Avatar are back in London with the Dance Devil Dance tour, at last, with the originally slated for January 2022 show finally going ahead in February 2023. Still, if any band can make it seem worth the wait, it is surely going to be Avatar. The Swedish/Finnish brotherhood are famed for their intense and intelligent theatrical performances on stage and have one hell of a back catalogue to bring with them.
This time round, they are out specifically to promote their latest release, the exhilarating Dance Devil Dance album. To make things even more interesting, they have a somewhat odd mix of bands coming to join them in the shape of Kingston Upon Hull’s ferocious Mastiff and The United States based technical metalcore band, Veil of Maya. An odd line up in genre mixes perhaps but it can also be seen, and should be seen, as a celebration of metal in all it’s forms.
This London show is the last date of the UK leg of the tour and is special for a few different reasons. The first being, we, our group of family and friends, all love Avatar. We also adore Mastiff and while we don’t know a lot about Veil of Maya, are excited to see them live for the first time too. This is a great line up for us. The other reason is that Avatar are my daughter’s favourite band. She is a little too young to come Bloodstock with us so missed their performance here but, aside from Devin Townsend at the Royal Albert Hall, this is her first proper gig and it’s to see her favourite band.
First up though, it’s Mastiff and they did exactly what we would have hoped for, just smashing it out of the park in an intense and aggressive set. It was nice to see a decent crowd in the venue for the openers though we felt Mastiff deserved a bit more movement. They had heads going and a mini pit by the end but to say these guys are leaders of the UK underground scene would be unfair to them, they seem bigger than that and this gig with Avatar should propel them forwards nicely.
Whether from shouts of “Fuck the Tories” or blistering hearing damaging heaviness with tracks like Endless, Scalped and Salted and Repulse just laying down wave after wave of attack, Mastiff delivered.
A quick change over sees Veil of Maya take to the stage and I was impressed. The vocal range of frontman Lucas Magyar is superb with him singing nicely, and hitting some powerful high and low pitched growling too. They seem a comfortable band to listen to for me with strong riffs and drums getting heads moving. With a decent back catalogue, they mix their set list up with tracks from as far back as 2005’s Matriarch in Leeloo all the way up to 2023’s Godhead. Additional synth and strobe lights throughout add to the excitement before it suddenly goes a bit awry.
Seemingly half way through a track, the frontman stops the song, seems to be pointing at the back of the crowd asking if everything is okay. We could not see anything wrong though so no idea what happened, only that the band left the stage as Lucas explained, “that’s the end, safety first” and they were gone. It was anticlimactic and we couldn’t tell what had happened. To be fair, if something did, I am sure they were right to stop the performance, we just had no idea what it was that caused it.
Anyway, changeover, grab drinks, get excited time. It’s Avatar.
The stage gets set up, suitably theatrical with boxes and platforms laid, out as John Alfredsson takes to the drums to rapturous applause and screaming. His robotic movements as he slams his drums in time with a chime that signals the opening track of the new album, and this show, Dance Devil Dance. The band appear from the smoke filled stage, taking their places and standing like statues as they wait for their ringleader, Johannes Eckerström to make his grand entrance. He appears, the fans go nuts and we are off and it is a beautiful thing.
A set list of true majesty, fans in raptures and a band that have become perhaps the most complete live band in the world today, it felt surreal at times. Almost too perfect. Johannes works the crowd in his own quirky, loveable yet sometimes creepy way as we jump into a firm favourite, The Eagle has Landed from Feathers and Flesh. A pure and joyous banger with a huge crowd sing along for the chorus. Johannes disappears for one of many quick costume changes- as guitar warriors Jonas ‘Kungen’ Jarlsby and Tim Öhrstrom keep the music going and with added strobes and aggression, Valley of Disease kicks off.
This song is amazing live, truly heavy and intense as Johannes dressed like an almost apocalyptic priest stands rigid with stiff arm movements conducting the crowd while he blasts out intense vocals. The energy stays up, as do the costume changes as Johannes explains he needs a mosh pit, a Chimp Mosh Pit followed by Scream Until You Wake and then another crowd favourite sing along, Bloody Angel with Henrik Sandelin and Johannes combining vocals beautifully. Imagine having so many good tracks that The Eagle Has Landed and Bloody Angel come in the first half? For the Swarm keeps the excitement going before we hit another memorable and eccentric moment as Puppet Show gets an outing.
Half way through, as we hit that famed trombone part, Johannes disappears leaving the band on stage and reappears up on the balcony and starts to make balloon animals while the band jam a bluesy section half way through Puppet Show. Yep, balloon animals and you know what, it was still great. From that Johannes pulls out his trombone, plays his solo and heads back to the stage to carry the song on proper. Amazing, insane yet somehow beautiful and perfect.
We get Where the Snow Lies Red followed by Do You Feel in Control next before a slightly gimp costumed looking character brings out a present on stage and lays it on one of the platforms. What is happening now? Suddenly, rising out of the present and platforms below, Johannes slowly appears carrying a handful of red balloons. The stuff of nightmares leads into the stuff of dreams as Black Waltz tears the place a new one.
Our friendly gimp returns this time pushing a piano on stage. Yep, Avatar have gone on tour and brough a piano with them. We all started guessing – could it be Gun, maybe Regret – we were wrong – it is Tower. A beautifully sung track by a wistful looking Johannes that has the whole crowd singing along in unison. It is moments like these that make you realise how special this band is.
We aren’t done yet with brilliant tracks or performance as the piano leaves and is replaced by a small drum kit at the front of the stage. A robotic John leads the band in a futuristic and apocalyptic looking performance of Colossus followed by a crowd energising Let It Burn. The main portion of the set ends with the arrival of the King as the crowd chant Glory To Our King before the band head into A Statue of the King and the whole venue erupts into a mixture of dancing and moshing equally.
The encore starts with the excellent The Dirt I’m Buried In before Johannes addresses the crowd, thanking them for their efforts, showing gratitude that was returned from the crowd immeasurably before he starts a familiar talking intro to a song everyone has been waiting for. What do we look like, what do we sound like and of course, what do we smell like? Smells Like a Freakshow sees the crowd pull out energy from somewhere as crowd surfers and mosh pits appear in every direction. Brilliant. Now how are you going to follow that and end such a special show? Three words.
Hail the Apocalypse!
Sparks and smoke fly, confetti falls down and the crowd erupts one final time to a song that crushes with it’s intense riffs and closes out the show in the best possible way. A grateful band receive roars and applause from a feverish crowd as the lights come on and the band take a bow as Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime classic “We’ll Meet Again” plays out on the speakers.
Avatar have once again showed themselves to be the very cream of the crop, the leaders in theatrical metal and live performers that are at the very top of their game. I do wonder if there is any other show in music as fine tuned and perfected as an Avatar show. I doubt it, having such an amazing catalogue of music coupled with their own unique characters and the effort they put in – it makes you feel special. Makes you feel like they care about us. Makes us feel like we truly are part of the band, part of the Freakshow.
Thank you Avatar for a night that will live long in the memory of my daughter, myself and I’m sure everyone else in attendance.
Avatar (with Veil of Maya and Mastiff) at the O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London (25/02/2023)
Avatar - 10/10
Veil of Maya - 8/10
Mastiff - 9/10