The Skyway Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota welcomed in one of the heaviest hitting tours making their way across North America. Avatar was set to bring back “Avatar Country” back to the city that have continued to embrace them in bigger numbers with every stop. Veil Of Maya and Orbit Culture rounded a bill that delivered a fantastic night of music.
The night was started by a sonic crushing quartet from Sweden called Orbit Culture. They formed in 2013 and are led by vocalist/guitarist Niklas Karlsson. His intensity matched the aggressiveness of the music which made for a great set. The rest of the line-up featured lead guitarist Richard Hansson, bassist Fredrik Lennartsson and Christopher Wallerstedt on drums. They have released three albums but it was 2020’s ‘Nija’ that caught my attention along with 2021’s EP ‘Shaman.’ I have quickly jumped on the bandwagon and they are a force to be reckoned with. They played a short set consisting of eight songs capped by a new track, “Alienated,” that will be on the oncoming new album. Other tunes that hit hard were “Strangler,” “Vultures of North,” and the closer “Saw.” It was my first time catching this band and I’m really looking forward to the new album.
The band sandwiched between the two Swedish outfits was Chicago, Illinois own Veil of Maya. They just released studio album number seven called ‘[m]other.’ The bands energy and focal point was vocalist Lucas Magyar. From the opening cut “Viscera” he was working the crowd and getting everybody involved into the show. The rest of band featured guitarist Marc Okubo, bassist Danny Hauser and drummer Sam Applebaum and they laid down some incredible progressive and technical stuff. They ripped through a twelve-song set that included some of the new material like “Godhead,” “Red Fur” and “Synthwave Vegan.” Other songs included “Whistleblower,” “Doublespeak,” “Lisbeth” and the impressive “Mikasa” which closed the show.
For my money, nobody delivers a concert like Sweden’s Avatar. The show they put on goes way beyond five guys just playing songs, this is a carefully constructed and calculated event that combines theatrical trappings that play in perfect unison with the musicians and the sonic attack of the songs. Starting with the band standing in their own pods, thankfully they didn’t enclose them thus avoiding a possible Spinal Tap moment, towers of sparks shot up beside them as they launched into “Dance Devil Dance.” You could feel the energy from the stage but the energy coming back at the stage from the fans was even stronger as a steady stream of crowd surfers began. The players in this band fit so well together and they took the songs to another level live while also interacting with the each other and the crowd. Guitarists Jonas Jarlsby and Tim Ohrstrom provided some unbelievable playing, especially when they dueled each other, and the rhythm section of Henrik Sandelin and drummer John Alfredsson provided the platform for which all the dressing of the music was built upon. The court jester that led the three-ring circus was the infectious lead singer Johannes Eckerstrom. There just isn’t anyone better and more entertaining to watch than he is and it’s very difficult to take your eyes off him. He commands the stage with his crazy antics and facial expressions but it should not be lost on anybody how well he actually pulls off his vocals. He’s spot on and does not take a note off and sounded amazing the whole night which included the song “Tower” where it was just him and a piano.
The new album released this year called ‘Dance Devil Dance’ is a crusher, blessed with an undeniable groove, it’s as catchy as it is heavy. Five of the eighteen songs played came off the new record and every one of them were incredible, in particular “The Dirt I’m Buried In” really hit in a spectacular way. During the song “Puppet Show” Johannes popped up in the balcony of the theatre with his trombone, but before he played it, he made a balloon animal, only at an Avatar show does that happen and actually makes sense. All the songs you would want were played like “Colossus,” “Let It Burn,” “Bloody Angel,” “Smells Like a Freakshow” and the king made an appearance for “A Statue of the King.” The set closed with “Hail the Apocalypse.”
I love bands that bring that extra flavor to the stage, that visual that keeps you in the venue until the lights go up. Even with the custumes, staging and props, they never sacrifice the integrity of how the songs should be played live. Sonically the songs sounded incredible and when you have that in unison with such a high-level stage show with all five guys sharing in the production and the responsibility of giving every person in the venue a night to remember, you have something magical, and that is what Avatar is.