By Don S. MacCobb

Avatarium is a brand new band signed to Nuclear Blast Records.  They slot into the category of doom metal with a folky twist (but not as in so-called folk metal).  The driving force behind the band is Leif Edling, whom you might remember as bassist and principal songwriter of Swedish epic doom innovators Candlemass.  He’s assembled a talented group for Avatarium’s 7 song, 50 minute self-titled debut, including members of Everygrey (Marcus Jindell / guitars) and Tiamat (Lars Sköld / drums) as well as keyboardist Carl Westholm who is featured prominently and the stunningly beautiful newcomer Jennie-Ann Smith on vocals (who has an equally stunning voice).

Without a doubt, it’s all about her on this album, most of the compositions are structured in such a way as to frame her stunningly beautiful voice in a minimalist setting, or at least a muted one.  The formula is established on opening track and lead-off single, “Moonhorse”.  Lyrically, it’s one of the most interesting songs I’ve heard all year … or any year for that matter, asking a series of trippy questions to alter perceptions.  The effect of having a gigantic opening riff brought to a screeching halt in order to shine a sharp spotlight on the amazing vocals and mind-bending lyrics is intense.  The song surprises at every turn.

The problem however, is when this winning formula is repeated continuously throughout the album with constantly lessening degrees of success.  The majority of the songs on ‘Avatarium’ are structured in roughly the same way: loud opening riff, quiet section to highlight the beautiful vocals, then a return to volume for the big chorus.  This quiet-loud dynamic works for the opening track, but immediately reaps fewer dividends on the next track “Pandoras Egg” and already falls flat by the third track, “Avatarium”.  By the time fourth track “Boneflower” rings in, you expect it to continue the formula, so when the volume and energy don’t drop off the map during the verse, it’s a pleasant surprise and the song becomes one of the highlights of the album.

So that’s how the album plays out, the quiet-loud dynamics are explored further in the final three tracks, but the album never picks up momentum.  There are some nice big riffs on this album, most of which are neutered into quiet acoustic folk passages just as they get going.  That said, I’m sure Leif Edling knows what he’s doing.  And I’ll tell you, if you really get off on quiet-loud dynamics, this is your Sgt. Pepper …