Avatarium – The Girl With the Raven Mask (Nuclear Blast/Metalville)Tuesday, 10th November 2015
Curious to see what happens to Avatarium now that Candlemass is quasi out of recording retirement by way of their recent announcement of an EP to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Mr. Leif Edling, who leads and writes the bulk of material for both bands, certainly has his work cut out for him, although sufficient evidence suggests the two are different enough to where things can still work. So here comes the second Avatarium album, The Girl With the Raven Mask, a little beyond the fresh, welcome surprise that was the band’s self-titled debut from 2013.
Two noticeable changes from the debut: Vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith, along with keyboardist Carl Westholm have taken a more prominent role. Because of it, the doom surges found previously have been supplemented by a driving, 70s tinged feel, of which is instantly recognizable on the opening title track. Smith, though, really stretches out. She’s not in the operatic category; she’s more of a blues-based songstress, capable of dressing up glum numbers ala “Pearls and Coffins,” or “The January Sea,” which could be the song that comes closest to vintage Candlemass. But for the most part, she’s totally ace, perhaps the result of Edling’s ability to bring out the best in whatever vocalist he’s working with.
There’s no real titanic, earth-moving numbers to be found on The Girl with the Raven Mask, although there are some sterling, vintage-y moments to be had on “Iron Mule” and “The Master Thief.” While this may not hold up as well as the debut, Avatarium, at least, have begun the steady breakaway from doom territory. A wise move, even if it’s going to be a long haul.