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.