Here we have the debut from the Swedish doom super-group that are calling themselves Avatarium. At the helm is bassist Leif Edling (Candlemass, Krux), along with guitarist Marcus Jidell (Evergrey, Royal Hunt), drummer Lars Sköld (Tiamat), keyboard player Carl Westholm (Jupiter Society, Carp Tree) and pop-rock vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith. The band mixes the crushing, epic doom style of Black Sabbath and Candlemass with the classic metal influence of Rainbow, the psychedelic hard rock of Blue Oyster Cult, the prog of early Genesis, and the bluesy folk of early Jethro Tull. Sounds like an interesting combination right? Well, it most certainly is. Smith has a lovely voice, and lends her gorgeous vocal passages to songs that are brimming with doomy might, classic rock sophistication, and the occasional pastoral prog touch.
"Moonhorse" kicks things off in fine fashion, as angelic vocals supported by folk guitars give way to behemoth doom riffs and scorching lead guitar work. The mysterious "Pandora's Egg" once again combines the folk with some psychedelia and massive riffing, as Smith just soars here over symphonic keyboards and some of the biggest riffs you'll hear this year. Absolutely crushing doom meshes with tasty prog rock keyboards on the melancholy title track, an epic, memorable number that also features some splendid lead guitar & slide work from Jidell, who at times on this CD reminds a bit of Ritchie Blackmore from the Rainbow Rising album. And, if you can imagine Heart's Ann Wilson singing in a doom band, well, that's kind of what you get with Smith and her amazing vocals. "Boneflower" is more of an upbeat psych/hard rocker (for fans of Ghost & Blue Oyster Cult) filled with tasty keyboards, riffs, and Smith's alluring vocals, while ominous Mellotron from Westholm permeates the doom laden dirge that is "Bird of Prey", a venomous number driven by huge Uriah Heep inspired Hammond organ & Sabbath styled guitar riffs. Rainbow-meets-Black Sabbath on the grandiose "Tides of Telepathy", with Sköld delivering some amazing drum fills alongside Edling's massive bass grooves, and Jidell & Westholm layering in plenty of thunder to support Smith's emotional vocals. This amazing album ends with the folky prog of "Lady in the Lamp", a tranquil meeting of Heart, Rainbow, and Genesis, as lush Mellotron, lilting guitar chords, soaring slide guitar, and those incredible vocals just grab at your heart and refuse to let go.
For a debut, this is ASTOUNDING material from Avatarium. They could have easily gone the safe route and created a straight doom record, but thankfully they wanted to do much more than that. Any fan of '70s heavy rock, psych, folk, doom, and prog will find lots to love here, and hopefully this is the first of many releases from this very fine ensemble. The musical pedigree of the members goes without saying, and Jennie-Ann Smith is truly an incredible singer. My only regret is that I'm just hearing this release on the second to last day of 2013, as my Best of the Year list (which is already complete) would have easily seen this nestled in the Top 10.
2. Pandora's Egg
5. Bird of Prey
6. Tides of Telepathy
7. Lady In The Lamp