Sweden’s Avatar reigns supreme on latest album, tour

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Avatar | Johan Carlen Photo

You really have to bow down to Avatar for the complete commitment to their zany concept on new album “Avatar Country.” Released in January, it’s the Swedish metal act’s seventh release, a familiar heavy groove effort with 10 songs all bonded by their tribute to a mythical king that is poised to “save us.” From the AC/DC-sounding invitation “The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country” to the growling guitar prophecy of “King After King,” there’s no breaking character for the album’s 45 minutes.

AVATAR When: 6:45 p.m. February 2 Where: Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake St. Tickets: Sold Out Info: bottomlounge.com

Though Avatar are no strangers to well-crafted concept albums — their last, 2016’s “Feathers & Flesh,” is a musical narrative about an owl that wages war on the world — lead singer Johannes Eckerström is staunch in his affirmation that “Avatar Country” is no work of fiction. “There’s no imaginary thing about it,” Eckerström says, alluding to the fact that concert goers will get to breach the borders of this foreign land on each unconventional tour date. “His royal highness” that permeates every song is also a real blood-and-flesh person — the band’s guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby (kungen is Swedish for king) who brings his own throne with him on stage.

“He’s the best guitar player in the [damn] world, which is why he has seven solos in the first song [the eight-minute epoch “Legend of the King”],” says Eckerström who affirms he has known since shortly after the band started as a death metal faction in Gothenburg in 2001 of Jarlsby’s royal aptitude. It’s seen in the catchy riffs that have helped the band amass a good deal of radio airplay in America for songs like the gypsy metal “Smells Like a Freakshow” and the latest dark single, “The King Wants You.” Eckerström continues, “If you look in booklets prior to this album there’s always a very special thanks to Kungen.”

Beyond a tribute to the guitarist, the whole concept of “Avatar Country” aligns with a quote Eckerström gave to Alternative Press during an interview in 2016, namely, “Metal exists in a parallel universe that is so much better than this one. It’s where the ugly becomes beautiful, the ridiculous becomes awesome and the normal becomes mundane.”

What Avatar has successfully honed in on over the course of their career is to recreate the art of live entertainment with sound, visuals, role play and immersive experiences that, like the circus motif they glean to, tries to create “the greatest show on earth.”

On the “Avatar Country” tour, that includes slating openers like the traveling freak show Hellzapoppin’ and psychobilly act The Brains to rev up the crowd, as well as circus games and a fan art gallery “that keeps growing every day,” Eckerström says. Of course there’s also the band’s ringleader costumes, jester makeup and theatrics that he says are “all a part of the beautiful heavy metal tradition of aiming for the grand, over the top elements. … That’s the important part of metal music, to be as brutal as possible. Even death metal is emotionally over-the-top. There’s always some kind of extreme there.”

Where Avatar hails from in Sweden this is the norm for metal bands. Amon Amarth decorates their stage with a full Viking ship hull, Sabaton utilizes artillery and tanks and Ghost dress up as demonic clergy. It also harkens to an era of great shock rock from American acts like Alice Cooper and KISS, which led one Facebook commenter to declare that Avatar is “reviving the metal scene in the U.S.”

Eckerström says he finds that comment “baffling and interesting” at the same time, “because we are not a very American-sounding heavy metal band, but maybe people forgot about how fantastic [theatrical music] is and maybe we stand out. … Just give us an opportunity to take the stage in front of an audience and [like any good king], we’ll try to win them over.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

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