Home Gigs Avatar ‘Dance Devil Dance’ UK Tour 2023 Rock City, Nottingham

Avatar ‘Dance Devil Dance’ UK Tour 2023 Rock City, Nottingham

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Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

After a few years of uncertainty and gigs being either cancelled or rescheduled, I’m finally on my way to cover the Swedish giants AVATAR.

This is the third date for the show and, tonight, its going ahead. Getting to the venue early, the queue is already around the block, in fact, security are moving the queue away from the tour vehicles that are collected at the back of the venue.

First on tonight we have Kingston Upon Hull hardcore metal bangers, MASTIFF. With blast beats flying and dropped tuned guitars riffing, Mastiff hit the ground running.

The vocal is a full-on growl, Jim Hodges voice sounds like he’s been gargling with nails, screws, nuts n bolts and a chainsaw such is the brutality of his delivery. The repetitive guitars destroy the senses as the tempo changes slightly before ending in a howl of feed-back. I flatten my hair back down as I pick my beanie from the barrier. That was 1:25s of ‘FAIL’ from 2021’s Leave Me the Ashes of Earth.

The Barrage carries on with ‘MIDNIGHT CREEPER’ another from the same album. This has a sinister down tuned guitar and more blast beats than you can count. The brutal vocal is destroying in its intensity. A guttural scream finishes this one.

Just as your eyesight was settling down once again the barrage of abuse sets off again with ‘BEIGE SABBATH’ a demonstrative fusillade of blast beats and dirty dark riffs Oh yes and that growling vocal. This drops into ‘VERMIN’ as the abuse continues.

This has a more doom ridden edge to it, the bass is deep and chest breaking in its ferocity. The drums crash around a soaring chainsaw of a guitar, the instrumental breakdown is melodic but soon is joined with a scowling vocal, that’s gotta hurt surely! Time signatures swap and change as the tune caresses you with the subtlety of a sledgehammer opening eggs.

‘PITIFUL’ has the dubious honour of following on from that feedback ridden ending, it kills it with plenty more of what’s gone on before. Crashing cymbals and squealing guitars thread around the thudding bass drum and rumbling bass. Lights strobe as Jim growls from his toes, the mic held high and close as this one attempts to rupture your spleen.

The stage is awash with red strobes as the drums crash out and with his head nodding violently, Jim collects his thoughts before unleashing a further barrage of indecipherable screams and growls like two tormented souls fighting in a mail bag. The breakdown yet again has the crowd and Jim head banging like their lives depended on it. A solid song that again finishes off with howling guitars and cheers and applause from the crowd.

A scratch of the head and the next song ‘ACID BREATHER’ is hitting us full on in the face. It’s another power packed gut punching round with Mike Tyson. The frayed roars from Jim dominate as the wall of sound backs it up in its relentless quest to flatten everything. I don’t think MASTIFF do ballads! Not to overuse a phrase, but this brutal. The chanted growl and time signature changes have this one sounding like the soundtrack to some prehistoric mating ritual on the History channel.

Fast feet and a flurry of guitars introduce ‘ENDLESS’ a thrusting beat and concussive guitars bookend the vocal perfectly. If you live in the world of tortured souls then this is just your cup of tea. Beautifully threatening in its ferocity, it leaves you hanging as it sounds out.

With a quick shout out to ‘Fuck the Tories’, ‘SCALPED AND SALTED’ drones out, heavy bass thumps along with the momentum of a legless dinosaur, it gouges a rift as it plods before picking up steam and hooking in with the fast beats being laid down by Michael Shepherd. With strings hanging off the guitar necks as they rattle out their tune, Jim growls and roars over the top like a rutting rhinoceros.

With a shout out to all that have come along early and given the band a crowd to play too, Jim gives his thanks, despite the roars and screams, he has come across as a decent humble guy which is always refreshing to see and hear, even if it kills the street cred, that’s something for school kids anyways. They conclude their set with ‘REPULSE’ the 6th song tonight from 2021’s Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth.

An engine beat throbs as the song builds in intensity, this is no quiet song to finish, it has the subtly of blaster bates demolishing a chimney stack.

The growls slam in your face, the guitars hoot and honk around the vocal, the drums are furious as they hook in with an evil bass that feels like a boot on your throat. The chugging section has the delicacy of a chain saw let lose in a field of sheep, deadly. And then there’s silence apart from the crowd cheering and clapping this bludgeoning of an opening set.

MASTIFF are, Jim Hodge – Vocals, Daniel Dolby – Bass, Michael Shepherd – Drums, Phil Johnson – Guitar, James Andrew Lee – Guitar.

Jim takes time to grab a selfie with the horn filled hall, the crew are already removing kit to make way for the second band of the night, the American giants ‘ VEIL OF MAYA’.

Hailing from Barrington, Illinois, this technical deathcore/metalcore band have a substantial following. Having heard of, but never seen them live, it’s another band that have tweaked my interest since I caught the release of their single GODHEAD.

With the usual dimming of lights and the bands walk in music firing up, heard over the screams of applause we are straight into ‘VISCERA’ with its blast beats and melodic guitar. The heavy bass has the crowd banging heads as Lucas Magyar, again growls and screams before dropping into a melodic singing voice, polar opposites to what he greeted us with.

The crushing beats let you know that this band are here and are going to take no prisoners as we go into ‘WHISTLEBLOWER’ from 2017’s long player ‘FALSE IDOL. Its fiddly intro breaks down into a cavalcade of beats and sorcery on guitar, the demonic frayed voice is ever present as the kick drum tries to cave your head in. As quick as you like we get the ying and yang of voices from Lucas, there is no carry over in either phrasing, his clean split of voice styles is stunning.

Fans of Mila Jovovich will get the name of the next one ‘LEELOO’ from the 5th Element. This is from the bands 2005 album Matriarch. It’s an angry piece that is threatening and hard hitting. The voicings are nasty, backed up with a percussive backbeat that is removing the air from the room in waves. Lucas is up front and screaming at the crowd surrounded by blue light and dense ‘fog’.

The beat changes and the growls carry on as ‘Overthrow’ slams out, this is another powerful track that hits you firmly in the jaw. Again, it has a great melodic break down with a stunning clean voice. Drop tuned guitars encircle as the bass drops great weights onto your chest and the howling demonic growls shatter the piece, for what there was of it.

The stage lights pulse and strobe intime to the percussive anger of the beats being laid down. With some funky jazz fusion bass licks the song breaks down and concludes with a thunderous round of drums and guitars, Jim is screaming at the crowd for noise.

‘LISBETH’ is next and the crowd are being asked to be on their feet, as the heavy riffs slam out, and yes, the demon voice is back albeit for a few bars before the clean voice takes over from the tortured soul. Blast beats crash out as the crowd are doing the same into each other in the middle of the dance floor. Jim is asking if Nottingham is with him tonight as he counts down and the crowd are jumping about in a mosh pit, the demonic voice is back controlling the ongoings. Red lights are strobing as the tune finishes on hung notes and crowd screams.

Its relentless as ‘PUNISHER’ is rolled into with barely a breath. This continues with the destruction. A growling vocal and sudden screams pierce the wall of beats hurtling from the stage, this is heavy and skin removing, the crowd are loving it as the breakdown again see’s areas of the hall flail in a ritual ‘mosh’ dance.

Screams from the crowd indicate they’re alive and having fun. Jim asks the crowd if they’re ready for a new song, this can only mean ‘GODHEAD’ is up next, released recently it has already received great reviews.

The scream indicates we’re away, standing watching I feel there’s almost a Danny Filth type vibe as the song kicks off, that soon vanishes as the break down kicks you in the arse and screams and growls carry on. The subject matter is as far removed from Cradle as you can get so that’s where the similarities end. The percussive start stop has the crowd cheering away . The crowd are asked if their ready for Avatar, the answer is obviously a huge cheer.

The stabbing intro of ‘SYNTHWAVE VEGAN’ cracks out along with the ever present demonic frayed vocal. The lights are blasting red and white as the voice stops and starts, the kick drum and dropped tuned guitars are slammin a wave of confusion at the crowd.

A rattle on the bell of the ride cymbal indicates a ‘OUTSIDER’ another new song, the gravel voice is swapped at will to the clean voice as the pounding kick drum and blast beats smash your hearing. The drop tuned guitar is frying your hearing, but the bass is killing it totally, the sonic delivery is like an impassable Hadrian’s Wall! Screams and a battery of drum and bass kill the song as we go into ‘OUTRUN’ the bouncing drum beat and scorching guitars ricocheted around the hall, as the crowd are once again asked to get on their feet.

