Review Summary: The world's most theatrical band finds their sound.
"Don't close your eyes. We'll shoot our way out," screams lead singer, Johannes Eckerstrom in the song "Reload". And he means it. With their first record to define their now classic sound, Avatar comes out guns blazing, firing a barrage of riffs straight into your ears for nearly 43 minutes of glory. From the first minutes of the opener and still one of their best songs, "Queen of Blades", you've been thrown back into a trance of the glory days of the NWOBHM with a bit of that classic Gothenburg sound added in, and by this point, if you're not having the most fun you've had all week listening to it, you're doing it wrong.
On the Wacken stage, Eckerstrom once told the story of how his brother refused to bring him to the famous festival as a child. Vowing revenge, he promised that one day he'd be at Wacken, but on the stage and not in the crowd. The dedication he put towards this goal shows in its fullest for the first time on this self-titled release where he displays a Halford-like range for cleans and a scream to better those of the classic melodeath forefathers. The pursuit of perfection in his craft has made him one of the top metal vocalists today, but that's not where the talent of this band ends.
As I said before, Avatar are a band that know how to craft a catchy riff. Although Eckerstrom may be who brings in fans to the band, the other members are the ones who keep them. Barely a moment passes in the first three-quarters of the album that doesn't feature an excellent layering of sounds by the two lead guitars, bass, and drums. These guys who as well grew up in the heartland of Swedish heavy music aren't slouches by any stretch. Avatar know how to groove and, of course, how to bang their heads, and a unique combination of these feelings dominates everything they write.
Now, this isn't an album without its flaws. At this point in their careers, they were still quite a young and inexperienced band, which shows mainly in the closing track "Lullaby" where they attempt to bite off a bit more than they can chew. Aiming for a long and slow closer to honor the more epic sides of their roots, they rather only succeed in losing much of the energy that drove the album up to that point. While not a bad song, it and a few moments of awkward transitions within songs let you know the band is human.
Since this album, Avatar have matured to be one of the strongest active metal acts out there, further developing their image and sound, and learning from their mistakes all the while. With some incredibly talented musicians and a vocalist like Eckerstrom, all of whom are great songwriters, they combine melodeath and classic metal with their own sick twist better than anyone. The self-titled release here is the beginning of that proof.
Overall Rating: 4.2/5