Style: Alternative Rock/Metal
Release Date: 17 Feb 2023
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My youngest son, whose tastes often match with mine, especially when it comes to thrash, is a big fan of Avatar and that's a discrepancy between us. I've never quite got their thing, because they made a conscious decision to shift style in a way that feels off to me. I wouldn't say they sold out, a claim some might make, but they definitely moved to a carefully created commercial sound with a carefully created commercial image to match it. This ninth album isn't quite that straightforward, though, because they're all over the map and it makes the whole thing feel fresh.
The title track kicks off the album with a very modern sound. The riffs are simple but urgent, with a strong beat behind them, and there's an interesting counter sound to the riffs introduced that's almost Asian. The rough modern vocals are only the first vocal approach of many here, Johannes Eckerström demonstrating some serious versatility as he shifts style to fit whatever a song might be doing at any particular point. He often shifts between clean and harsh in the same songs, with On the Beach perhaps the most obvious example, delivering the verses in a clean rock voice, then shifting to a gurgly harsh growl for effect.
I like this variety, even though I don't always like the style in play. My 6/10 rating is because not all these songs enforced their presence. Even after half a dozen times through, a few still haven't got past names on the playlist. I couldn't tell you what they sound like. However, a few were absolutely able to grab me. On the Beach was probably the first, not because of the vocals but because of the guitars. This is a heavy song to start with, the opening seagulls giving way to a pretty boring riff in the modern style, but an industrial grind shows up behind it to make it interesting and then some calypso funk appears behind the verses, which is fascinating. The song ends with a guitar trying to be a music box and succeeding.
My favourite has to be Gotta Wanna Riot, which is a quirky and fun pop metal piece, right down to Eckerström's rolling Rs and the earworm harmonisation theme that we might expect from Abba or the Beach Boys. It's almost a pop punk piece but played metal all the way. I had a blast with it, even though I'm not as sold on Hazmat Suit, which tries to reach the same goals, unsuccessfully to my ears, because it ends up as one of those supposedly aggressive pieces that are too cute for us to buy into that. There's also a chant that sounds like a dance DJ trying to get a crowd moving.
The Dirt I'm Buried In is a sassy number, with some excellent clean vocals from Eckerström and some almost Police-esque guitars. It didn't take long for me to appreciate his vocal shifts, but songs like this one underline it. He runs all over the map here, from pop to rock to metal, from clean to harsh and where harsh might mean death growls or hardcore shouts, even some bleaker parts that nod towards black metal. I expect theatricality from him but that didn't really show up until Train, the most unusual song here, which hints at soft reggae but goes to a place that's like Nick Cave trying to mimic Iggy Pop. It's another fascinating song.
Clouds Dipped in Chrome may be the most interesting, because it's the heaviest piece here, but it also finds very different moods. It starts out almost crust punk, with furious drums and a grinding guitar, but then shifts to a stylish heavy metal guitar for texture and a powerful rock vocal behind it. It's a sort of hybrid of Crass, Venom and Pantera, with something traditional trying to burst out of it. At points Eckerström goes emo but at others he goes air raid siren. There's nu metal in here too, which I usually hate, but it's such a fascinating mix that I have to remain fascinated.
And so there's a lot here, whether you're into the carefully created commercial Avatar mindset or not. I'm still tempted to go with a 7/10 because I enjoyed a lot of this, but it seems unfair to bands I gave that rating who made much more consistent albums. This is strong and fascinatingly diverse when it's on the ball but forgettable when it's off it. There's definitely 7/10 and 8/10 material this time out, but a bunch of 5/10 songs too. If I used halves, I'd be happy with a six and a half. If you're a fan, add at least a point to that.