The breakdown has more shouting than a gang of teenagers being told to get off the grass, the constant swap to a clean voice and back probably has the mind set of sad teenagers, confused and mis understood. The kick drum is dancing of your head as we get another breakdown that instigates a wall of death in the crowd to finish. Jim introduces the last song ‘MIKASA’ Jim shouts out to soul ‘Mosher’ who has started before the band has played a note. Whack! A screaming growl and a tormented vocal and we are bouncing along to the final track. Brutal in its entirety.

The crowd are loving it, well the ones with the energy and don’t have a couple of 2-pint jugs full of beer in their hands, oh hang on there goes one overhead… Jim concludes the song by singing from the barrier, he patrols back and forth bathed in green light from the stage, the security are there just in case. A final slam and Jim cry’s out “Thank You very Much”. The crowd explode with enthusiasm as they clap and cheer the band as they exit the stage.

That was a set, not for the faint of heart, brutal in its intensity, but it has been lapped up by the faithful, another stunning warm up for the headliners tonight.

VEIL OF MAYA are, Lucas Magyar – Vocals, Sam Applebaum – drums, Marc Okubo – Guitar, Danny Mauser – Bass.

The crew once again do a sterling job and in quick time the stage is set for the mighty Swedish band AVATAR. Formed in 2001 in Gothenburg, the birthplace of the ‘Swedish’ metal sound. There must be something in the Viking DNA as Scandinavia have produced epic bands seemingly at will. Avatar, to date have released nine albums, the latest ‘Dance Devil Dance’ being released just a couple of days ago, and what a belter it is too.

The Last Airbender is the only obvious choice for walk on music, as it sounds out the crowd go nutz. We have a very partisan crowd in tonight. Several have taken the time to dress up, almost like a cosplay convention, the make-up is stunning and shows how this band has been embraced by its fans.

The stage is now smoke filled as drummer John Alfredsson appears behind his kit. Side-lit he repeatedly slams a tom as the lights flash and a bell chimes.

The anticipation builds as the band appear from between the lighting rig and stand like marionettes waiting for ring master Johannes Eckerström to make his grand entrance. As the crowd continue to cheer for the band. The new album’s title track is fires up ‘DANCE DEVIL DANCE’, and out he walks, animated, he’s all marching arms and legs, at the mic stand, he gets straight into this new one, his scary looks from beneath his hat are interrupted as he flicks his tongue out at the crowd.

Sparks fly from fireworks as he patrols the stage. The band riff out a percussive beat as the vocal soars, helped by the crowd. A “whoa” from Johannes has the crowd clapping, as he is surrounded by bright light’s as he continues to marionet his delivery, the crashing of cymbals and cheers from the crowd unite as we get the piercing high screams before we drop back to the vocals and a breakdown full of chants from the crowd. It finishes to huge applause and cheers.

The hard-hitting drum beat thuds hard as Johannes address the crowd as we flow into ‘THE EAGLE HAS LANDED’ from 2016’s Feathers and Flesh, the bouncy number soon breaks down into dirty riffs and an anthemic vocal, very deliberate in its delivery, bordering on being slightly frayed at times Johannes marches around the stage, growling as he points to the crowd with his skull topped baton.

The twin guitars of ‘dread locked’ Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jarlsby and ‘Travelling Uncle Matt’ look alike Tim Öhrstrom unite and give a solid scorching lick as the bouncing back beat continues, a fun song to get the crowd on their toes. The singing from the hall is almost as loud as the house PA pumping into the room. The song finishes with a rousing cheer from the fans.

The rumblings of ‘VALLEY OF DISEASE’ slams out, this is a more destructive song full of fast beats and a frayed vocal. The break down has the band bent over windmilling their hair as one unit. It’s a solid song full of attitude from the new album. The twin guitars harmonise and soar over the fast feet of Alfredsson. Roars and back beat are slamming into the crowd hard, who have their heads down nodding like Churchill on the parcel shelf.

It’s a darker tune after the previous two and shows another side to this grease paint wearing five piece. The harmonised guitars ebb and flow between rumbling bass as Johannes shouts for some space as he wants to see Nottingham’s finest at their very worst. He counts 3-2-1 and the break down thrashes out. The crowd oblige as the vocal kicks back in briefly to finish with huge cheers once more, I think that’s a given now.

