Avatar + Veil of Maya + Mastiff
The Forum, London
25 February 2023
Photos & Review by Graham Hilling
Arriving at the Forum early this evening to ensure I get to see all of the bands, I’m heartened to see a healthy queue winding around the building. Indeed, inside the venue there is one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen for a support slot. Bodes well for the scene in general and tonight’s gig in particular!
First on stage, playing to a packed crowd tonight are Mastiff from Kingston Upon Hull. They knock out short, sharp bursts of vitriol and anger punctuated by some pretty raw music that they class as doom/sludge/hardcore. The music is punchy and the sound is overdriven to the max. Vocalist Jim Hodge clearly enjoying the interaction with the crowd, encouraging chanting and pits. The band sound tight too, obviously benefitting from this bout of touring with Avatar.
As the set progresses, the speed of delivery slows a little with but no let up in the aggression department. Hodge calls for more pits and the audience obliges, the music is heavy, with much of the set from the 2021 album “Leave Me the Ashes of Earth”. No subtlety here, this is full on in your face music and it hits you where it hurts!
Managing to squeeze in 9 super heavy songs before leaving the stage and are very well received by the crowd, I wonder if some of the crowd are locals from up north, following them around for the tour, such is the warm welcome they have received. They thank Avatar and the crowd for coming out so early and leave, setting the scene for the next act to pick up the gauntlet.
Scalped And Salted
Next on stage and cranking up the atmosphere a notch are Veil of Maya from Chicago. While their cards are marked as technical deathcore/metalcore it is difficult to pigeonhole them quite so easily, with the vocals of Lucas Magyar ranging from growls to screamo to clean singing. The music, too, has enough influences built in to ensure there is no strict labelling to be done here. Indeed, there is a keyboard backtrack and even some dance elements every now and again which merge with ultra tech metal and some ultra technical playing.
Set opener “Viscera” starts with a hypnotic bass thrum but soon turns into a brutal rollercoaster punctuated by a melodic chorus that is quite a jarring change. Strangely it works quite well. “Leeloo” rocks along at a pace with very punctuated guitar stabs and some strange time signatures, I find there is not enough in the way of hooks to to really hold on to here though and the song, while being extremely impressive in technical terms, does leave me rather cold.
A few of the songs on the set tonight can be loosely classified in this manner, they are all super impressive technically but the hook that makes the song stick in your head is missing in many cases. As an exercise in bludgeoning metal that could burn your face off, it succeeds on all levels. Notable exceptions are “Outsider” which has a fine chorus and a proper tune to grab onto with both hands, and much the same can be said for “Outrun”. Both play to the strengths of Lucas Magyar’s fine singing voice which is, in my humble opinion, much better than his screaming voice.
Closer “Mikasa”, another brutal slab of music, is cut short when someone in the audience collapses. Frantic waving from the crowd causes the band to stop playing and the security to rush into the crowd. Sadly that is the way that the Veil of Maya set concludes to much consternation from the audience, Lucas Magyars comments “Safety first guys, sorry….” and the scene is set for the arrival of the main course this evening, Avatar.
And then it is time for Avatar. Always great fun, this is a band that blends so many styles (not just musical) that they are difficult to pigeonhole. They are a band first and foremost (and a top notch one at that) but the live show is something else, like some twisted cabaret, always engaging, sometimes slightly unnerving, always carefully crafted and choreographed.
The lights go down to cheers from the crowd, John Alfredsson appears on the drums, playing the first beats of “Dance Devil Dance” in a very robotic, mechanical manner. While we’re watching him, the stage fills with a carpet of dry ice and then the rest of the band emerge from pods on the stage (for Start Trek fans, think Borg regeneration pods and I’m kind of reminded of Spinal Tap too). It is the beginning of a fantastic merging of music and theatre. There are pyros on the stage as well, vomiting sparks high into the air, towards the ceiling of the venue.
“Dance Devil Dance”, from the newly released album of the same name, is destined to become a favourite with its catchy hooks and singalong chorus, it is a great way to start the set. The whole album is chock full of great songs, many seeing the light of day today, all sounding top notch in a live setting.
Johannes Eckerström, dressed in ornate, almost ringmaster clothing and carrying his trademark skull topped cane, looks every bit the man in charge this evening, blending style balanced with just a little eccentricity, this is all backed up as he regularly sticks his tongue out at the audience! The whole band are in matching costume too (and the costumes change throughout the set).
“Valley of Disease” is another ferocious track from the new album with a great chorus. Synchronous windmilling on the stage and a fantastic breakdown with an opportunity for the guitars of Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby & Tim Öhrström to sing. The guitarists take it in turn to shred and riff, both are accomplished and look like they’re enjoying themselves on the stage.
The curiously named “Chimp Mosh Pit” keeps things moving along at a pace and injects some grooves to the proceedings. “Bloody Angel” from the fantastic “Hail the Apocalypse” album takes us back in time and slows things while definitely introducing an element of darkness to the music. It also allows Johannes to show off some singing rather than growling out the vocal lines & is another great song for windmilling to!
“Puppet Show” is classic Avatar with a seemingly circus themed tune that just drips thinly veiled malevolence. During the slow breakdown in the middle of the song Johannes leaves the stage only to re-appear on one of the balconies. Here he proceeds to create a balloon dog (at least I think it was a dog) much to the enjoyment of the crowd. He then produces a trombone and plays the song out. All theatrics that are choreographed and perfectly executed to add an extra special element to the performance.
“Do You Feel In Control” takes us back to more familiar metal territory, it’s blast beat and growl elements providing the perfect foil for the rather catchy chorus and more traditional rock elements, this is followed by the two guitarists playfully having a face off, one playing some cool lead lines followed by the other, each raising the stakes, pitch bends, harmonics and pinch squeals aplenty! “Black Waltz” allows us to catch our breath a little before a piano is placed on the stage ready for Johannes to perform a solo rendition of “Tower”. The last lines of the song are echoed back to him from the crowd, impressive stuff and it just showcases what a performer this man is. By this point in the show he has the entire venue in the palm of his hand.
For “Let It Burn” a smaller drum kit is assembled at the front of the stage and the band bash through this song that sounds in part like a twisted version of duelling banjos. John Alfredsson clearly enjoys being closer to the audience (he is a frontman confined to the back of the stage on the drums) and does a fantastic job of playing while standing up (no mean feat). Confetti streamers are fired into the crowd and we’re almost at the end of the set.
The last song of the set is “A Statue of the King” from the “Avatar Country” album. This continues the theatrics with Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby walking onto the stage in full kingly regalia, including a crown before hammering out the opening riff of the song. This is greeted by cheers and applause. Having blasted through this they leave the stage and the lights go down again.
The inevitable encore starts with some heartfelt words from Johannes where he explains that while the audience has experienced a great show, the band, too, has experienced a great show. This could easily sound like a cheesy monologue but he manages to make it sound sincere and genuine. He says that they will never forget this evening. I actually believe him. This is the signal to start the final songs of the evening, starting with “The Dirt I’m Buried In” which shows off some fine rock sensibilities and actually sounds pretty main stream.
Following on from this we’re back to more traditional Avatar fayre though, with “Smells Like a Freakshow” which is introduced with Johannes sniffing his armpit! Like so many of the Avatar songs, this blends just the right amount of accessibility without sacrificing a raw and disturbing element and is almost like a theme tune for the evening in many respects. The final song of the set is the universally loved “Hail The Apocalypse” which sees the whole venue singing along. The song finishes, confetti streamers fire again and the band take a bow, concluding what has been a tour de force in both musical and entertainment terms.
The playout music is Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”, just another fine detail of a show full of fine details. It is great to see a band that has made such an effort to go above and beyond “just” a music show. A very solid musical performance, no doubt, but so much more. Tonight was actually rather special.
Dance Devil Dance
The Eagle Has Landed
Valley of Disease
Chimp Mosh Pit
Scream Until You Wake
For the Swarm
When the Snow Lies Red
Do You Feel in Control
Let It Burn
A Statue of the King
The Dirt I’m Buried In
Smells Like a Freakshow
Hail the Apocalypse