Ladies and Gentlemen, Constant Followers, and fellow Metal Heads, I come before you humbly today not as your usual purveyor of nerd news, but to bring you the word of the King Himself! That’s right, I am no mere hawker of wares on the Twitter street corner today! Today I come to you as herald of He is Who More Than Myself to inform you that we are at war!
“The best of the greatest,
The greatest but few,
The soon to be heroes,
the King wants you!
The King wants you!”
A Review of Avatar’s New World Premier: “The King Wants You”
The founding of Avatar Country is upon us. On the heels of Feathers and Flesh, Avatar wasted no time solidifying their next claim to metal fame, Avatar Country, the band’s seventh studio album. So far, this album, like Hail the Apocalypse, recalls the bands roots in Vaudevillian animated humor of the early Twentieth Century (you can see where I’m coming from if you go watch “The Statue of the King” here). Avatar Country also pays homage to the greatest metal bands of the 80s, drawing on everything from Iron Maiden to The Scorpions as inspiration for their latest video, “The King Wants You”, released yesterday December 19, 2017 ahead of their album release January 18, 2018.
Seriously. If you can’t see Judas Priest and White Zombie in this video, then I don’t know why we’re here.
Johannes Eckerström proves himself to be as capable an actor in front of the camera as his vocal range is on stage. Eckerström reprises his role of The Clown, though this time he comes to us as the official herald of the “Ruler of All Things Worthy of Being Ruled”. His signature black and red iconography greets us again as he not only addresses the assembled Citizens at the rally at the gates to Avatar Country, but appears in a laser-haze in the palm of a giant robot like freakin’ Bruce Dickinson in the red coat of the Trooper meets Ozzy Osbourne’s Iron Man.
Like, some troll on Facebook literally said, “I’ve only got one King, and it’s King Diamond!” Well, I have news for you, man. Many bands take their ques from King Diamond, and I haven’t seen anything quite like King Diamond that wasn’t Mercyful Fate in a long time. It was like King Diamond had a baby with Rob Halford in a crazy love triangle with all of KISS.
In this episode of Avatar Country, the Kingdom is under attack by a vicious enemy that I imagine a young Adolf Hitler might have enjoyed in a post apocalyptic, thinly-veiled dystopian future. Our enemy hurls energy canon balls at us from outside the walls. Even as The Clown delivers his urgent, but not exactly inspiring, speech to rally the brave men and women to their King, the walls are bombarded with these energy mortars. The King moves to retaliate, though his alienation of a subject who doesn’t conform to his ideas of a Citizen may lead to his ruin.
There is a lot going on in just a few short minutes: The Clown rallies the forces; The King energizes the barriers protecting the City with his Axe; The King realizes a grievous error; a mother and father lead their son to safety; and a young couple head off to do battle for their King.
The video has a decidedly Dio-esque feel to it. Like the kings of Power Metal that came before, the video’s depiction of a dire situation for the country should inspire the masses to run forward and greet whatever fate will give them. However, the lyrics of the song leave one with a growing sense of unease and hesitation. Unlike Bruce Dickinson, who urges his soldiers onward to glory, Ronny James Dio warned of the dangers that lay ahead in the darkness. The powerful imagery of the king pacing the battlements recalls Iron Maiden while the lyrics carry the same warning from Dio wrapped in the ironic lyrics fans have come to expect from Avatar. Eckerström sings, “A chip on my shoulder, Everyone’s getting older. Heroes die young, that’s fine. I’m still a child inside,” while our young couple makes up their minds that though they have no idea what to expect, their future is intertwined with the King’s, and go to battle they must. Eckerström alternates between his place on the stage and a television screen, screeching his urgent message under the banner of the ruler while undermining his own propaganda with lyrics that recall “Get In Line” and “Vultures Fly”, songs that criticize those who aggrandize fighting and dying to make their king (or their daddies) proud, ironized in sardonic anger and flayed alive on the fields of Wacken Open Air 2015.
Those looking for Eckerström’s signature screaming will be sadly left out on this video. However, much like “Paint Me Red”, “Let It Burn”, and “Smells Like A Freak Show” showcase Eckerström vocal talent, “The King Wants You” is a less playful, though certainly less angry, side of The Clown. Eckerström has already proven that he can scream with the best of death metal, channel Brian Johnson, and probably out-Phantom the Phantom of the Opera in a single song. “The King Wants You” merely reminds long-time fans that the front-man of Avatar refuses to be typecast. The rest of the band, especially drums and guitar–and whatever Henrik Sandelin is doing on that big bass–remains technically solid, versatile, and surpasses anything being passed off in the mainstream American metal market as true musical talent, where just about everything can be performed by one person in a studio and scab band members could back up vocals on tour and hardly anyone would bat an eye as long as the fangirls have something to look at. Avatar’s lyrics and subject matter tackle worldly issues. Dictatorships, martial law, mental illness, and societal breakdown continue to dominate Avatar’s material, providing loyal fans with the traditional anger and sense of rebellion. Metal Evolution host Sam Dunn asserted that dissatisfaction with the world we inherited from a previous generation characterized the exemplary bands of early heavy metal. However, I myself assert that this anger has since degenerated into oversimplified, sweeping generalizations that amount to “I’m 20. You don’t know me. You don’t know what I’ve been through.” Note that I’m not directing that at any band in particular.
The video proceeds like Mad Max meets The Five Armies with a barbaric, almost Viking-looking army (Avatar is Swedish after all) meeting a more advanced, organized battalion of armored troops, and the outcome is sadly predictable. Instead of the rebellious anger of “Get In Line” and the irony of “Vultures Fly”, “The King Wants You” is a cautionary tale. Avatar explores the ramifications of a leader who does not tolerate diversity among his subjects, and the folly of doing battle against a foe with a technological advantage. “The King Wants You” does not just criticize the mentality of those who choose to follow their leaders blindly to fight and die in wars they know little about, but also examines the heartbreaking reality of war on civilians and the ease with which colorful, targeted marketing from mainstream media can convince average citizens to give up their lives for the State.
Though Avatar has a long history of iron grit and cold, gray imagery, that cloud has broken to reveal a kaleidoscopic range of emotions, following a natural progression for the band’s concept, all while maintaining a core rhetoric that explores themes of exploitation and tyranny through Vaudevillian comedy and the animation styles of the early Twentieth Century. The effect is the manufacture of the most downright disturbing visuals. Avatar Country has evolved into the band’s current state. Even if the concept has changed visually, the band has remained true to its form. Eckerström is not destroying the world with a music box as he does in “Hail the Apocalypse”. However, “The King Wants You” carries the same emotional weight, perhaps more so, of previous videos.
Fans are looking forward to the release of Avatar Country along with the tour to follow. You can find out more about that tour on the band’s official website, and don’t forget to purchase band merchandise.
And if someone wants to get me an Avatar Country Coat of Arms Hoodie, I will not look a gift horse in the mouth.