‘CHIMP MOSH PIT’ has the crowd cheering, it’s a lively gang into night as Johannes gives his best ringmaster intro screaming “We Are..” “AVATAR” screams the crowd. He seduces the crowd to repeated cheers “Are you ready to push yourself to the limits” “this is a mosh pit” “not just any mosh pit” “an evil human mosh pit” “give me a chimp mosh pit”.

As I move to a better view-point I can’t help but get a feeling of a Baz and Massive Wagons vibe to this one. His delivery is very Baz-esque, that’s a compliment to both bands btw. The guitars scream over the metronomic beats from Alfredsson. The mosh pit is slammin’ as I get a quick look over the balcony.

A heavy snare flams out as the crowd are encouraged to scream, ‘SCREAM UNTIL YOU WAKE’ from Hunter Gatherer is thrust forth. This 2020 tune has become a firm fan favourite as vocals are surrounded by a concussive drum beat, the guitar is crying out as the crowd are bouncing hard to the rhythmical patterns being delivered.

The crowd are loving it, the heat in the hall has gone through the roof as ticker tape rains down on the crowd, dislodged from its place of rest by all the bouncing from below. “Avatar” and “WHOOOO’s” are screamed by the crowd as we get the haunting intro of ‘BLOODY ANGEL’ the crowd join in with an answer and call and a steady hand clap before the beats slam hard and we set off with a scream and then a gentle delivery albeit growled, the crowd sing along to this one from 2014’s Hail the Apocalypse.

The crowd join in again for the choral section before it breaks down into more snarls and guitars. A clever song of light and shade giving Johannes’ time to parade and show his vocal control. The crowd deliver the goods with some great singing. The hall erupts when the song concludes.

A guitar riff has the crowd clapping again. It’s joined very quickly with a percussive drum beat and a barked vocal which ebbs and flows amongst the blast beats delivered from high up on the drum riser. ‘FOR THE SWARM’ crashes into the crowd, the almost Justin Hawkins style vocals breaks the song up. Johannes screams that “Nottingham is quite the sight for sore eyes”, “Nottingham is fucking loud”. He recites a poem, the intro to ‘PUPPET SHOW’! The slightly off beats are delivered with that disturbing fairground feel, as Johannes parades the stage singing “puppet man”.

As things slow down Johannes leaves the stage. He makes his way through the crowd much to their delight, he climbs the stairs to appear in the nightclubs DJ booth high up over-looking the hall. The music stops briefly and then a walking bouzouki rhythm starts up as he leers out of the booth, waving at all he produces an orange balloon and proceeds to make a balloon animal after much crowd teasing. He passes it out the window, almost slipping as he does so.

He then picks up his trombone, settles back in the opening of the booth window and proceeds to play to the crowd before making his way back to the stage and concluding this song to huge applause and cheers.

Without a breath we are into ‘WHEN THE SNOW LIES RED’ This hard hitter goes down well as Johannes appears from a small box left on the riser by a gimp. As the lid is lifted, he miraculously floats out with the help of four orange balloons, smiling at the shocked gimp as he does so.

This is another one filled with growling vocals from 2016’s Feathers and Flesh, and is followed up with Johannes telling us that it’s a special day as it’s a crew members birthday, he says “he’s going to keep it to themselves but he crowd burst into a round of Happy Birthday.

“it’s the second night of the Dance Devil Dance tour”,he carries on, “it’s a special night as it’s the first night that the band don’t suck”, he follows it with a shout out to their new friends in Mastiff and Veil of Maya, before asking if the crowd are in control prompting ‘DO YOU FEEL IN CONTROL’ from the same album. Amidst screams of Nottingham and the obligatory, breakdown head banging, the song slams hard, powerful and deliberate, the crowd again have their heads down nodding like Churchill.

Blue lights criss-cross ‘dreadlocked’ Jarlsby and ‘Fraggle’ Öhrström as they have a guitar off, the answer and returns are full of screaming, pitched bending harmonic goodies to satisfy any guitarist in the screaming, cheering crowd.

The guitar battle flows into ‘Black Waltz’ from the 2012 self-titled album, shrouded in a screaming barrage of cries from the crowd. the gentle picked intro strikes out and the crowd start a slow hand clap as the song steadily builds to the screaming growl before it thumps you in the face with its concussive blast beats and a thudding wall of sound, the crowd are loving this one as it caresses the senses like a wrecking ball.

