Review Summary: Rest In Peace Candlemass. All hail Avatarium.
Upon the release of Candlemass’s eleventh album, Leif Edling, came forth with a bitter announcement in regards to the future of the band. Psalms for the Dead
would be their last studio album. I must admit, the news affected me greatly. I felt disappointment, but I understood the reasons behind this unexpected decision. Still, it wasn’t easy to accept it. The delicate nature of my character was the cause for my provisional grief. For some reasons, I use to rely my huge expectations and trust on older bands and I receive all the newcomers with skepticism and doubt. So when the news about Edling’s participation in a new project spread out, I took them with a grain of salt.
So, Leif closed the book on Candlemass, what is he up to now ? If your assumption is “more Epic Doom Metal”, then you estimated correctly. And it doesn’t come as huge surprise since this man has the style of Doom into his blood. For this album, Edling paid a long-awaited visit to his first years as a professional musician. He drew inspiration from the very first albums he wrote while he was on Candlemass and decided to re-define the powerful, Unholy sounds of Damnation. He aimed on bringing back the powerful tales of epic poetry of the first four Candlemass records. However, you must bear in mind that Avatarium’s debut is NOT another album from the said group. And that is a good thing, because with that direction, the project was bound to failure from the very first day of its conception. For his venture into this tour de force, Leif teamed up with a bunch of very talented musicians. Apart from Edling on his acquainted role, we’ve got percussionist Lars Skold (Tiamat), keyboardist Carl Westhom, (Candlemass), guitarist Marcus Jidell (Evergrey) and vocalist extraordinaire Jennie-Ann Smith.
The album itself can be analyzed as a mixture of good ol’ Epic Doom Metal with Classic Rock influences and varied references, from the Psychedelic music of the late 60’s to Rainbow and to Blue Oyster Cult. An explosive compound which is scoped and developed under the aegis of the Doom Metal genre. And what would be Doom Metal without riffs ? Edling knows that all too well and as an expert in this field, he deliver some of his best ideas. The result of his collaboration with Jidell is magnificent. At first I felt worried by the fact that there is no second guitarist in the band, an omission that could lead to inefficient results. You can’t have Doom Metal with feeble guitar work. After listening to the first three songs, I ruled these worries out. Heavier than a tombstone, the guitar annihilates everything in its path. For example, the introductory riffs of Moonhorse
spread utter devastation. The density that comes out of the guitar is crushingly impeccable. The riffs have the size of an elephant. The solos on the other side are melodic and painful. But truly, what won my attention in the first place, was the combination of these monstrous riffs with the softer, acoustic parts and interludes. The above-mentioned influences are diffused among the tracks, forming a wall of medieval sounds that encircle the album completely. For example, Moonhorse
features a haunting slide solo that may remind you of Blackmore’s work in Rising
. Lady In The Lamp
is one of the best closing ballads I have heard in a while, yet another reference on Blackmore’s group, as it may retell you the story of the ballad Rainbow Eyes
. After the first couple of listens, it becomes clear that the band was aiming for an approach where emotion comes before technicality.
Further on, the album has two sides. One side that is heavy, and another side that is softer. If Edling and Jidell are responsible for the heavy parts, Jennie-Ann Smith is responsible for the soft side by bringing expressiveness and further emotion. Where the album surprises is not in the excellent work of the instruments, but in the presence of an amazing vocalist. Smith is the revelation of Avatarium
. With her impulsive performance, Smith navigates perfectly the crushing sounds and brings the necessary equilibrium. If you need a detailed description of her voice, you will need a lot of adjectives. Emotional, fragile, powerful, seductive, divine are only some of the words I could use to describe her. Listeners should avoid the chance of looking for similarities between Smith and other famous female metal singers, for they'll find none. Smith doesn't possess the trademark operatic vocals, for which many female-fronted metal bands are known for and that's for a good reason. Edling wasn't looking for that sort of thing. He wanted a vocalist with a bluesy tone and the choice of recruiting Smith was spot on. There were times when Smith reminded me of Janis Joplin. “Outrageous”, some of you may say. But honestly, to me, it is as Joplin was reborn inside Smith’s body. She is the key that holds Avatarium's independence and the main reason the band doesn't sound as a caricature of Candlemass. When it comes to singing, Jennie-Ann Smith is quite simply the biggest newcomer of this year.
Leif Edling proved once again why he is considered one of the biggest figures in the Doom Metal community. As a fine example of a good working man, Edling’s creative and troubled mind couldn’t sit tight during his post-Candlemass era. He was quickly looking for a new field. But never in a million years had I expected him to make such triumphant return. It requires some special skills in order to take all the old tricks -the melancholic atmosphere, the riffs, the moods, the melodies- and re-introduce them in such a way to create something that sounds so refreshing and outstanding. Edling has simply outdone himself. Taking sides with a fantastic crew, Edling had a good chance to step out of the boundaries of Candlemass and further develop his ideas towards new directions. A magnificent debut, quite possibly his best work since Nightfall
Recommended tracks: (Every single song is great, but if you MUST hear the absolutely essentials check these)
Bird of Prey
Lady in the Lamp