Avatar: Swedish Steel

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You might hear the name AVATAR and picture a band parading across a stage dressed as ringmasters conducting a circus. But backstage at Bloodstock Open Air, they’re five swedes basking in the British heat in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses. It’s been eight long years since they last played Catton Park, and three since they’ve played these shores – so how does it feel to be back?

“It feels like the most British thing we’ve done in a while, because we realise our current crew is 80% British, so we’re having a peak British experience,” says frontman Johannes Eckerström, happily at home in the sun whilst the rest of the festival fights for shade. “On top of that, we were up in Edinburgh for the first time yesterday, so the fact we’re not only back but we’re doing a bunch of firsts both as a band and as tourists, it’s a great way to spend a summer!”

Whilst AVATAR are living the high life this year, summer’s spent playing shows and exploring cities across the globe were nothing but pipedreams for the past two years. Having released their eighth album Hunter Gatherer during the height of a global pandemic, they were stuck at home twiddling thumbs. Thankfully, they saved themselves by creating the four-part audio-visual Avatar Ages livestream spectacular that took viewers on a trip through their entire discography. But just how important was that for them, until they could get back to festivals like Bloodstock?

“More important than we realised when we started to work on it, because we got to feel like a band. I live in Finland, the rest of the band lives in Sweden so we had weekly Zoom meetings but to go into a dressing room, get undressed in front of each other, go and sweat together and feel like it was for someone out there to enjoy, it meant the world to us on a level we didn’t realise, because it felt like doing a show.”

With their fans thirst quenched and themselves fired up again, the AVATAR cogs were beginning to turn again, despite going back to Zoom calls and long-hauls. But with all that downtime on their hands before and after, did finally feeling like a band again bring back the spark for AVATAR’s next chapter?

“I think that train was already running about what we were becoming, what we were doing, but it definitely gave us a lot of energy towards it,” Johannes admits, unphased by our shade slipping away. “It was the show that really went back, and I put together a little video package of old footage we had of partying on the road, and the nostalgia of it allowed us to reconnect with what it is to be in a band together, making that feel all the more special, so that original drive that can get lost in the shuffle, that’s back.”

Whilst their spike of energy has seen a handful of singles thrown our way since last year, there’s a whole album to come. And for anyone thinking they’ve sussed out the sound, here’s a curveball courtesy of Johannes. “Well, one big surprise is all the singles you have heard, have nothing to do with the next album – it’s all brand new stuff that nobody’s heard yet!”

So whilst their set at Bloodstock didn’t throw us anything new to sink our teeth into, Johannes hasn’t left us empty-handed. The as-yet-untitled album is their ‘best work yet.’ It’s a cliché every band bangs on about, but for Johannes and AVATAR, they really mean it. “The reason I feel so strongly about it is that I feel that we have done with this one what JUDAS PRIEST did with British Steel – cut off the fat and become laser focused.”

“Prior to that, JUDAS PRIEST were a great rock band, a great heavy metal band, a great prog band, but with British Steel they were able to take all their eclectic sides and make a streamlined album and become the greatest heavy metal band on the planet. That’s what we’ve done, we’ve refocused, and it sounds like no other band; it’s us, we’re weird as fuck, but we’re able now to be weird as fuck in a way that will break through all your defences.”

Breaking through people’s defences is something AVATAR are no strangers to. They’re a band that have been on the backfoot since day one, just for being ahead of the curve with their theatrical alt-metal assault. But being weird and wonderful, and being on the backfoot, has seen them build fans all over the world – and one such mention of this reminds Johannes of Bloodstock 2014.

“We were on our way here, we’d played Milton Keynes and were having breakfast at a hotel whilst all these people from the Trans community have been out partying all night, like their dinner was the breakfast buffet we were sitting at, so there was a wonderful vibe in there when we got called to change to the main stage, so I have a lot of memories of that day, so it feels weird it’s been eight years since because it’s so fresh in my mind.”

AVATAR’s slot at this year’s festival saw them take the main support slot for fellow theatrical fans SLEEP TOKEN’s headline set on the Sophie Lancaster Stage. Whilst Johannes had never heard of them until the day they were playing, the excitement was real because “all the Brits on the bus are losing their shit about SLEEP TOKEN, so I’m getting caught up!’

Following BLOODSTOCK, there’s an album to finish and unveil to the world, as well as their first ever trip to South America with IRON MAIDEN. Whilst they’re excited to open for their heroes, they’re likening it like fighting Mike Tyson in 1986.

“I don’t even know how to wrap my head around it, because you’re so happy about it but at the same time, there’s a problem: you have to open for fucking IRON MAIDEN. It’s like if you’re a boxer and it’s 1986 and you want to make it to the top, then your goal is to get a match with Mike Tyson. The problem is, now you have to box Mike Tyson and IRON MAIDEN are the Mike Tyson of heavy metal, and we’re there first to say ‘please stop throwing things’.”

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