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On disc: Avathar



Forlorn - Mike Thompson - 10 stars
Dark Paths - Mike Thompson - 10 stars


www.avathar.org







Dark Paths

Dark Paths
(self-released - 2010)


Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to stumble on Avathar's seventh demo, Forlorn, which I gave top marks in my review. Just a few weeks ago the Finnish septet released Dark Paths, another demo which showcases their blend of epic, symphonic and atmospheric Tolkien-inspired extreme metal. I had set the bar of expectation incredibly high with my review of Forlorn a record which has confirmed its high rating by remaining a regular in my playlist since I discovered it and never yet getting boring and I was worried that Avathar may not be able to sustain this magnificent level. Thankfully my fears were allayed very rapidly by this latest release!
Dark Paths contains three songs, including an intro, and lasts for approximately fifteen minutes overall. It is the first Avathar release to be recorded outside of the band's own studio and the extra quality shows through. This is not to say its a huge step up from Forlorn, the changes are to me rather more subtle with the sounds of every instrument just sounding that bit fuller and clearer.
The intro begins with a soft but mesmerizing synth melody that rises in volume and become increasingly epic. It is a lovely scene-setting intro which soon transforms, thanks to the drumming, into more of a militaristic or tribal beat still with that elegant synth melody over the top. As the beginning of Nan-Elmar approaches the guitars crash in.
Nan Elmar is typical Avathar, displaying the bands epic style which is obviously very heavily influenced by Austrian legends Summoning and yet different enough for Avathar to sound unique and defy the label of copycat band.
It was almost inevitable that the final song, Dark Paths Of The Dead, would begin with a voice-over from the King Of The Dunlending's warning that "The way is shut...". In fact, I would have been disappointed had Avathar missed this out given their penchant for using sound clips from Peter Jackson's film trilogy in their earlier demos. The song itself is a truly magnificent piece that displays Avathar's epic and majestic style whilst building up an incredible, suspenseful atmosphere through well-timed tempo changes and catchy hooks. I could imagine myself travelling the paths of the dead with Aragorn as I listened to this song!
The songs are driven primarily by the keyboards of Scatcha and give to each song a truly epic and majestic feel that most bands could only dream to attain. Daeron proves himself an excellent drummer once again, driving the beat with aplomb and well-placed fills. Above this Bolg's bass rumbles incessantly, giving the band a fuller sound. The twin guitar attack of Dain and Dragon Hunter is used extremely well. Neither guitarist dominates proceedings but both add a high level of playing to the mix and sustain the atmosphere created by the rest of the band whilst lending some grit and heaviness to the music.
The two vocalists in Avathar are Witch King and Miriel and both are exceptional in their chosen styles. Witch King is the extreme vocalist. He has a harsh rasp typical of many Finnish extreme metal bands but his vocals never seem out of place even amongst the beautifully melodic music. In stark contrast is Miriel, the female vocalist whose deep, passionate voice lends the music of Avathar both a beautiful and mysterious feel. Both vocalists are used to great effect never dominate the music. The feel of the songs appears to be of paramount importance to these musical artisans, the personal abilities of each band member being fused to perfection within the song to reflect the atmosphere the band wish to invoke.
As mentioned above, this is now Avathar's eighth demo and undoubtedly their finest. I think an album and record deal for this band is long overdue. Undoubtedly they are the finest unsigned band I've ever heard and I cannot wait to hear a longer release.


10 stars

Mike Thompson
 

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Forlorn

Forlorn
(self-released - 2009)


Well, it appears I've been missing out on something for a long time here. This is Avathar's seventh demo and ninth release overall (they released two full lengths on cassette in 2004) and if the previous demos were anything like the quality on offer here, I may well have to hunt them down.
What this Finnish seven-piece have done is taken the blueprint left by cult Austrian Tolkien fans, Summoning, and improved on it in every possible way. No, this is moving, epic and melodic metal that draws you into the world that the great Tolkien gave us and keeps you lingering long after the final song has ended.
The driving force behind this band is undoubtedly the synths of one half of the band's founding duo, Scatcha. The epic synth intro to Kadotettu immediately captivates you, drawing you in as the drums bleed in before the enchanting vocals of new female vocalist Miriel begin. Her voice is beautiful and perfectly suited to the music that Avathar create. Her voice will haunt you like the greatest of Elven bards, this I promise you.
The band make use of many different styles of vocals in this album, from rasps and growls to clean vocals and even choirs that all add to the epic feeling. Miriel's vocals are a perfect counterpoint to the other founding member, Witch King, and his harsh rasp that wouldn't be out of place in the most hardened black metal band. His voice truly sounds like it was forged in the furnaces of Barad Dr, perfectly suited to lead the darker side of this band like his namesake led the forces of Sauron in the original tale.
There are even some well fitting uses of voice overs, my favorite being the clip of Gandalf talking about 'the great battle of our time' as the intro to the song of the same name.
Whilst comparisons to Summoning are of course inevitable given the similar theme and style I would also point out the similarity to other epic black metal bands such as the amazing Darkestrah. Those who know me know how much I adore Darkestrah so comparing another band to them is not something I ever do lightly. Avathar, however, have earned the right to be spoken of in the same breath with this offering. It is a truly excellent example of extreme, epic metal done properly. I honestly didn't expect something of this quality to be on a demo but I'm very glad I gave this one a chance.
If these guys aren't signed soon there is something very wrong with the world.


10 stars

Mike Thompson
 

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