Avatar Country was always destined to be one of 2018’s biggest headfucks, even before the concept was revealed, but perhaps the biggest surprise is just how normal Avatar have made an album about guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby’s life as a King sound … “normal” of course being relative within the band’s own batshit Animaniacs court jester kingdom. No album that starts with a National Anthem; takes influence from death metal, power metal and country and western; and features a four minute proclamation about the King’s bathroom habits was ever going to be truly “normal”.
Committing wholeheartedly to the conceit, from the song titles and lyrics to the dense layers of pomp and pageantry that risk putting Harry and Meghan’s impending nuptials to shame, Avatar Country is the very definition of going balls-deep, not a single second sounding anything less than both-feet-first as the band continues to push the boundaries of what they are capable of, and what their fans will accept. Predecessor Feathers and Flesh may have had a slightly weirder concept behind it, but musically it was a pretty straightforward Avatar album (if such a thing exists). Avatar Country, on the other hand, flits all over the place, afraid to settle on any one rock for too long like a frog in a lava field. The closest overall reference point is probably Avenged Sevenfold, whose twin guitars roar through the likes of Legend of the King and King After King, but with so much else going on, it’s unfair to pin Avatar to just one sound. King’s Harvest throws some serious Ghost vibes into the mix; Silent Songs of the King Parts 1 & 2 bring Stranger Things and Iron Maiden to mind respectively ; and then there’s A Statue Of The King, which starts as an Edguy power metal romp, morphs into a Mudvayne nu-metal stomp, and then builds to a pumping mid-section riff that is somehow reminiscent of happy hardcore. There is also a new level of vocal harmonising at play throughout the album that’ll make you beg for an Avatar Christmas album, however, the biggest talking point is undoubtedly country shit-kicker The King Welcomes You To Avatar Country, which blends the Grange Hill theme tune with Devin Townsend’s Heatwave and an oddly spot-on Brian Johnson impersonation. Like nothing else you will hear all year, it sounds godawful on paper, yet is so gloriously, ludicrously, wildly happy, it is the one song you’ll go back to more than any other, and absolutely perfectly designed for frontman Johannes Eckerström to do his bug-eyed, tongue-lashing, ringmaster-from-hell thing in the live arena. The same can be said for much of the album, which wholeheartedly deserves to be played in full on tour, and at a svelte 35 minutes once the novelty guff has been removed, is easily achievable. Also, if there isn’t a drink called Royal Residue available on said tour, then something has gone very, very wrong in the marketing department. Avatar Country is not the album to convince your chart-loving mates that metal is a serious art form, but it is the one to prove it’s still the most inventive, exciting and surprising genre around, and if you’re willing to take the tour, one hell of a wild ride.