjibrian

      Airplane is still one of my favorite bands of all time. And I am not (quite) old enough for them to be of my time, so….
      Poolneil off Crown of Creation is scarier than 90% of doom sings (except for the silly hippy druggy chorus breaks…WTF).

      • Innit Bartender

        That is awesome. I always say the Airplane has a very dark edge, be it Grace Slick’s sinister delivery or Cassaday’s unique bass tone. They may be pinned there with the hippies but they are something else. Glad I am not alone!
        And why “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” hasn’t already been covered by a goth-death band is beyond me.

        • basenjibrian

          “And why “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” hasn’t already been covered by a goth-death band is beyond me”.

          Angry Metal Guy! Being Swedish you need to make this happen!
          :)

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    #Will Work for Cds# The sign I will be holding when you see me on the off ramp. Would donate blood, but that is too far blackened…

    • [not a Dr]

      Actually, that’s why AMG started this whole thing…

  • Javier Truyol

    Great album, this. Loved “Pearls and coffins”, “Hypnotized,”and the unexpected up-tempo from the opening song

  • Smelly the Goat

    Play faster, goddammit!

  • tomasjacobi

    Pearls and Coffins. Song of the year.

    • Tentacles

      Damn right.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    The embedded track is excellent. I love it. I don´t think it´s Doom Metal, it´s Hard Rock. Other songs on the album are Doom Metal, but the embedded track is not. Seems like Leif Edling listened to Jex Thoth and liked a lot what he heard.

  • GooberMan

    Never have I been more glad to have a Spotify account. So many albums to buy physical copies of, so little money. This one’s shot to the top of the list of albums to buy.

  • Matthew Everhart

    This is better than their splendid debut. Fucking GREAT record.

  • Kim Sørensen

    Speaking of sound quality i totally disagre that the DR6 score “won’t impede your enjoyment of this monster one bit”
    It sound tolally squashed just like “Psalms for the Dead” and “Death Magic Doom”

  • noule

    Ghostlight is amazing…Great album…Avatarium is going to be a major doom icon…

  • Peter

    I have to say, this really came out of nowhere and left me blown away. Both this and the debut album have been played nonstop since yesterday. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  • GREAT album. “Pearls and Coffins” is the doomiest I’ve heard Leif since Nightfall… :)

    This might dethrone my album of the year…. :)

  • sir_c

    i liked their previous album quite a lot, and the embedded track is pretty captivating. Another one to check out, fer fecks sake my to do list is exploding this month.

    But that’s what i’d call a luxury problem :-)

  • Achilleas

    Gonna see them live in a couple of days and I am really looking forward!

  • Tofu muncher

    dayum that’s some great Blacmore-inspired solo.