When a band is eight records deep into their career it could be an easy assumption to make that they have found a formula they like and they have stuck with it.
But the real challenge for a band who has created their own legacy isn’t to preserve it, but make sure they continue to engage with the fan base they have created over the years. One way this can be achieved is by taking risks and having faith that your fans will come along for the ride with you and embrace any artistic creativity that you are willing to try, not matter how far out of left field it may be.
For theatrical metallers Avatar this is exactly what they have done with their music. From playing fast, aggressive, abrasive music the quintet took a big swing in 2017, when they released the album Avatar Country. This record was a step away from the norm for the band, introducing elements of comedy and a more lighthearted approach compared to what fans had previously been used to.
So when it comes to 2020 Avatar – who can recognised by their trademark face paint – wanted to go back to a darker, and somewhat more personal space with what they have achieved on their latest record Hunter Gather.
Since bursting into the metal world with their first record in 2006, Avatar have never shied away from pushing their capabilities when it comes to the music they perform. And yes some of this has come with the natural evolution of age, but on a more creative stance vocalist Johannes Eckerström told Vulture Hound that as a band they want to treat each album as a reinvention of themselves.
Johannes explains: “We want to be something that constantly evolves.
“It is always a conscious choice for us to do some kind of reinvention with our music. As long as it is fundamentally metal that is key, of course there are some gentler pieces in there but as long as the over all feel to what we do is metal that is what is most important to us.
“For us there is always boundary pushing, with Avatar Country it was a bit more obvious because it was comedy, which is what we had never done before, but this time around it was more on a thematic level.”
And that theme on Hunter Gather, is in some aspects, a back to basics approach. The record has a presence of more harder, heavier riffs, which are associated with the metal genre. But what makes it different from the bands 2009 self titled albums for example – a record many fans see as their introduction to the band – is that Johannes has put a lot more of his personality into the lyrical content of the record, and has dug deep into his own psyche to bring about a more darker, angst fueled album.
“Each album is like taking off another layer of those barriers you put up,” continues the charismatic vocalist. “And for us this was layer number eight. And I think the result has proven to be a lot more open. I sang about more personal and private spaces than I have in the past.
“There is a certain rage and angst there which you have a different approach to when you are in your thirties compared to in your twenties. So there is a sense of accountability and articulation there.
“If you do something aggressive full on angst and dark within metal it is expected so we aren’t asking too much of our audience. But I think we actually asked more in the last two records, especially with Avatar Country because we asked them to come along with us in something we had never done before. So with this record it is a bit more familiar, but it is also showing people not to expect anything with us.
“When we finished Avatar Country we had a conversation as a band that we immediately wanted to do something heavier again and I think we have achieved that on this record.
“I felt very confident that this will find a home in people’s hearts because for what it is fundamentally. And in terms of feeling comfortable with putting out there in terms of content. It is more about being honest to myself rather than being honest to the audience.”
As well as being known for producing heavy hitting music, a huge part of what Avatar are all about is their dynamic live performances and their own stage personas. Just by looking at an image of the five-piece – and especially Johannes’ with his distinctive face paint – you could be mistaken for thinking they sound like a different band than they actually do.
But there is a lot of thought that goes into the aesthetic of the band and the theatrical elements to the bands performances. Even though theatrics and metals aren’t exactly strangers to one another, the way that Johannes approaches this comes from a childhood love for professional wrestling.
Having fallen in love with the likes of WCW’s Sting and other wrestlers who donned face-paint such as the Ultimate Warrior and The Road Warriors, these are some obvious comparisons that could be made.
But Johannes explains there is more than a surface level inspiration which comes from those who perform in the squared circle to what he takes on stage.
He continues: “There are a lot of parallels between pro wrestling and metal. Where in both cases you build up some kind of fantasy world but it is based on real emotions which are just exaggerated. Metal is a super reality.
“Then you have the character of the most successful wrestlers, they are playing a version of themselves but hyped up and exaggerated. And I’m like that I don’t feel like I play a character on stage, I just feel like I am accessing something that was already there.
“When you hit the stage or hit the ring, the real key is listening to the audience. What the audience does matters to what you do. I have been studying Iron Maiden and Judas Priest concerts to see how they perform. But if you try and find out about how these people create their art form on stage there is’t much information.
“But I have a much deeper catalogue because of people like Ric Flair and Jake the Snake who have spoken extensively about how they create their character and their in ring persona. and their art form of audience interaction. S o I relate that to live music and how to create peeks and valleys within a performance.”
And much like the wrestlers we see on our screens for the likes of WWE and AEW, a lot of what Avatar do is performative. But the frontman explains how the band look in photos or on stage should not detract from the music they produce.
He adds: “Those comments pop up quite a lot when they are looking at the pictures, saying ‘I thought you would sound like x, y, z’ but I think it has helped us more than it hurts us. mainly because we think this is what our music looks like.
“We are big Gojira fans, but because we aren’t performing in jeans and t-shirt that people may not see a kinship with a band like that.
“But I think that through metal some people will stumble across our music one way or another and find a place for us in their hearts.”