Throw the word "Gothenburg" in front of anything in metal and instantly, visions of melodic death grandeur come alive. There's enough back story and evidence to suggest that the pull of stickly-sweet melodies is too hard to resist, and toeing company line is a foregone conclusion for most bands. Not for Avatar, though. The Gothenburg-based metallers found their bearings in the melodic death metal scene roughly a decade ago, but have mutated into an America-ready industrial/death metal hybrid that leaps over proper description on their new The Black Waltz (eOne). Don't let the circus clown/Marilyn Manson cover fool you - Avatar's melodic DM-rich background conjoins with pulsating rhythms for an ugly, yet infectious outing, highlighted by the insanely catchy "In Napalm," harmonious title track, and hard-driving "Let It Burn."
Frontman Johannes Eckerström phoned Blistering to rap about all of the above and more, making a concerted effort to convey that Avatar are primed and ready for the North American market. And who are we to argue with a man who has the appearance of a sadistic carny?
Blistering.com: The band has been kicking around in Swedish and European territories for quite some time, but The Black Waltz is your first album to receive proper North American release. Describe to me how that feels.
Johannes Eckerström: The feeling is, “Finally!” The other side of it is that it’s really cool that certain people tell us we’re young in Europe with four albums, but I’ve been in this band for 10 years. So we’re slowly turning into veterans over here, but on the other hand, we go to America and be the new kids in the neighborhood. It’s a really cool combination of both.
Blistering.com: One of the interesting aspects of the band is that you sound American and Swedish at the same time, yet you don’t sound like a traditional melodic death metal band. There’s definitely a noticeable American influence in your sound.
Eckerström: I don’t think we’ve ever thought in terms of what’s “European” or what’s “American,” but there are some American bands that are in the mixture that is Avatar. It’s nothing outspoken like that…that we’re more American or European, but I guess… [trails off]. I don’t know, it’s a good question! I can’t think of any American bands that sound like us, though.
Blistering.com: Some of the comments I’ve read regarding the album and the cover fall in line with Avatar being like Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails, but you don’t sound like either of them at all. You’re kind of an odd-ball in a sense.
Eckerström: You mentioned one of my favorite bands, Nine Inch Nails. They’re inspiring in one [way], but mainly the inspiration from that world is for us to pull something out of the chest that has our core sound, that’s artistic and complete. It’s something that’s original to me, simply because at the end of the day, I want to be able to tour and do albums and pay people, while getting some decent pay for it [laughs]. But only on the terms I feel I’m entitled for and we create something that’s relevant. In that sense, it would be bullshit on our side if we went “Oh, that band is successful, let’s jump on that bandwagon, let’s follow that trend.” Or, “I liked that band growing up, let’s sound like them.” None of those two paths make much sense to me. If my ambition was to sound like any other band, I would play in a tribute band.
Blistering.com: Plus, you’re from the home of melodic death metal, which is Gothenburg. I would imagine the melodic death metal tag must be of equal annoyance, wouldn’t you say?
Eckerström: The thing is, we have our roots in that style of music. That’s where we started off when we were 15 or 16 years old. We are the generation of little brothers to the dudes that produced that style of music in the past. That also happened to be the common ground we found in each other in the beginning, like, all the things I and the drummer and guitar players could agree on, was technical death metal and melodic death metal. During those first years, because of that, people compared us to the Gothenburg scene. We didn’t sound like any specific band back then, but we were a part of the style, part of that generation. The thing is, when we stopped that and started to find our own path in music, I’m way more comfortable today talking about Dark Tranquillity or At the Gates because yeah, they’re awesome, but we do our thing. They’re around doing the thing they were doing back then, but I don’t see it as our job to be part of that. I mean, they’re already doing that and doing it really well, so it’s our job to find out what goes on in our own heads.
Blistering.com: How hard was it to find against that tide? It probably would have been really easy to make a career out of being a straight melodic death metal band.
Eckerström: [pauses] In the beginning, we didn’t try to fight it. I guess we were thinking like those guys were thinking when they started, like, “Melodic metal has many shapes and is awesome and brutal music is awesome, so let’s find ways to combine it.” I guess we lived that era that they had, but 15 years later. So in the beginning, we didn’t fight [it]. Then we started to get a more healthy view of what we wanted to do; that originality become more important. There are no musicians or artists that have re-invented the wheel, only because everyone has heard everything before.