Avatarium – The Fire I Long For Review

Just as with their last outing, Avatarium’s latest opus snuck up on me, having only learned of its imminent release a week ago. I’m not sure why this band escapes my metal detector/radar so effectively, but this 70s doom rock project founded by Leif Edling of Candlemass fame always makes for a pleasant surprise, as they’ve been quite impressive over their relatively brief life cycle. Health concerns have caused Leif to step away from the band more and more over the last few years, and on fourth album The Fire I Long For, he’s he’s been relegated to helping write a few songs. With Avatarium becoming more of their own unique entity, they’ve continued their drift toward 70s Heart-influenced occult rock while maintaining elements of classic doom. This time there are traces of soulful country western balladry entering their sound as well. The music still bears the earmarks of the band heard on the self-titled debut and The Girl With the Raven Mask, but the heavy doom riffs that marked Edling’s influence seem to be ebbing along with his overall involvement. Heaviness aside, their latest is a dark, gripping, and at times beautiful piece of retro rock, and a rebound from 2017s ever so slightly disappointing Hurricanes and Halos.

One of the most doom-centric compositions, “Voices” leads things off, leveraging Candlemass-esque doom riffs against the always stellar vocals of Jennie-Ann Smith with great effect. There’s a fat low-end bass rumble helping the riffs punch through to grab your attention, and Jennie’s slick, seductive vocals seal the deal. The addition of Hammond organs and trippy guitar-work adds the rum-soaked cherry on top of a great song, and one I suspect Leif helped pen. From there the band jumps around between upbeat rockers like “Rubicon” with it’s classic Heart vibe, and the sad, soulful ballad “Lay Me Down,” which features a noticeable country-western twang and twiddle that works surprisingly well.

Highlights are many, but I’m especially fond of the way “Porcelain Skull” manages to marry Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath influences into one killer song; and the smoldering “Great Beyond” is a thing of savage beauty, teeming with rich emotion and deep dish melancholy. The title track is a kind of smoky, sultry love song with a sharp edge and a mix of blues and classic country spirit. Jennie’s beguiling vocals make it so much more than it would be with a lesser vocalist, turning it into a captivating, hypnotic wonder. There are no weak songs, though the hard rocking “Shake the Demon” resonates less than the moodier pieces, and its Deep Purple vibe feels a wee bit generic by 70s occult rock standards.

Running 43:58 and with most songs in the 4-5 minute range, The Fire I Long For flies by effortlessly, leaving you wanting more. Fans of the band’s earlier material may find fault with the overall heaviness quotient, as ballads and mood pieces outweigh the crunchy, heavy stuff, but this is the direction the band’s been moving in for a while, and I doubt that’s going to change. As always, this is the Jennie-Ann Smith show, and her powerful, haunting vocals are the clear focal point. She continues to find ways to effectively bring jazz cabaret and folk rock vocal influences into hard rock and metal, and she’s easily one of my favorite singers regardless of genre. Her vocals on tracks like “Lay Me Down” and “Great Beyond” send shivers down my spine, and her sweet crooning on the title track and closer “Stars They Move” are exquisite. Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, ex-Soen, Ex-Royal Hunt) provides the ideal collection of riffs and melodies for Jennie to work with, merging Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd influences into a winning style that cements Avatarium in the 70s while providing just enough crunch to keep things in the metalverse. Would I like more heavy riffs? Sure, but the material here is impressive even without all the doom power they once relied on.

I was hoping Avatarium would take a step up from their last outing, and they certainly have on The Fire I Long For. This band is dripping with raw talent and potential and they seem to be coming into their own now. That’s a very exciting prospect and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. If you love moody 70s rock with a doom edge, this will warm you like a roaring bonfire on a bitter cold winter’s day. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 277 kbps
Label: Nuclear Blast
Websites: facebook.com/avatariumofficial | facebook.com/avatariumofficial
Releases Worldwide: November 22, 2019

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