The stage is cleared as the gimps bring a piano on stage for Johannes. “Look at that Nottingham there’s a gimp under my piano”, he howls, “he’s escaping” says Johannes. Now seated, he says he used to take lessons when he was about 5. ‘TOWER’ he announces at the same time tickling the ivories. His head tilted to the side he laments softly forgetting to play momentarily.

The crowd help out as this song plinks along. The crowd love it. The slightly more up beat ‘COLOSSUS’ picks things back up with a hard hitting back beat. The crowd are still in fine voice as they sing. The bass is deep and dirty as it bounces along, the vocal is cloaked in cymbal crashes and distorted guitars. Yet another that goes down well.

A rattling guitar that sounds familiar fires across the hall, Johannes is Hey Hey Hey-ing as they drop into a quick whirl of swinging hair. Alfredsson has joined them at the front of the stage. His staring eyes are stood behind a simple TAMA drum kit provided by the gimps.

This crashes out as the crowd sing “let it burn” on command. A ringing on the cymbals and a thud of drums has the crowd chanting along, this quickly descends into a fast hand clap as the set is cleared by the gimps. Alfredsson is walking around with a confetti streamer gun in his hands, he dances about and then fires it into the crowd, he reloads and repeats the antics firing at the balcony this time.

Jarslby has now appeared wearing a cloak and crown, the band fawn around him before he stands front and central for ‘A STATUE OF A KING’. The music starts the drums crash out as they sing a salute to Jarlsby.

The blast beats rip along as the breakdown has hair flying all around the hall as the lights pulse hard intime with the kick drum which has been going 10 to the dozen. Johannes again asks Nottingham, “are you with us?” the band breakdown in a crescendo of comic voiced royal chanting’s before growling in a royal salute. “The King” and they leave the stage for a well-earned wet.

The chanting immediately starts up, as the crowd want more, lights flash and people scream and whistle for the encore. As one voice they start chanting “one more song“ repeatedly!

The band return with ‘THE DIRT IM BURIED IN’. A new song released this year. “Is there anyone still out there” cries Johannes as the steady picked guitars hook in with the thud of the drums and his vocal takes control as the crowd start to sing once more.

Johannes, tells us there is only … “two more songs” and the crowd go nuts he continues to thank the crowd which again is met with cheers.

He credits the crowd to creating a magical evening and making the bad feel good. He promises as long as that continues the band will carry on. There’s a few minutes of AVATAR worship before he stats the banter into ‘SMELLS LIKE A FREAKSHOW’ to which the crowd have a meltdown. Johannes says it’s been a long hot steamy night in Nottingham as he sniffs his armpit then fakes nausea to the crowd’s amusement.

He gets the crowd to repeat the song title before he screams “this place smells like a freak show”. The crowd are on their toes as this one is bouncing Rock City closer to the river Trent. This is the one the crowd have been waiting for as they burst into song drowning out Johannes, as the band dig in hard and smash this one into the back of Forest’s Net.

The Night finishes with Johannes screaming “one last song” ‘HAIL THE APOCALYPSE’. This is the title track from the 2014 album. Confetti streamers fire into the crowd as this one slams out. Dirty guitars riff hard as drums and bass hook up to give you nightmares, this is an epic track just right to finish the night off.

The sweaty crowd are bouncing hard as this one plays out, I sneak my way to stand at the doors, it’s always a good idea when you have a bag full of expensive camera gear, to prepare your get away ahead of the mass exit. As this one dies and the crowd explodes the venue slowly starts to empty.

AVATAR are, Johannes Eckerström – Vocals, Balloons and Trombone, Jonas ‘Kungen’Jarlsby – Guitar, and Dreads, John Alfredsson – Drums and Confetti Cannon, Henrik Sandelin – Bass, and Tim Öhrström – Guitar.

I exit the building to that great war time song made famous by Dame Vera Lynn ‘Whale Meat Again’. I know it’s not spelt right!

AVATAR have put on a spectacular show, well worth the money and the time, if you get the chance then you simply have to check them out. What-ever these Swedish bands are drinking it sure as hell makes for a stunning night out! Long may it continue. Now, I’m trapped with the freaks trying to leave the show.

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