Two fingers to convention, I’m jumping straight to the reveal: Avatarium are a superior breed of band that you’d be mad to overlook and Hurricanes and Halos picks things up where the sultry excellence of The Girl With The Raven Mask (both Nuclear Blast) left off. Fashioned from the music of yesteryear, don’t be fooled into thinking this is “just another” Retro outfit, or an “Occult Rock” band; this is the mastery of the music of a fifty years ago, not to be cool, or hip, but as a means of producing powerful, diverse and strong songs.
The partnership of songwriter extraordinaire Lief Edling and the mercurial voice of Jennie-Ann Smith is sublime. Whether ramping up the Deepest of Purples on the pacy opening track, hitting some sweet devil Neil Young blues, combining Rainbow and Mercyful Fate into a Hammer Horror epic in the unsettlingly sweet zig-zag of ‘Medusa’s Child’, Avatarium can do it all, with Smith outstanding throughout; wringing occult melodies over fuzzy riffs one minute and breezy catchy choruses the next. Able to switch between vulnerable, exotic and powerful at will, it’s a surprise she isn’t a successful solo artist in her own right, possessing the timbre of the great female soul artists of half a century ago.
There is an effortless excellence to Avatarium that is enhanced by the authenticity of their sound – the tones are beautifully real – and means they can hit a demonic jam, be alluringly reflective and sombre on ‘When Breath Turns To Air’, allow new organist Rikard Nilsson to channel his inner Jon Lord, take a psychedelic detour, or unveil a majestic, perfect track like ‘The Starless Sleep’ that smiles to the listener, with a honeyed, poppy chorus and a sunny, Seventies disposition all while being held together by Smith’s silvery voice.
While The Girl With The Raven Mask possibly had higher highs, and the closing instrumental sounds like a prelude to one last big song that we don’t actually get, Hurricanes and Halos is consistently impressive while being playfully diverse. Avatarium have once again produced a sublime album that showcases the talents of its creators, shines a spotlight on the vocal star in their mix, and is at once interesting, alluring, satisfying and varied. It’s not as easy as they make it sound to be as good as they undoubtedly are.