17 Jul 2017

Avatarium - Hurricanes and Halos (Nuclear Blast - 2017)

Avatarium seem to have moved away further from their doom metal roots with each release, in favor of what I would call classic rock. This being their third album, and fifth release all in all, they seem to be all but gone by now. While the album isn't bad per say, it doesn't really scratch the itch that I had either. Then again, I simply might not get it.
I've been an Edling-oholic for quite some time. Simply put: if I hear that Leif is involved, I see the chances of me liking that album increase dramatically. I can't help to wonder if his decreasing involvement in, and now apparent disappearance from, the band is the reason to why I simply can't get into the latest Avatarium album as much as I had expected to. I can't find any clues to that he would still be involved as a "ghost writer" of sort for the band in the LP inlay, and to my surprise the songs on the album are not registered in the database of Swedish STIM either, so no luck there in finding out who's responsible for writing the tracks. Needless to say, I suspect that this album is completely Edling-free and that he along with keyboard player Carl Westholm was exited out of the band without any announcement.
Anyway, the album opens somewhat strong with "Into the Fire / Into the Storm", an upbeat affair with a catchy chorus much in the vein of 2015's title-track "The Girl With the Raven Mask". I'm glad to hear that the entrance of organist Rickard Nilsson has made the organ take a more prominent role in the production, and he riffs along with Marcus Jidell's guitar without breaking a sweat as well as offers up a nice solo in the middle of the track. The track draws my mind to songs like "Free'n'Easy", "Easy Livin'" or "To Scared to Run" by Uriah Heep, and fuels my suspicion that there won't be much of doom metal up for grabs within the grooves of the golden double LP that I pre-ordered.
Next up is "The Starless Sleep" that almost has a dance-music element to it, had the steady drum beat by Lars Sköld been replaced by a thumping bass this track wouldn't have felt out of place at a nightclub. The same goes for the vocal melodies in the chorus. I take it that this track will be a regular at Avatarium's live shows to come, considering the placement in the album track list and that it was released as a video on beforehand, for me it falls flat though. A redeeming quality is Markus solo, that he along with all of the rest of the band are extremely accomplished in their instruments is a fact that I cannot argue. It's an early point in the albums playtime for me to start loose interest though.
"Road to Jerusalem" opens with some country-sounding acoustic guitar, backed up by fuzzy electric instruments. The track does a great job in conveying the mood of a long trek through the desert, and is oddly enough one of my favorite tracks within "Hurricanes and Halos". Jennie-Ann Smith's voice fit these type of songs extremely well, and it is solidified after the break in the middle where the drums enter and she backs herself up with some classic "aah-aah" vocals and beautiful harmonies in the chorus.
Heavy drums lead into "Medusa Child" and my hopes are staring to rise that we're getting into the realms of doom, but are snuffed before we've even get passed the first of the songs nine minutes. It's not that the verses here aren't heavy and moody, but the track is quite awkwardly put together with sudden changes that don't quite fit together. I'm all for variety, but it has to fit together coherently. Once again however Rickard serves up a cool organ solo before the song drifts of into more experimental territory in 60's/70's fashion for a couple of minutes to finally fade away in the end.
"The Sky at the Bottom of the Sea" once again draws the mind to Uriah Heep, especially with the vocal harmonies in the verses, Hensley-esque tone and rhythms of the organ and use of the wah-wah pedal. An extremely tight shuffle beat on the drums makes this track bounce onward without one noticing that the time has passed, and the chorus is large and stadium-like. Definitely one of the better tracks on the album.
"When Breath Turns to Air" has a jazz feel to it with colored guitar chords, soft vocals and a lot of ghost notes on the snare drum, Avatarium clearly has no problem with handling these elements either. Very well played once again, but we're getting back to the point where this simply isn't anything that interests me. 
We are finally treated to a heavy power-chord riff(!) with "A Kiss (From the End of the World)". Jennie-Ann handles this very masterfully as well and shows that her background isn't solely based in jazz and soul, but that she's no stranger to Ronnie James Dio either. If you were looking for doom metal, this is what you'll get, as the track later moves in to more experimental parts with guitar solos in the same manner as "Medusa Child" did earlier.
The title track "Hurricanes and Halos" is more of an outro than anything else, and after my first listen I haven't felt the urge to play it again other than for the sake of this review. Guitar harmonies are stacked on top of each other for three and a half minutes before the track finally disappears.
The production of "Hurricanes and Hales" is stellar, especially the drums, organ and vocals. From time to time the guitar is a but too fuzzy for my taste, but this has been the case with Avatarium since after their self titled debut. The organ has that great roar to it when needed and the drums are organic and dynamic. You can really hear that there is no studio fakery needed for these seasoned musicians, and an extra mention must be made of Markus's solo capabilities that have always been top notch as well as Jennie-Ann's broad vocal scope.
Avatarium obviously know what they are doing, but moving into the tired and over-done realm of retro rock was something that was really hoping that they wouldn't do. Granted, there is still some elements of doom metal here, but always in the form of what I would call "doom ballads" or upbeat heavy metal tracks, nothing in the vein of the absolutely crushing riffs on their debut. If this is due to Leif being missing (or if he even is gone), one can only guess. But I have my suspicions. "Hurricanes and Halos" isn't bad, but not what I wanted. In fact, it is very well played classic rock with some jazz- and soul elements thrown in there for good measure, and If you're in the mood for that, this album is definitely for you. Maybe I can be blamed for having preconceived expectations of what I wanted, but "Hurricanes and Halos" earns: 6/10

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