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Album review: Avatar - Feathers & Flesh

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★★★★★

2016 has been a year filled with heavy metal concept albums.

From Dream Theater to Fleshgod Apocalypse to Holy Grail to Amon Amarth, the metal subculture seems to be quickly filling itself with thematic records.

But there’s just reason for this: the year’s concept albums have each – so far – been nothing short of sublime.

Avant-garde Swedish metallers Avatar have now been handed the arduous task of continuing this trend, with their upcoming sixth album Feathers & Flesh focusing upon the story of an owl going to war to prevent the sun from rising.

It is a narrative reminiscent of an Aesopian fable, telling of an individual doomed to failure.

Avatar has always been a group prone to haunting imagery, with vocalist Johannes Eckerström’s on-stage persona being that of an evil clown while the rest of the band don ominous circus uniforms. Feathers & Flesh’s utilisation of fairy tale elements in what is ultimately a very nihilistic story adds to the band’s dark and subversive nature, transferring from the visual to the psychological.

And while the narrative enveloping them is indeed fascinating and unique, the songs on this record also suggest an Avatar that is creatively energised and passionate.

Possibly the strongest element of Feather & Flesh musically its variation and diversity. For example, the album’s clean, visceral, mid-paced opening cut ‘Regret’ soon leads into the guitar-driven ‘House of Eternal Hunt’.

The dual guitars of Tim Öhrström and Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby enfuse the latter with heavy, groove metal riffs combined with a plethora of power metal-inspired solos throughout.

At this point, it also becomes apparent that this is a much more melodic and emotive Avatar than we have ever heard before.

‘House of Eternal Hunt’’s chorus is certainly one that can be easily and joyously sung along to at home, but its follow-up ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ is truly the apex of Avatar’s blend of brutal and clean musicianship. The cut features both harsh and clean vocals from Eckerström in perfect limbo. If anything, Feathers & Flesh places further emphasis on the melodic range the singer possesses, as Avatar seem to distance themselves from their melo-death metal roots in favour of a pure fusion of groove metal and hard rock.

This perfect balance between the two sub-genres remains apparent until the album’s sixth track, ‘For the Swarm’. The two-minute single is the most avant-garde to be found on Feathers & Flesh, reminding listeners of the unconventional and unpredictable experience that is Avatar.

But even through the musical twists, turns and tonal shifts that it provides, the one word to perfectly describe Feathers & Flesh would be “emotive”. Whether it be brutal, melancholic, melodic, empowering or remorseful, the album runs the entire visceral gambit, while also having the capability to hold its dark undertone through a twisted narrative.

Musically, Avatar have reinvented themselves, inhabiting a limbo between groove metal riffing and growls, and hard rock melodies and choruses.

Feathers & Flesh will be available physically and digitally via eOne Music on 13th May.

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