Three albums in to their career and with founding member Leif Edling now largely sidelined and confined to songwriting contributions only, the timer has come for Swedish doom pretenders Avatarium to stand on their own two feet with new album Hurricanes and Halos.
Their first album, self-titled and released in 2013, was a minor masterpiece of sophisticated prog-doom, made more remarkable by the tremendous vocals of comparative newcomer (and wife of guitarist Marcus Jidell) Jennie-Ann Smith. Tracks like Lady in the Lamp were classics the moment the band birthed them, harnessing a sort of Dio-era Rainbow type majesty rarely seen on doom releases, but the band appeared to be treading water with their sophomore release, 2015’s The Girl with the Raven Mask, which basically revisited all the scenes from the debut in diminished style.
Hurricanes and Halos, then, could be seen to be something of a make-or-break album for Mr & Mrs Jidell, as doom fans, traversing the ever-more saturated marketplace looking for something really special to invest their hard-earned pennies in give the band one more chance to truly turn their heads.
And in the most part this album will certainly do that. Tracks like The Sky at the Bottom of the Sea, which shamelessly mines a Uriah Heep groove to achieve its aims but which is a highlight nonetheless, are sure to appeal to the band’s more rivet headed devotees, whilst numbers like The Starless Sleep and the more languorous The Road to Jerusalem have a different appeal but are no less successful. The glue which holds all this together (and this isn’t to diminish the lead work of Jidell, which is never less than superb throughout) is the superb performance of Smith behind the mic.
In less than half a decade Jennie-Ann Smith has gone from nowhere to becoming one of the most important vocalists on the doom scene; Her vocals, at once both smoky and strident, command the listener’s undivided attention whatever she sings, and when she takes a seemingly torpid blues like When Breath Turns to Air to the heights in a gloriously restrained fashion you know that you’re in the presence of some sort of genius.
So it’s clear that Avatarium are no longer ‘the female-fronted Candlemass’ – or any sort of Candlemass at all, for that matter – but rather a deliciously retro, progressive (in the old and most original musical sense of the term) rock unit capable of the heaviest of metal and the most delicate of whimsy, sometimes within the same song. Whether that’s enough for Edling’s followers remains to be seen, but for the rest of us it’s clear that Avatarium, in their own right, have an awful lot still to offer discerning fans of hard rock.
Hurricanes and Halos is out now on Nuclear Blast