Album Title: The Fire I Long For
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 22 November 2019
Greatness and class will always shine through. And if ever there was an example of this, it’s Avatarium.
Why do I say this? Because I have never really been a fan of ‘classic’ 70s doom music. And I’m not the biggest fan of organic, dare I say ‘occult’ or ‘retro rock’ either. So a marriage of these elements shouldn’t be something that I get on board with. However, in spite of this, I really like ‘The Fire I Long For’, the fourth release from Swedish quintet Avatarium.
I have followed Avatarium since the beginning, if I’m honest, because of the Marcus Jidell connection; one of the good guys in the heavy music scene and a hugely talented guitarist, I was saddened by his departure from Evergrey and was eager to find out what the future held for him. Happily, I have always enjoyed the output of his new home, Avatarium, and so when I heard that a new record was due out, I was interested to hear it.
However, comments that suggested a further toning-down of the heaviness and a more pronounced 70s vibe led me to question whether ‘The Fire I Long For’ would be as enjoyable as previous output. And that led to me stalling over taking a listen. I shouldn’t have been concerned though, because as I said before, class will always shine through. The result is yet another excellent record and, if there is any justice in this world, it should lead to even greater success for the band.
Avatarium’s original unique selling point was the fact that they were co-created by the formidable doom merchant, Leif Edling, he of Candlemass fame of course. This inevitably drew in fans from across the world but, with increased health problems, Edling’s role has diminished over time. Now relegated to assisting in the songwriting for a few compositions only, ‘The Fire I Long For’ is the album that allows the group to demonstrate what they are capable of, largely under their own steam.
The first thing to say is that the songwriting is incredibly strong. Whatever guise the compositions take, be it heavier or softer and more subtly nuanced, they just work. It helps that the execution from all corners of the band is out of the top drawer, with each musician clearly understanding their role and almost effortlessly enhancing the overall sound. This isn’t an exercise in frivolity; it’s about everyone coming together to create the best music that they can.
A doff of the cap must therefore be given to Mr Jidell who, alongside delivering some delicious guitar work, full of wonderful touch, feel and sophistication, has played arguably the most significant role in the songwriting department. As such, the album is chock full of delightful melodies that compliment the varying degrees of light and shade experienced throughout the entire record. These melodies are then enhanced by Avatarium’s not-so-secret weapon: vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith. Blessed with an incredibly rich and vibrant voice, Smith is able to add emotion, authenticity and a touch of class to the already excellent material. Her voice fits both the more metallic and the more sensitive, introspective pieces like the proverbial velvet glove and it is almost impossible not to get swept up in her performance here.
Initial reports of a reduction in the heavy doom element of Avatarium’s sound appeared greatly exaggerated initially, as opening track ‘Voices’ erupts from the speakers with an aggressive doom-laden riff, no doubt influenced by Mr Edling’s involvement. But more than that, you can immediately hear that the band have once again opted for a very natural, organic production, as the guitar struggles to be contained, a facet that only adds to the overall impact, especially when accompanied by one of the dirtiest, rumbling bass sounds I’ve heard in a while. The music feels alive; a living, breathing entity all of its own. Another tug of the forelock in the direction of Marcus Jidell, who handled the production as well.
‘Rubicon’ follows and again, the intensity, drive and energy is there for all to hear. It’s one of the catchiest, upbeat and satisfying tracks on the album, full of attitude and some memorable melodies, not to mention a dramatic and heady crescendo-like conclusion where the already thick soundscapes become even more dauntingly huge.
The first major signs of a lessening of the heaviness lurks within ‘Lay Me Down’, a genuine slow-burner that has a distinctly sad and mournful tone. I’m not a fan of country music either and yet, the subtle whispers, mainly evident in the guitar embellishments, don’t sound out of place or jarring to my ears. Mind you, my focus is mainly on Jennie-Ann’s voice, which is given the room to breathe and which subsequently beguiles the listener almost effortlessly.
The chorus within ‘Porcelain Skull’ is a beauty, a marked, melodic juxtaposition to the more plodding riffs that play out around it. And then there’s ‘Shake That Demon’, which is a dirty hard-rocking number that turns the clock back over forty years with its no-nonsense attitude.
Fittingly, ‘The Fire I Long For’ concludes in sorrowful fashion with the quiet, almost lament-like ‘Stars They Move’ which, like the aforementioned ‘Lay Me Down’ and the title track which builds sublimely to a fulfilling climax, allow Smith the time and space to fly free. And when she does, the end result is wondrous, and helps to stake her claim as one of the best vocalists in heavy music regardless of gender or subgenre.
I always try to end reviews in a poetic or interesting fashion but on this occasion, all that needs to be said is this: if quality music is what you crave, then make Avatarium’s ‘The Fire I long For’ the next addition to your collection. Immediately.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from 2019:
Mother Of Millions – Artifacts
Meshiaak – Mask Of All Misery
Strigoi – Abandon All Faith
CyHra – No Halos In Hell
Klone – Le Grand Voyage
Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment: Awakening
King – Coldest of Cold
Alcest – Spiritual Instinct
Port Noir – The New Routine
Nile – Vile Nilotic Rites
Ray Alder – What The Water Wants
Borknagar – True North
Leprous – Pitfalls
Myrath – Shehili
Prehistoric Animals – Consider It A Work Of Art
Voyager – Colours In The Sun
Odd Logic – Last Watch Of The Nightingale
Avandra – Descender
Darkwater – Human
ZW Band / Zonder Wehrkamp – If It’s Real
Teramaze – Are We Soldiers
Rendezvous Point – Universal Chaos
Our Destiny – Awakening
Evergrey – The Atlantic
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: