Avatar / The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album

The MetalTalk team joined Avatar and director Johan Carlén for an exclusive pre-screening of the new documentary film The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album. With the film set for release this spring, the evening was one of two, where the film was played, followed by a Q&A session. Keep an eye on MetalTalk for an interview with Avatar and Johan Carlén.

Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album

Words: Dany Jones

Photography: Georgia Brittain

The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album captures the recording of Dance Devil Dance deep within the serene Swedish wilderness, a world apart from the perceived glitz and glamour of a bustling metropolis.

Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk

It is an absolute treat to be watching the movie in London’s finest cinema rooms, Everyman. We are comfortably settled, suitably fed and amply refreshed thanks to a first-class waiting service. We are even provided with cushions for extra comfort and legroom fit for a giant.

The expectation is to be watching a documentary on the making of Avatar’s latest album, Dance Devil Dance. However, soon enough, the feeling of an uneasy subtext becomes apparent. It is this tandem of two plots that keeps us on the edge of our seats, constantly second-guessing and wondering how it will all turn out.

With Dance Devil Dance, Avatar have purposely chosen to go full immersion away from the world for 30 days. This is the timeframe they have allocated for the birth of this record.

They are leaving all comforts behind and have chosen to swap swanky studios in sunny LA for the family property of the band’s singer. The building is situated amidst miles of woodland in a remote region of Gothenburg, Sweden, where temperatures are several degrees below zero. There is no adequate insulation or central heating. The area consists of a few adjacent shacks that were once lived in for domestic use.

The surroundings are so humble that film Director Johan Carlén, who is there to shoot the scenes, asks if he will even manage to get paid.

Don’t want to read about the film? Jump To End Of Spoiler

** Spoiler Alert **

In the movie, singer and frontman Johannes Eckerström doubles as the narrator. He briefly explains the intent behind this record. He says that all too often the priority of Metal gets lost for the sake of comfort and of the clinical precision enabled by the technology nowadays available to us.

Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk

Avatar wanted to go the other way. They want to bring the Metal back to life in all of its sheer primitive glory. Avatar wants to achieve that wholly organic, primordial sound, loaded with every stain and every imperfection one can only truly reproduce in a live situation.

The studio will be built from scratch, and, in the good and the bad, they will only have the music and each other.

Drummer John Alfredsson is tasked with sorting the studio logistics while the rest of the band awaits the arrival of American producer Jay Ruston, who is flying in from LA. John is checking every suitable space, and we get a first glimpse of the woodman’s workshop.

Avatar - Download Festival 2023
Avatar – Download Festival 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

But it is with Jay, once he lands and changes into his warm shoes, that they will decide on the final location. In the end, they unanimously opt for the main house with the bedrooms. These get emptied, the equipment gets moved in, and the recording can now officially begin.

It is simply mesmerising to witness the creative process that goes into producing this album. The musicians record full steam ahead, at times individually and at times in ensemble.

Avatar - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 Feb 2023
Avatar – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 Feb 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

The first stage is to layer the tracks by giving it their all in the performance. They then all gather in the control room and listen back to give individual feedback. Here, views are expressed, ideas are honestly and democratically bounced around, and all necessary ‘fixes’ are decided.

There are no egos and no individual claims; they all become one, and it is all under the Avatar flag.

This is also a time of constant competition with oneself to reach out for new heights.

Avatar - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 Feb 2023
Avatar – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 Feb 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

The instrumentalists deliver a skilfully executed, powerful compendium of sheer raw energy, and the singer has no intention of resting on his laurels either. When his turn comes, Johannes feels compelled to match with complex and extremely challenging vocal intricacies.

On one song, he pushes so high up that he gives himself a migraine, by which he then scolds, “Metal is meant to hurt.”

The days unfold relentlessly productive. A timer marks the countdown at the beginning of each scene, with Johannes narrating their progress and the inevitably changing dynamics as time passes. Note after note, song after song, we witness the birth of the masterpiece that will become Dance Devil Dance, including the No. 1 single The Dirt I Am Buried In.

One thing is certain about Avatar. They will move you, they will shake you and will grab you from the guts inside and out.

By Johannes’ very words:

“We wanna make your neck hurt,
we wanna make you dance like you never danced before,
we want to talk to your heart, sure
to your brain, maybe
genitals? Definitely!”

In a moment over a tea break that sees singer and drummer in the kitchen, Johannes explains to John that his father told him that the house was once inhabited by a farmer who was an aspiring musician.

One day, the farmer receives a visit from a guest who happens to be a talented composer. He, therefore, decides to grab the opportunity. He kills the artist and throws his body down the well adjacent to the property. He then assumes the man’s identity to travel the world claiming the music as his.

Legend has it that the farmer gets eventually found out and that an angry mob, in turn, kill him and throw his body down the well.

Back at work, the band wonder whether they should include Hazmat Suit in the album as they are unsure about the demo version of the song. In these instances, the producer’s true greatness shines through. Ruston implements a couple of creative ideas that turn a simply adequate song into a majestic monster of sheer power, and the end result is simply explosive.

Johannes keeps marking the several milestones with his introductions. At the 15 out of 30 days mark, he ponders that they are halfway there. But is it half way into the light or half into darkness? Is it half way towards the end of the tunnel, or is it towards the turn to the devil, for whatever the devil may mean?

Meanwhile, the plot thickens with scattered, random events that, despite best efforts at rationalising, find no plausible explanation. One night, the dog Molly goes missing for some time while she is heard barking in the woods. On another occasion, the light in the house opposite the dorms suddenly comes on when there is no one in the room.

Strange noises are heard despite the land being deserted, and the attention is eventually drawn back to the well by the house. The next morning, the boys even go on an expedition to inspect the area and corroborate with a logical answer.

Avatar - Download Festival 2023
Avatar – Download Festival 2023. Photo: Andy Shaw/MetalTalk

The days get harder, yet the group remain in good spirits. They even have a visitor’s day to break away from the isolation and momentarily reunite with their respective families. Johannes narrates that they are one step closer to the finishing line.

It is sooner than they even realise that the album is finally done. The ticker marks Day 30 of 30 days, and all that’s left is the playback and the addition of the finishing touches.

It is good practice to take a break from intently listening to music for extended periods of time, to then be able to come back with fresh ears. The group, therefore, split while Jay stays behind, tweaking things in his headphones.

Suddenly, strange things are happening. Johannes is seen outside walking past the window, yet he is in the next room and appears to have been indoors the whole time. Several thuds follow.

A disconcerted Tim (guitars) is convinced to have seen the singer outside the window, and, wondering if he is playing pranks, follows his steps towards the other building. He wishes he had never opened that door.

Avatar - Band

Suddenly, the film goes fuzzy, and all hell breaks loose. Johannes is in the workshop, sawing himself to pieces, while the dog barks like crazy. We hear screams, thuds coming from the trees, shadows in the dark and, suddenly, a light coming from the well.

The monsters are coming out, and they are out to kill.

Any attempt to escape at this stage is in vain. The boys get bludgeoned to death one by one and replaced by their evil avatars.

Jay, oblivious to the chaos that has unfolded around him, is in the control room playing back the record in his cans. One of the evil creatures suddenly appears from behind and finishes him off by smashing a cymbal over his head.

The devil has truly taken over. The killers have replaced the musicians, and evil Johannes makes it off with the masters. And so, history repeats itself.

** Spoiler Alert Over **

** Spoiler Alert Over **

Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk

The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album is brilliant, engaging and wildly entertaining. The story is skilfully enacted, and the documenting aspect is simply fascinating.

It is also well-balanced. Each indoor shot is followed by external scenes of beautiful naturalistic surroundings. May that be the collective ice bath, Kungen (guitars) working out at the outdoor gym, Johannes diving in the frozen lake, the outdoor pizza-making session, or everybody gathered around the fire listening to the great Deep Purple for inspiration.

Curtains are up, and the band emerge greeted by the loudest cheer.

Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk

They graciously obliged for a Q&A, followed by a meet-and-greet with the fans, hosted by Kerrang’s presenter, Sophie K. The quintet, plus Director, are very generous with the time they take in answering the questions directed at them from the audience.

Johannes even graciously defends a lady’s opinion who controversially exhorts the band to “change their style” and abandon their comedic element, while the general consensus in the room is visibly one of mockery and disagreement.

Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk

Avatar have now embarked on a string of European dates, followed by a Spring tour of Latin America and USA, including an appearance at DWP’s Sonic Temple in Columbus, Ohio.

With most dates already sold out, we wish them all the best on the road, safe in the knowledge that it will be one hell of a ride. When asked about the next UK tour, they replied soon.

Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk

While the rest of the world gets ready to dance with the devil, there is only one thing that we can’t help but wonder: Did the Director get paid?

Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk
Avatar - The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London.
Avatar – The Band Avatar Makes A Killer Album, Everyman, London. Photo: Georgia Brittain/MetalTalk
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