Leif Edling is an unsung, underrated, talented bastard, and a legend. Part-responsible for some of the finest, melodramatic slow and mystical metal known to man across the first four Candlemass releases, his seat and decanter of wine at the table of legacy and honour is assured. Founding member of one of the founding fathers, as his main gig has become more of a part-time, festival turn, two years ago he celebrated the year of his 50th anniversary on earth by putting together Avatarium.
Leaving behind the doom bent of the ‘mass to feed the muse of progressive, heavy retro-tinged rock, and allowing the 60’s and 70’s bands of his youth to influence his writing, at their very best Avatarium are transfixing. The Girl With The Raven Mask (Nuclear Blast), the second band’s full length, is retro without being Sabbathian, fuzzy without being stoner, more Hammer than Occult (any bandying around of the term “occult rock” in this direction is being incorrectly applied for no limp or quaint quasi-folkisms abound here) and progressive without losing focus or atmosphere.
‘The Master Thief’ is Opeth-style progressive luxury and ‘Pearls and Coffins’ is a simply magnificent track, seguing from bare, Western-tinged Tarantino soundtrack led eloquently by stunning vocals into a swirling Deep Purple vortex of an org(an)asmic post-chorus coda; its’ seven minutes an epic sway. And speaking of the Purple ones, in ‘Hypnotized’, Marcus Jidell channels the spirit of pure Blackmore with a majestic mellifluent magic carpet ride of a solo.
The Girl With The Raven Mask does not crush you with weighty riffs, but instead mesmerizes, with singer Jennie-Ann Smith a rare, enigmatic and captivating talent who sparks when the songs are sparse; reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s version of ‘Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)’ (sorry Cher). Given more room than on either their self-titled début, or last years’ All I Want EP, Smith is magnificent. If she had been a solo artist in the late 60’s she would be revered amongst the Joplin’s of history.
A diverse and intriguing marriage of stripped back and the grandiose, of top-level psychedelia and rock, all carried out to sea on the beguiling voice of Smith, for a while I feared The Girl WithThe Raven Mask was doomed (sic) to be one of those releases where the idea was better than the reality, but, while not every track hits the heights of the true moments of genius, the swirling, epic qualities draw you in.