Avatar has to keep a lot of plates spinning on Dance Devil Dance. Frontman Johannes Eckerström and his band of clown-painted misfits have gained a global following in the last ten years for their modernized take on the nü-metal formula. The novelty clearly hasn't worn off, and album number nine arrives just as Avatar is due for a style change. They've thrown everything but the kitchen sink into this one, mixing sounds from across the metal spectrum including King Diamond, Rammstein, Mushroomhead, and In Flames. It's loud, it's baffling, it's occasionally catchy and it's always unmistakably Avatar. Say what you will, they don't lack inspiration.
There's a lot more freedom in the songwriting then there's been for a while with these guys. For a group as outlandish as Avatar, the last record came dangerously close to predictable. No such problems here. Dance Devil Dance is full of surprises, switching up subgenres several times in the same songs, making sure the listener never knows what's coming next.
"Gotta Wanna Riot" sounds like Melvins with an intro vocal hook straight out of "Surfing Bird" by The Trashmen. There's some old-school thrash metal vibes on "Clouds Dipped In Chrome". "The Dirt I'm Buried In" channels My Chemical Romance to tell a story about being buried in the desert. "Valley of Disease" is a metalcore banger, except for the dungeon synth section at the end, which sounds like the last level of an indie game on Steam.
There's no end to the curveballs the album is throwing, as "Train" tosses the whole approach out the window to deliver a sultry Nick Cave style-waltz. If that wasn't enough, Avatar round things off by going back to their Disturbed-style roots on "Violence No Matter What". This is the track fans of the previous albums will recognize the most. After messing around with five or six different styles, they arrive back where they started with a brand new classic song.
If this sounds confusing, that's because it totally is. A lot of bands have taken the "toss everything at the wall and see what sticks" tactic with varying degrees of success. Avatar aren't quite on the level of Slipknot, but they're a whole lot more interesting than the folks who stick to only one sound. For a band that made their mark while wearing clown makeup, this is the first time they've sounded as bonkers as their image always made them out to be.
On the contrary, there's such a vast swath of sounds on this album that it can definitely become overwhelming in places. Just as soon as the audience is settling in to Avatar as a thrash band, they decide to mess around with four other styles. It would be exhausting to keep up if it wasn't for the constant flow of decently catchy riffs.
Lyrically, things are still in the nü-metal camp. There's a lot talking about how dangerous Johannes Eckerström is, with a few detours into bizarro world. The opening lyrics to "Valley of Disease" are "I am projectile vomit, you're the recipient." Nice. "Violence No Matter What" is where the band aren't afraid to get political, delivering a fist-in-the-air antifascist anthem that's only improved by the addition of a duet version featuring Halestorm vocalist Lzzy Hale.
Dance Devil Dance is a bold experiment that comes back with mixed results. When it works, like on thrashy parts, it's great. Johannes Eckerström still bridges the line between Nightmare-era Avenged Sevenfold and Mike Patton with ease. It's simply impossible to imagine Avatar without him. He's actually restrained himself from the trouser-tightening AC/DC highs he did on 2018's Avatar Country. If they keep going this route, Avatar could be playing sold out stadium headline tours before too long.