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Back in 2017, I was fortunate enough to be able to cover the 2017 Loudwire Music Awards. Lots of big names in the rock and metal scene were nominated and showed up. Getting to see Tony Iommi was a personal highlight of the night for me. But one band that I had never heard of before, that captured by eye immediately, was a band called Avatar. Dressed as if they just walked out of a circus tent, I had no idea who they were, or what their music sounded like, but I was captivated.  I got to see them perform a couple nights later, and they created an instant fan out of me. Six years later, they are now touring promoting their ninth studio album Dance Devil Dance, bringing with them Veil of Maya and Orbit Culture. I headed to the Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles, to see what kind of depravity Avatar brought with them this time.

Opening the night was Orbit Culture. The only band I wasn’t familiar with walking into the venue this night. I was very curious to see what kind of music they had to offer. Opening the night with “Open Eye,” we were confronted with the sounds of dual guitarists shredding away at their axes. As lead singer Niklas Karlsson growls started coming over the mic, lead guitarist Richard Hansson took the song into a thrashy groove melody. And I knew what kind of music Orbit Culture was bringing to the Dance Devil Dance tour. Bassist Fredrick Lennartsson and drummer Christopher Wallerstedt held down the low end as the mosh pit opened up to let the fans go wild in the crowd. Playing songs like “Strangler,” “North Star of Nija,” “The Shadowing,” “Alienated,” “Vultures of North,” and ending with “Saw.” The more Orbit Culture’s set went on, the more they seemed like a mix of Pantera instrumentals with James Hetfield style growlery vocals. And the crowd could not get enough. 

Back in 2020, I was two days away from seeing Veil of Maya open for Animals as Leaders and Dance Gavin Dance, and then the world decided to shut down. It’s been a long awaited three years now and I was finally getting the chance to see Veil of Maya. Opening the night with “Viscera,” guitarist Marc Okubo steals the attention with his technical guitar playing. Dancing his fingers over the fret board to create rhythmic patterns of melody and crushingly heavy riffs. He can take a song from melodic bliss to divebombing into frenetic downturned heaviness. All the while lead singer Lukas Magyar matches Okubo’s guitar skills with his vocals. Blending between guttural growls to clean melodies. Bassist Danny Hauser can’t be held back as he flies across his six-string bass to create bombastic grooves. Drummer Sam Applebaum blasts the audience with his double bass kicks, while laying down an arrangement of technically proficient drum lines. Plating songs like “Whistleblower,” “Doublespeak,” “Leeloo,” “Overthrow,” “Lisbeth,” “Red Fur,” “Godhead,” “Synthwave Vegan,” “Outsider,” “Outrun,” and closing with “Mikasa.” The members of Veil of Maya sound like they may all be competing for the lead of the song, but when blended together it makes djent jazz music.

As we all patiently awaited our headliner, a giant metal structure was built on stage. Looking like a dystopian metal shop, we were curious to see what Avatar had into store for the crowd this tour. Drummer John Alfedsson arose from behind his kit. He was there to get the freakshow started, as he built the tension of the audience up with a call and response drumbeat. As one by one the members of Avatar stepped out from behind their stage curtains built into the metal contraption. As the opening guitar lick to “Dance Devil Dance” rang through the Belasco, every member of the band started to headbang windmill, and the show had commenced. Singer Johannes Eckerström donning a new style of his traditional ring master-esque attire, was ready to parade around the venue. Guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby & Tim Öhrström great some of the best bouncing riffs, that have everyone moving in the crowd. Bassist Henrik Sandelin layers his walking basslines between the guitar licks with precision.

What I love about an Avatar show is not just the musicality of the band members, but they create an actual show with their performance. Something that can be considered a gimmick, but when done right just feels like other bands are missing out on an aspect of their show. Avatar has embraced the circus aspect of their show, and the elements can be felt as members walk off and back onto stage with new guitars or costumers. During the song “Puppet Show” Eckerström snuck into the crowd, and performed a sadistic style balloon tying routine, followed by pulling out and paying a trumpet. With the songs “Colossus” & “Let it Burn” the entire band create a marching band line up at the front of the stage, including Alfedsson with a minimalist drum set. Luckily for me, they included one song off of my favorite album Avatar Country where Jarlsby came out dressed as a King, and banner dropped from the ceiling as they played “A Statue of the King.” Avatar played an 18 song set including others like “The Eagle has Landed,” “Chimp Mosh Pit,” “Bloody Angel,” “For the Swarm,” “When the Snow Lies Red, “Black Waltz,” “Tower,” “The Dirt I’m Buried In,” “Smells Like a Freakshow,” and ending with “Hail the Apocalypse.”

Avatar is just a complete package of amazing music, talented musicians, a stage show that gets you excited to watch them live, and screaming fans that dress up as the band members for the show. They also bring people together as I ran into so many friends this night who I would not have suspected of showing up to an Avatar show. Orbit Culture and Veil of Maya put on fantastic sets that got the night off to a great start and got people excited as well. I eagerly await the next time I get to attend the freakshow and walk through the lands of Avatar Country.

Matt Martinez

Editor - Orange County

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