In 2019 Avatar reunited with producer Jay Ruston (Stone Sour, Slipknot, Anthrax) at Sphere Studios in Los Angeles, California, where the foundation for each song on Hunter Gatherer was laid with the band performing altogether, as they’d done only once before on 2014’s “Hail the Apocalypse“. Aimed at capturing the bands live energy by allowing them to perform as one in the studio, they recorded the album entirely to two-inch tape, something seldom done in the digital age. The band’s eighth album is an unflinchingly ruthless study of a clueless humankind’s ever-increasing velocity into an uncertain future, furthering the reach of the band’s always expanding dark roots. Put simply, Johannes Eckerström (Vocals), Jonas Jarlsby (Guitar), Tim Öhrström (Guitar), Henrik Sandelin (Bass) and John Alfredsson (Drums) aren’t content with standing still…
…2018’s “Avatar Country” was a huge success, breaking the band into North America on a much bigger scale and with “Silence in the Age of Apes” it’s pretty obvious why. There is a Melodic Death Metal edge that crosses into Metalcore territory during the track and speaks volumes of where the bands roots are entrenched. The gallop of it’s opening set against the programmed backdrop with some pointed vocals from Eckerström have the influence of bands like Entombed in them, while Alfredsson shows that he has consummate skill, incorporating Black Metal fills into the headbangable groove of the track. “Colossus” brings a stompy riff and futuristic sirens that bleed Marilyn Manson with a Bowie esq clean vocal in the verse from Eckerström. A tale of science fiction, this one is much more of a single than the crushing opening cut, while managing to include the ferocious chant of the chorus so that the energy of it is not lost. The slightly eerie whistle performed by Corey Taylor of Slipknot of fame during the opening of “A Secret Door” is a warning of the schizophrenia that lies within and much like Italian stallions Destrage, it cuts between a clean melody and roared unclean step up that gives it that instant tempo shift and shock factor which isn’t lost, even over multiple listens. A sinister edge packed with menace lies just beneath the surface of Avatar’s calm exterior, just waiting for the right moment.
Returning us to the barreling heavier riffs of the opening track, “God of Sick Dreams” sees Eckerström play the protagonist and even provide a “Bleigh!” moment in a track built on Melodic Death Metal roots only broken for a clean chorus that gives the dirge of riffs a sing-a-long factor that it arguably doesn’t need but that also suits it well. The lyrical coin flip into perfect partner “Scream Until You Wake” is an interesting move as it has a broken relationship at it’s heart but is wrapped in the black thorns of a creeping plant. Jarlsby and Öhrström impress with some more developed guitar work in the mid section and one suspects that a radio edit of this song could make it’s way to stations soon enough. The nursery rhyme expansion of “Child” is unhinged with little nuances that pop out over multiple listens. Essentially comprised of parts that other bands would make into a trio of cuts, this one has both a raging demon and melodic angel in it and you’re never quite sure which one is going to show up at your door. Taking the evil clown imaginary and making it into a musical montage “Justice” continues that unhinged lyrical approach while also having some bright virtuoso solo moments. Part of the joy of “Hunter Gatherer” is that, like a good thriller, the band have plenty of unexpected musical twists in their tale. When you want them the heavy it up, they mellow it out and when you expect them to mellow it out, they punch you in the gut.
Aching piano bring in Eckerström’s pained clean vocals on “Gun“, that has a melancholic undertow that has the beauty of a funeral song while the emotive nature of the lyrical theme makes you think there is more to this than meets the eye. “When All But Force Has Failed” then leaves that tenderness behind as a burst of adrenaline fueled up tempo dive into a rock and roll metal sound that is full of the more caustic vocal edge. A blistering solo impresses with the accelerator firmly held to the floor, but it lacks the dramatic flair of some of the earlier cuts and you can’t help but feel like the album as a whole is out of sequence. “Wormhole” on the other hand brings that flair back with some cinematic style as it moves from wearing the leather jacket to the straight jacket and back again in one smooth motion. It’s heavier with a bigger dynamic and when the spoken word comes in, you’re lost in what Eckerström is saying. It sounds good but it makes as much sense as the masochist coffee pot. A roller-coaster ride of an album, it sometimes lacks the consistency that you want from it but overall it’s seriously good fun [7.5/10]
Silence in the Age of Apes
A Secret Door (ft. Corey Taylor of Slipknot)
God of Sick Dreams
Scream Until You Wake
When All But Force Has Failed
“Hunter Gatherer” by Avatar is out 7th August via Century Media