Your inability to nail down exactly where Swedish five piece Avatar sit on the metal spectrum has, somewhat oddly, always worked in their favour. The Swedes chameleon like act has seen them fleet from tongue in cheek, performance lead escapades on the likes of 2012's Black Waltz to more technical, progressive ventures with Feathers & Flesh . Though often unpredictable in their output - the quintets ace up their sleeve has often been the deity levels of charismatic immersion that permeates throughout their every chapter. Go back and listen to Hail The Apocalypse and try not to picture yourself standing at the precipice of a mass battle with 1000 soldiers behind you - it's quite a task.
It seems fairly daunting then that new record Hunter Gatherer is one of the darker, more relatable records they're likely to pen. Here Avatar set sights on human kind's current auto pilot cruise into a future we haven't figured out the terrain of yet. More deadpan than the usual offering we'd receive from vocalist Johannes Eckerström and co? Yes, but Hunter Gatherer stays the course to become a modern metal epic in its own right.
The percussive chaos that grinds underneath Johannes' ominous growls of "We accelerate straight from the core" on album opener 'Silence In The Age Of The Apes' does an apt job of setting Hunter Gatherer's stall out. But it's not until 'A Secret Door' hits full gear that the record reveals its full hand, the whistles of Corey Taylor (yes, you read that right) give way to a fervent, encircling metal anthem that finds Avatar at the peak of their powers. The Swedes accessibility has seldom been so apparent, yet there's been no sacrifice of personality.
Though less ambitious, the one-two jab of 'Scream Until You Wake' and 'Child' nail down the familiar tropes of Avatar you'd have been hoping to discover at some point on Hunter Gatherer. Guitarists Jonas Jarlsby and Tim Öhrström lay down their splicing proficiency with a rhythm and lead ensemble on the former that traverses the metal lifespan, while Eckerström continues to thrive in the role of unnerving storyteller on 'Child'.
Hunter Gatherer takes a brief moment to flex its wings on the inescapably solemn expedition that is 'Gun' - it's the kind of ballad that may struggle to find its place anywhere else in the Avatar catalogue, but manages to fit in to the drab message that this record is built on. 'When All But Force Has Failed' has all the death metal rage to return the album to more familiar surroundings though, and the closing, wrist breaking drum fill from John Alfredsson would be wasted if not turned into a live staple in the foreseeable future.
Instead of fantastical imagery, here Avatar instead hone in on a concept much closer to reality. And while in a vacuum that might be disillusioning for some - the chances are we'll look back at this as an important, evolutionary step in the Avatar lifespan. Hunter Gatherer is abrasive, technical, dark, and alluring all at once - in fact, Hunter Gatherer is arguably the band Avatar have been waiting to evolve into for over a decade now.