Album: The Fire I Long for
Label: Nuclear Blast
Sweden’s doom metal/heavy psych outfit Avatarium has steadily put out records every two years ever since its inception, and on November 22, 2019, the band released its album #4, The Fire I Long for. For the first time, the bulk of the material has been written by guitarist Marcus Jidell and vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith, while the former main writer, Candlemass legend Leif Edling, has only contributed three songs, and therefore it was interesting to see what this change would bring to the band’s sound.
[ed: this review was backdated from 12.2019]
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“Voices” opens the album with a fuzzy doom riff, and Jennie-Ann Smith is on fire vocally right off the bat. Keyboardist Rickard Nilsson is likewise on point: his piano adds a slight Gothic touch into the chorus, and his organ solo is simply furious. The lead single “Rubicon”, on the other hand, is a strong mid-tempo track with a 70s vibe and a chorus that gets stuck in your head very easily (you’ve been warned!), but the song also goes through an interesting mood shift in the middle. Another highlight is the upbeat rocker “Shake That Demon”, which I could even imagine doing well on modern rock radio.
Strikingly, 3 of the 9 songs on the album are ballads, but each one is good in its own way. The title-track is a power ballad with great slide guitar work by Marcus Jidell, and the chorus sounds like a more melancholy take on “Annie’s Song” by John Denver. “Lay Me Down” surprises with its Americana vibe, and the closer “Stars They Move” is a stripped-down piano ballad that gives Smith’s excellent voice a lot of room to shine. Unfortunately the remaining third of the album doesn’t quite measure up to the rest – “Porcelain Skull” is a little too formulaic despite its nice chorus, “Great Beyond” plods on without leaving much of an impression, and “Epitaph of Heroes” feels like two songs superglued into one, as its middle break feels so far-removed from the rest. This awkward transitioning reminds me of “Medusa Child”, which was my least favorite track on the last album.
The Fire I Long for leaves a mixed impression: most of the individual tracks are good, but as an album it fails to flow naturally. 3 ballads is a bit much for a 9-track record, and there also seems to be a stylistic clash between Jidell and Smith’s tunes like “Lay Me Down” and “Shake That Demon” that push the band in new directions and Leif Edling‘s songs, which are more in line with the traditional Avatarium sound. With all due respect to Edling, who founded the band in the first place, for the sake of the continuity of the album and the band establishing its identity it might’ve been better if Avatarium had moved on without his songwriting, as now it feels like the band is juggling too many different elements and influences at once.
Another thing that bothers me is the very compressed mastering, and even though the album is relatively short at 44 minutes, it becomes fatiguing to listen to for this reason. A good example of this is the chorus of “Rubicon”, where the guitars sound piercing even when you listen to it at a low volume. The drum sound is also strangely uneven, as on “Voices” the snare sounds rather demoish and tinny (although it’s not quite on Metallica’s St. Anger level of annoying), while it’s fairly normal on the rest of the album. This difference in sound between the songs adds to the fragmented nature of the album. Listening to The Fire I Long for, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the warm yet powerful production of Hurricanes and Halos.
Unlike the previous Avatarium records, The Fire I Long for feels like a transitional, in-between album instead of a confident step forward. Diversity has been one of Avatarium’s strengths until now, but due to the distinct styles of the songwriters, this time the final result seems to reach out in too many directions at once, and you’re left with a series of songs, rather than a strong entity. The title is ironically appropriate, as the material is good enough for the most part, but you’re still left longing for the final spark that would put all the pieces together and lift the album up from the “decent” zone.
Rating: 6½/10, 3 stars
3. Lay Me Down
4. Porcelain Skull
5. Shake That Demon
6. Great Beyond
7. The Fire I Long for
8. Epitaph of Heroes
9. Stars They Move