Avatarium – Death, Where Is Your Sting Review

Like a cruel joke, Avatariumߵs releases sneak up on our Steel overlord. In true fashion, the great ape had scheduled a holiday1 just when this one needed to land. Thoroughly enraged, he menacingly marched through the breakroom shouting that someone needed to cover it or he would sacrifice Itchymenace to the great pile of writer mulch that we toss into mash for homebrewed hobo wine. But you see, Itchy and I go way back—we fought through the trenches of n00bdom together. It helps that I, too, have been consistently impressed with what this particular Swedish doom-leaning outfit has to offer. To my surprise, when I offered my services to review Avatarium and save Itchy, Steel said simply, “Thanks, it better be on time.”2 But that’s the uniting potential Avatarium holds. Through snaky croon and the mighty riff, the once Leif Edling (Candlemass, ex-Abstrakt Algebra) helmed outfit swings us through earth-rumbling grooves and tear-jerking lamentations with a finesse that is as expected as it is bewildering. Seemingly a band that can do no wrong, can Death, Where Is Your Sting solidify, yet again, that you really should be listening to Avatarium?

In short, yes. That should be no surprise, though, to anyone who’s already hopped aboard the Avatarium train. Each Avatarium outing has had its own identity, and Death is no different. But, with Edling’s departure complete, it’s safe to say that vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith is the identity here. Smith has few equals in the metal world, with her luxurious register continuing to tether us through whatever fuzzed-out twists and slide-abused turns emerge—and boy, does guitarist Marcus Jidell (The Doomsday Kingdom, ex-Royal Hunt) make sure his slide erupts on the solo to “Stockholm” and outro to “Mother Can You Hear Me Now.” Regardless, whether Smith stands against the stadium demolishing “God Is Silent” or last call ballad “Psalm for the Living,” Jidell, also the producer, has fought for every bit of her voice to sit at the bow, steering this doom-anchored ship through the murk and fog that Death harbors.

Naturally, then, Smith steals the show for just about every moment Death lingers, each syllable she utters holding equal power to any chord. In the face of the speaker-busting opening that mid-album stomp “God Is Silent” forces upon the ears, Smith cuts like a lighthouse, her bellow of “AND GOD IS SIIIIIIIILEEEEENnnnnn-T” landing punctually on a full teeth kiss. And in more subtle songs (“A Love Like This,” “Psalm for the Living”), Smith feels so close to the mic that we can hear every preparatory inhale, every small end-fry, every gentle drip from sorrowful word to sorrowful word—a master class in dramatic legato that helps every word feel necessary.

Even though Avatarium could rest safely on Smith’s talents alone, Death challenges their own comfort to continue to expand the Avatarium sound. Compared to their last outing especially, Death begins with a whisper, albeit a contagious one that places melancholy cello lines (another Jidell skill) against Smith’s melodies—easy on the ears but low on horsepower. And though “Stockholm” does pick things up with a classic descending doom refrain, a majority of the first half remains in this contemplative nature. While Smith can navigate us convincingly enough—her beautifully penned lyrics will close up quite a few throats—the classic rock, arena doom swagger that presses through the back half feels immediately more satisfying. At least until the reprisal finale, “Transcendent,” which provides a tidy, triumphant, yet tepid instrumental package, an odd choice in an album so otherwise defined by a captivating vocal performance.

At five albums deep, Avatarium has proven they are still willing to take risks. Despite whatever criticisms I may have toward Death, it unfolds as a rewarding listening experience to which I eagerly return, with heavy repetition on a few standout tracks3. Eclectic and intentional, the duality of its two halves recalls old-time album structures where A and B sides have their own identities as much as the album itself. They may not have bested themselves, but with a bar as high as it is, Death lands far from failure. Whether you’re a loyal fan or curious onlooker, you really should be listening to Avatarium.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM Records4
Websites: facebook.com/avatariumofficial
Releases Worldwide: October 21st, 2022

Show 4 footnotes

  1. I am told I may get one too after my 666th year of indentured servitude.
  2. I will treasure this moment to my last breath.
  3. Can I say how fucking great “God Is Silent” is again?
  4. Find their back catalog here.
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