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Monday 1 February 2021

A View From The Screen: Avatar - Ages - An Impossible Concert Experience (Live Stream By Simon Black)

Avatar: Ages - An Impossible Concert Experience, Age Of Memories, January 30/1/2021

So the final Avatar Live Stream is here. If you have not been following my blatherings on here for the last few weeks you may have missed that Avatar have been taking a magical mystery tour through their entire eight album back catalogue. Pretty much the entirety of their repertoire has been played over these four shows and a whopping seven and a bit hours of live streamed concert footage. This week their retrospective voyage is complete, with material from their very early albums where Melodic Death Metal was more the order of the day, and before the Theatrical Shock Rock Avant Garde style with which they are now synonymous came to dominate. There’s a strong dose of Metalcore in the second half, just to mix things up a bit as well!

It’s been a real endeavour and proof if any be needed that there are opportunities for bands in this enforced period of lockdown. For those that have stuck with them this month they have been rewarded with live performance of no less that seventy-four songs, although eight of them had more than one outing, given that the first week had an eight track Greatest Hits set tacked on after they had finished running through their latest offering – last year’s quite spectacular Hunter Gatherer. Either way it was damn good value for about £40, which let’s face it is probably less than you would have to pay to see them in a headline show post-Brexit ... assuming they ever tour here again. I personally believe that the bands that embrace this approach are going to be the ones who grow and survive in the years to come, as even if Covid goes away tomorrow like Trumpian wish, live shows and touring aren’t going to be the same for some considerable time. Especially for us in the UK, where the realisation of quite how touring is going to be both to and from the continent post-Brexit starts to sink in.

Johannes Eckerström made the strange decision to open this show not with a set piece per se but with a fairly lengthy spoken introduction from a sofa on the room with many doors set which this week has been made up to resemble their rehearsal room space. This week’s theme is very much about the band’s origins and so gone are the outlandish costumes and clown make-up of later days in favour of black clothes and a teensy bit of eye liner, as indeed their shows were back in the early days. This is stripped back Avatar, with no theatrics or effects – just the music with a lot more banter from Eckerström between songs, including a lengthy bit of beef with former guitarist Simon Andersson with whom clearly they are far from burying the hatchet with and an explanation and origin story for the notorious petrol can cooler. We are also back to the two set format of the first two shows, with the first act comprising a fairly short compilation of only six tracks from their first two records Schlacht and Thoughts Of No Tomorrow. It’s short and sweet, as their sets probably were in those days at a period when life on the road was mainly about support slots.

The Second Act is the whole of 2009’s Avatar album in its entirety and in order. It’s a marked change for the band – it’s the point where their sound started to shift to encompass a more varied Metal style, and Eckerström gained the confidence in his voice to vary his style away from the predominate death grunts of the first two records with a bit more full on high screams and cleaner singing. This series of shows alone has proven just how versatile he can be and how natural a front man he has become. The claustrophobic rehearsal room is gone, and a bigger open set with minimal dressing now predominates (reflecting their status as club headliners at this point in their career). Of all their back catalogue it’s the one album that really benefits from this process, since many of these songs have not been aired live for over a decade, and the band are clearly loving every minute of it.

This show more than any other of the four seems to have a huge amount of energy, given that it’s free of the theatricality and set pieces of later material, the band are able to prowl the stage more spontaneously and their enjoyment of proceedings is positively infectious. The second Act definitely outshone the first – mainly off the back of the strength of the material of a band who had finally found their sound. In terms of show quality of the three I have watched, it is almost impossible to pick a favourite, as they are in effect merely different segments of the same show, but this stripped back an un-theatrical outing is up there with the other two for me, so it would be churlish not to reward it with the same score. As the album plays out with the extended instrumental Lullaby (Death All Over) and Johannes walks out to the Gothenburg night, I realise that I am going to miss these weekly shows. 9/10

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