Swedish metallers Avatar are releasing what many Americans believe to be their second album, Hail The Apocalypse. This follows the band’s 2012 release Black Waltz. Although this is their second album to be released stateside, they have released three albums overseas (Thoughts of No Tomorrow in 2006, Schlacht in 2007, and Avatar in 2009) prior to these two albums.
The band consists of Johannes Eckerstrom (vocals), Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jarlsby (guitars), Tim Ohrstrom (guitars), Henrik Sandelin (bass), and John Alfredsson (drums). Eckerstrom and Alfredsson formed the band in 2001. They solidified a solid line up in 2003 with Jarlsby, Sandelin and Simon Andersson (who was replaced by Ohrstrom in 2013).
Avatar was considered the ‘little brothers’ of the famed Gothenburg, Sweden scene that spawned the celebrated New Wave of Swedish Death Metal but have since become a driving force in it. Originally playing brutal, technical melodic death metal, the band has progressed their sound by incorporating traditional heavy metal and classic rock ‘n’ roll into it. They play a darker, more groove oriented style of death metal which sets them apart from their contemporaries.
Eckerstrom wears makeup and has been known to dress up in an outfit reminding me of the main character, Alex, from the movie A Clockwork Orange. As the band likes to call it, “A dark, twisted circus sideshow that’s built around bombastically grooving melodic death ‘n’ roll.”
They have built a solid career in Sweden prior to breaking into the US market. Schlacht reached #27 on the Swedish album chart, their self-titled album reached #36 on the national album chart, and Black Waltz reached #25 on the Swedish album chart. Black Waltz spawned two successful singles, Smells Like A Freak Show and Let It Burn,Â staying on the US commercial rock radio charts for several weeks, which was well ahead many established bands in the scene!
Avatar has had several successful European tours alongside such acts as Impaled Nazarene, In Flames, Obituary, Warrior Soul, Dark Tranquillity, Helloween, Avenged Sevenfold, and Five Finger Death Punch. After the stateside release of Black Waltz, the band found themselves touring America for the first time alongside Lacuna Coil and Sevendust, as well as playing some headlining club dates.
Avatar was in fine form as they returned to the Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan on May 11th, 2014. The band ripped through an extremely tight 65-minute set, which included seven of the tracks from Black Waltz, five from Hail The Apocalypse, and one track from their self-titled album, Avatar.
You could hear the low hum of carnival music as Eckerstrom took the stage wearing a red militant style outfit donned with his ‘clown’ make up, black hat (ala Clockwork Orange), and staff (cane) while the rest of the group wore matching militant gold threaded over blue outfits (reminding me of what Adam Ant wore on the front of the Kings of the Wild Frontier album cover).
The band tore (pun intended) right into Torn Apart without any hesitation. The crowd responded with loud boisterous screams.
Without a break, the band went right into Hail The Apocalypse (a personal highlight for me). While the lights were throbbing in a strobe light fashion, everyone in the band banged their head in unison as the audience pumped their fists in the air. Eckerstrom even jumped down into the crowd and sang along with the audience.
Eckerstrom took a swig of something straight out of a gas can then took a few moments to talk with the audience and thank them for coming. The band then performed What I Don’t Know, which Eckerstrom mentioned was the first time they played it live.
Eckerstrom told the crowd that they make history every time they play the Machine Shop. Last time they played here, they played their first ever headline gig in the US and tonight they were playing their official release party for the new album, Hail The Apocalypse. Eckerstorm mentioned “What a ride”, while the band broke into Ready For The Ride.
Eckerstrom started chanting (in his most maniacal clown voice ever) “Hey Kevin, Hey Kevin, Hey Kevin (referring to Kevin Zink, owner of the Machine Shop)… Your place fucking rules. I need everyone to shout out a big war cry for him!” Everyone then erupted into a loud war cry that was so loud it was as if the walls were shaking from it! The band then broke into Black Waltz.
“It’s getting hot in here, isn’t it?” Eckerstrom asked the crowd. “We like it hot” he yelled as they played Let It Burn.
At some point, I noticed the band was no longer wearing the militant outfits they had been wearing earlier. I was so into watching the performance, I hadn’t noticed when the change took place. Hell, maybe it was because it was so hot? After all, Eckerstrom did say it was getting hot in here! The band proceeded to play Bloody Angel.
Next came another maniacal chant from Eckerstrom. “Horns in the air, horns in the air, horns in the air and keep them there” as he threw his devil horns up to the sky with his left hand. The band played Paint Me RedÂ once Eckerstrom got everyone to throw their devil horns up.
“This one is a new one” Eckerstrom belted out. “It’s called Vultures Fly and on this one we jump… ” The crowd jumped up in unison with Eckerstrom as he yelled out “Go”. The band followed up this song with Napalm.
“We are slowly running out of time” said Eckerstrom. “There is shit really wrong in this world. There are people sitting at the top who think they are the elite. In this room here we are all equals. Wherever we go, we meet metalheads. So, wherever we go, we meet the elite. Tonight, we are meeting Flint’s finest… and maybe some of Grand Rapids finest too, right?” The band then broke into Tsar Bomba.
The band thanked everyone then walked off stage only to return for their encore. This time, Eckerstrom was donned in a black robe and hood, looking as if he might be the High Priest of The Church of Satan. The band broke into Smells Like A Freak Show ending with Queen Of Blades. They thanked everyone for their support, took a bow at the front of the stage then told everyone to hang out because they wanted to personally meet each and every one of us!
Avatar are a ‘must see’ live band. Every band member plays their instrument exceptionally well. There is this sense of brotherhood brought out by the band members as if they’ve know each other their entire life. Each of them feeds off of the other giving us the feeling that they truly love playing together, in this band, on this stage.
Eckerstrom is a very entertaining frontman and is very animated adding a theatrical style to his performance. He enthralls the crowd with his make up and costumes while pointing his staff and marching in place in a militant style march. Occassionally, he drinks out of a gas can while spinning the fans into a horn throwing frenzy. He reminds me of a cross between Alex of A Clockwork Orange and The Joker from Batman with a touch of a crazed maniacal killer clown mixed in.Â The guy worked so hard at his performance, he was dripping in sweat and face paint by the end of the third song!
Unlike so many concerts I have attended over the years, there was no mad rush to the doors during the last few songs. The majority of the crowd stayed until the very end. They even made their way to the merch area to mingle with these maniacal crazed men from Sweden.
Our photographer, Thom Seling, was on hand to catch these ‘crazed’ men in action. Here are the images from that night.
Erik Heemsoth had the opportunity to interview Johannes Eckerstrom of Avatar after the show. Read his interview and see a few candid pics from Thom Seling: