Swedish metal act Avatar released their most theatrical and ambitious album last year with Avatar Country, which frontman Johannes Eckerström describes as a “love letter to metal.” Epic, empowering, uncompromising — these are all good descriptors for Avatar Country, which marks the band’s seventh studio LP.
Now, the album’s central character, The King (portrayed by guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby), has inspired Eckerström and company to release their debut concert album, The King Live in Paris, due out May 17th. The LP captures Avatar’s dramatic performance at Download Festival 2018 in Paris, France.
Eckerström spoke with Heavy Consequence about the live LP, the band’s upcoming North American tour dates with Devin Townsend, and why he believes heavy metal will never die. Read the full interview below:
On what took Avatar so many years to release their first live LP
It’s something that has been in my head for a long time, but in terms of what I have in my collection of live records, one I enjoy is Deep Purple, Made in Japan. When I heard that, I thought, “There’s no reason for anyone else to do another one like this.” I had a weird relationship to the idea of doing a live LP.
On what makes now the right time to release The King Live in Paris
I feel now, with Avatar Country being what it is and it being, first and foremost, a love letter to metal and a love letter to the relationship we have with our audience, that now was the right time. It finally felt right to release this at this time in the band’s career. It felt appropriate to document this part of our history as a band, and it just made sense.
On what made Download Festival the best performance to capture Avatar’s live show
France is one of the countries that has been treating us amazingly well for years now, and they gave us a slot on this major festival where we got to play in front of a lot of people — many thousands of people. Also, it being Download Festival, there are mainly French people there, but it’s the kind of festival that people travel from far and wide to see, so there’s an international vibe to it. It feels like you’re singing to the world, because it’s a global feeling. You can’t really play everywhere in the world at once, so this got us as close to that experience as possible.
On what he hopes fans take away from this live LP
I hope it will give the live experience as much justice as it can. We are a very theatrical group, as people know by now, but we always say, over and over, that we start and finish with the music. That has to be the main focus and root of everything else, and I hope this shows how even in a live setting, the music comes first. That should be biggest thing you take home. We tried to treat that show as special as we treat every other show, so in a way, it wasn’t special at all. We wanted to go out there do what we love to do and have done so much over the last couple of years and to capture what is typically us, and we hope that people think what we typically do is great.
On the importance of the live show to Avatar
Personally, I write songs to get to play them live. That has changed slightly through the years, because I used to just feel like the studio experience was something I wanted to be finished with quickly and learn from, but that was during a period when we had way fewer resources and couldn’t stay long in the studio and didn’t know what we could do in there. After our skillset and knowledge grew in terms of what you can do when you record, we started to enjoy spending more and more time in the studio, and I enjoy it more. But, before anything else, these songs were written to play live. I view myself as a performing artist, and the stage is our main canvas.
On Devin Townsend providing support on Avatar’s upcoming North American tour
I’m a lifelong mega-fan, so I’m beyond excited to have him on the tour and honored and happy to share the stage with him. I think this fits particularly well, because he’s doing something different. I mean, everything he does is different, but he’s doing an acoustic set. I think the package of four great acts [Avatar, Devin Townsend, Dance with the Dead and ‘68] is great, because we are all very different from each other. It’s not the typical package you would expect to tour together, but I think it all makes sense and all goes together very well.
On the upcoming U.S. tour being the final chance to experience the “Royal Glory in tribute to The King”
This is the last time people can see The King, is what I meant by that. You write a record, record the record and then release the record, and then you try to play as many times as possible to get it out there. Because we are all about re-defining ourselves and finding new challenges, the next album will not be Avatar Country Part 2. Also, the touring that is to follow with a new album will be something else — it will be different. I think what we are doing now is really special, and that’s why we’re coming back to the states, because we were already there last year. We want to give as many people as possible to experience what we are all about. The future will be around about something else, Avatar Country will eventual be part of our back catalog.
On the next Avatar album
In theory, we start writing the next album as soon as we have the master recording of whatever is in our hands. It starts pretty early, and we always make it different. If you eat a lot of salty food for a long time, you really look forward to having something sweet. Right now, we’re trying to get to an idea of what place we will go in the next album. As time goes on, we share our ideas more and more and start to collaborate. Right now, we’re definitely in a period where that is intensifying, and we’re starting to map out what the next album will be. I don’t have a single or song title or anything yet, but I can say that creatively, there’s a lot going on, and it’s very exciting and very different than Avatar Country.
On the state of modern hard rock and metal music
I think everything goes in cycles. I feel, in part, we might be heading out of a very formulaic, cynical period for heavy music. People want innovation and something different, and that is happening. There are bands now that are getting lots of attention like Alien Weaponry from New Zealand that are adding a new flavor and taste and fresh ideas to metal music, and because their music is different but also fits, it’s getting a lot of recognition. You have these great things going on that are underground and then even more underground things going on, artistically.
On seeing more women in metal bands and as fans at shows
As parts of world are becoming more equal between genders, it opens up doors for young girls to feel like they’re also entitled to stand on top of a mountain and scream at the top of their lungs and play guitar. This aggressive, intense heavy music brings a sense of empowerment, and all of those things are becoming more available to more people. Before, it was mainly men in the scene, but that is changing, and I see that in our audience, too, that more and more audience members are female. And I see more and more female performers every year, too, and I think that in a couple of decades it will be even.
On why metal music will never die
I think heavy bands will also be alive because metal is above anything. The physical intensity of the music resonates naturally with human beings, and I think that will keep touching kids and making them want to pick up instruments and play.
Our thanks to Johannes Eckerström for taking the time to speak with us. Pre-order Avatar’s concert album, The King Live in Paris, at this location, and see their upcoming tour dates below. Tickets are available at AvatarMetal.com or at StubHub.
Avatar, Devin Townsend, Dance With the Dead, and ’68 Tour Dates:
05/03 – Mexico City, MX @ Domination *
05/16 – Buffalo, NY @ Town Ballroom
05/17 – Columbus, OH @ Sonic Temple Music Festival *
05/18 – Sayreville, NJ @ Starland Ballroom
05/19 – Portland, Maine @ Aura
05/21 – Millvale, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theatre
05/22 – Chicago, IL @ House of Blues
05/23 – Madison, WI @ The Sylvee
05/24 – Sauget, IL @ Pop’s
05/25 – Sioux City, IA @ Anthem at Hard Rock Hotel
05/26 – Pryor, OK @ Rocklahoma *
05/28 – Minneapolis, MN. @ First Avenue
05/29 – Winnipeg, MB @ Garrick Centre
05/30 – Saskatoon, SK @ Coors Event Centre
05/31 – Edmonton, AB @ The Ranch Roadhouse
06/01 – Calgary, AB @ The Palace
06/03 – Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
06/04 – Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
06/06 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
06/07 – Reno, NV @ Cargo
06/08 – Salt Lake City, UT @ The Complex – Grand
06/09 – Grand Junction, CO @ Mesa Theater
06/10 – Colorado Springs, CO @ The Black Sheep
06/11 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sunshine Theater
06/13 – Los Angeles, CA @ Mayan Theatre
06/14 – Tucson, AZ @ Rialto Theatre
06/15 – Las Vegas, NV @ House of Blues
* = Avatar festival date