“Yeah, we agree, there are so many bands coming from Sweden, ever since Abba, you know.” – Henrik Sandelin, bassist Avatar
By Carl C. Sundberg
Avatar is the kind of band you just have to see and hear to fully appreciate. And even after seeing or hearing them, it takes some time to process what you just saw or heard. Imagine The Crow fronting a quintet of ancient Swedish nationalists and you’re close. Well, not even close.
To be perfectly honest, trying to pin a description to this band does it more injustice than simply saying, “You’ve got to check this band out.”
And many people are. Avatar’s popularity is right on the cusp of glory. They’re currently touring the world, hitting many of the major festivals, including Rock on the Range, where RadioContraband caught up with them for a quick interview. Their latest single, “The Eagle Has Landed” from their sixth full length album, “Feathers & Flesh” is in the top 20 on the Mediabase Active Rock Charts, being played on rock stations all over the country.
Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, they follow a long line of melodic death metal bands from the area, like At The Gates, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and The Haunted, to name a few. There have been so many bands from that part of Sweden that it has gained it’s own style – Gothenburg Metal.
But Avatar didn’t just roll off the conveyor belt. They are so much more than their forefathers and predecessors. From the visually theatrical attire they were on stage to frontman Johannes Eckerstrom’s crazed demeanor hidden under terrifying clown-like makeup, from the mixing of various styles and comical musical interludes with thunderous metal riffs and hallucinatory guitar virtuosity, what Avatar is doing is so much more than what has ever come from Gothenburg.
They have managed to merge all sorts of wild elements into their band, both visually and sonically. These gentlemen clearly have a knack for the dramatic. And they’ve been doing this for quite awhile.
Stretching as far back as 2006, Avatar has released six full length albums, their most recent, “Feathers & Flesh” just this year. Look for them on tour or at this year’s Aftershock Festival in California.
Q: So the outfits/costumes, where did they come from?
Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby: These are actually based on old Swedish folk costumes. The kind of clothes you wear when you go to a fancy party. We put our touch on it with the colors.
Q: There’s a lot of incredible music from Sweden, it’s always nice to see bands coming to the states from Sweden, how is the transition for you guys?
Henrik Sandelin: Yeah, we agree, there are so many bands coming from Sweden, ever since Abba, you know. (laughs) We have great public music schools, that might be a reason. (laughs)
Q: What are some of your musical inspirations, because you have a very unique sound.
Jarlsby: A lot…
Tim Ohrstrom: …Everything from the Beatles to Slipknot, it’s everything…
Sandelin: We all started listening to the bands from Gothenberg, In Flames, Dark Tranquility, we love that stuff, but there are so many bands.
Q: Where did the idea of Avatar come from?
Jarlsby: Well, it was me and John [Alfredsson, drummer] first. When we were 14 or 15 years old we started playing metal or hard rock. I heard Iron Maiden for the first time and I was like, “I have to play guitar.” Jon was listening to Metallica at the time and we just got together and started playing. Listening to all of our favorite bands. A lot of The Haunted, In Flames, Slipknot, Cryptopsy, just playing covers. Then we started, we went on and played our own stuff.
Sandelin: Then he asked me if I can play the bass and I said, “no” and then I joined the band.
Q: How do the crowds react in the states versus back home?
Sandelin: I would say metalheads are pretty alike all over the world. Crowds are good everywhere, usually. So there’s not a big difference, I’d say.
Q: What was one of the craziest things you saw today at Rock on the Range?
Jarlsby: I haven’t really seen much. I just woke up, did a show, did a signing, came here. As soon as we’re done with this we’re going out on the area to see what’s going on.