22 years. 9 albums. A widespread reputation for notoriously entertaining live performances, strengthened with personal endorsements by celebrities of the metal world such as Corey Taylor. It’s taken a hell of a lot of work (and petitioning from fans and industry personnel alike) to bring Sweden’s uniquely theatrical metal mavericks Avatar to Australian shores for the first time, and finally, that work has paid off. Tonight they are wrapping up their debut Australian tour at The Triffid with support from local rock favourites Krave, and Sunday night notwithstanding, when doors open the venue is packing out fast and abuzz with anticipation for a spectacle that has been many, many years in the making. There’s a degree of mayhem and mystery surrounding this band that sparks my eager curiosity as a relatively new fan, and with a back catalogue of best hits spanning over two decades, tonight promises to be a special experience for fans old and new.
It’s a fair while before Brissy rockers Krave take the stage to get the party started, but the mood in the room is instantly elevated the moment the trio rips into their set. These guys are renowned in the Brisbane heavy music scene (and beyond) for the blistering energy and unbridled enthusiasm they inject into their live performances, and tonight is no different. They’re a little let down initially by a slightly flat live mix, with the guitar sounding somewhat muted, but their sonic texture broadens nicely as they hit their stride partway through the set. There are legions of loyal hometown fans in the crowd, singing along and stirring up jump pits and moshes early on during bangers such as “Purgatory”.
I’ve always been impressed by frontwoman Siana’s ability to transition so quickly and efficiently from jumping around like a firecracker while riffing on her bass, to centering back on her mic to deliver those powerhouse belts. And tonight, she demonstrates a formidable new skillset in the form of searing harsh vocals during the closing number, which is a new track with a distinctly thrashier vibe than the trio’s previous releases. It’s a fun and passionate performance from Krave tonight, and what they’ve indisputably succeeded to achieve is getting the crowd well and truly ready to mosh for the headliner.
The lights are shut off and we are bathed in darkness, and suddenly there is deafening applause as Avatar march solemnly on stage to the ominous sound of bell tolls. From the moment the first note is struck in tour title track “Dance Devil Dance”, what follows is almost two hours of what can only be described as a psychotic heavy metal circus extravaganza fuelled by swaggering riffs, brazen charisma and a limitless supply of vaudevillian spirit. Frontman Johannes Eckerstr?m holds a presence on stage that is equally terrifying and mesmerising. Visually, he gives evil Noel Fielding vibes with the black hair, circus corpse paint, lurid ringleader costume and screwball facial expressions, not to mention drinking from what seems to be a petrol tankard. But vocally, Eckerstr?m demonstrates considerable range, versatility and power, his Rob Halford-esque high vibrato belts contrasting with his demonic harshes.
From the getgo, the whole band creates a riotous atmosphere as they headbang in sync and smash through banger after banger with high-octane energy. Yet despite the chaos, every single detail of Avatar’s performance is carefully considered and rehearsed to a tee, and they have the crowd eating out of the palms of their hands. “Valley of Disease” features some thunderous double kicks from John Alfredsson which send the already loose mosh into a frenzy, and as Eckerstr?m announces an impending breakdown, a floor-wide pit opens up, and we’re only a couple of songs into the set. Then we get our first bite of exposition from Eckerstr?m, who saucily assures us that we are not prepared for the fun to come – “there’s no safeword” – and sure enough, numbers like “Chimp Mosh Pit” and “Paint Me Red” get the crowd chants going and propel the energy in the room ever higher. Arguably Avatar’s greatest hit “Bloody Angel” is captivating live, beginning with the iconically mournful guitar melody which then gives way to pulsating, sexy metal grooves. “For The Swarm” is electrifying, with the combination of strobe lights, lightning double kicks and synchronised windmills creating the effect of a heavy metal hurricane.
Disappointingly, there’s quite a lot of bogan jeering and lewd heckling from the crowd tonight, which the ever-professional Eckerstr?m speedily diffuses with some very classy, witty banter. The frequent storytime sections between songs adds to the theatricality of it all, building tension towards the next flawless banger to come. During extended guitar shreds in “Puppet Show”, Eckerstr?m dips out and then reappears behind the crowd on the balcony floor, smiling maniacally at us as he makes a balloon animal and pulls out a trombone in a moment of slapstick comedy. “On The Beach”, a song debuted specifically on this tour, generates a jump pit, and there are shreds for days in this track with a solo-off duel between guitarists Jonas Jarlsby and Tim ?hrstr?m. “Black Waltz” is creepy, demented and haunting, and then a keyboard is wheeled out for an intimate acoustic moment where Eckerstr?m serenades us with “Tower” in his velvety Jack Skellington-esque bass tones.
Jarlsby disappears then re-emerges in a crown and cape amidst regal orchestrations to herald “A Statue of The King”, and this signals the ostensible end of the set. It really doesn’t feel like a whole 90 minutes has passed, such has been the rollicking good fun of this performance, and we are rewarded yet further with three encore tracks. “Colossus” packs a punch with real attitude and a satisfyingly chuggy groove, then after “Smells Like a Freak Show”, the mosh opens up for a great wall of death for the powerful and defiant “Hail The Apocalypse” – an appropriate note to end on as everyone in the room has truly embraced their wild side tonight.
What Avatar have achieved tonight has been nothing short of spectacular. The Swedes have created an inimitable formula for the live experience of their music that serves up entertainment, thrills and theatricality in a delicious feast for the senses. They assured us tonight that they would be back in Australia soon, and after journeying along this unforgettable audiovisual adventure, I can honestly say that Avatar can’t return soon enough for my liking.
Thanks to Maric Media