Five years ago I had the pleasure of experiencing Avatar in concert for the first time as the toured with In This Moment and Of Mice And Men in support of the Feathers and Flesh Tour. As soon as they began their set that night, I knew I had to photograph the Swedish metal band. The sheer amount of stage presence and theatrics packed into any given show by Johannes Eckerström and friends is a concert photographer’s dream come true.
Heading into the final week of a 26-stop tour in support of their ninth studio album, Dance Devil Dance, Avatar steamrolled their way into town showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
From the first note of “Dance Devil Dance” to the final roar of “Hail the Apocalypse,” Avatar took the audience on a wild and intense journey through their unique brand of metal over the course of nearly two hours. The 18-track setlist spanned their impressive discography, with a healthy balance of the old and new.
“As far as title tracks go for albums, this might be our most clearly intended mission statement,” said charismatic frontman Eckerström. “Heavy metal is rock and roll, and rock and roll is dance music. There’s no reason why a metal rhythm section shouldn’t make you want to move your hips as much as a punk one or a soul one or reggae one. As far as the devil part, I’m having fun with the symbolism in a way that probably pisses off both sides — religious people and people who feel some affinity for Satan.”
Kicking off the evening with an intense flurry as “Dance Devil Dance” quickly ignited the crowd, instantly set the tone for the night. At 6-foot-4, Eckerström commands the stage with his captivating presence and soaring vocals, and the title track for the new album and the tour was a fitting showcase on both fronts. As the setlist progressed, the band effortlessly transitioned between relentless headbangers and haunting melodies. The infectious “Chimp Mosh Pit” had audience members embracing the primal energy, unleashing a frenzy of moshing and crowd surfing.
The haunting “Bloody Angel” provided a moment of respite, allowing the band to showcase their melodic prowess and display their versatility. Each softer moment during the track was matched and then some by Johannes’ guttural screams, Tim Öhrström’s mastery of the drums and thrashing guitar riffs courtesy of Jonas Jarlsby, John Alfredsson and Henrik Sandelin.
The highlight of the night came with “Puppet Show,” a song that truly showcased the band’s unique brand of music. Midway through the song, Eckerström vanished from the stage … only to reappear moments later up in the balcony of the venue. What was he doing up there, you ask? Anything he damn well pleased, which on this night translated to making balloon animals and then performing an extended trombone solo. Eckerström’s theatrical presence brought the song’s dark narrative to life as he captivated the crowd in a way unlike any other metal show.
For the encore, Avatar returned to the stage to the thunderous applause of the crowd. The band’s current hit single, “The Dirt I’m Buried In,” stirred the crowd into a frenzy while “Smells Like a Freakshow” injected a dose of adrenaline into the room. The night culminated with the explosive “Hail the Apocalypse,” a track that encapsulated the essence of Avatar’s powerful and dynamic sound and proved a fitting ended to a fantastic night of metal courtesy of one of the most engaging and entertaining acts in music today.