TVD Live Shots:
Avatar with Orbit Culture and Veil of
Maya at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 5/25

Avatar brought their Swedish metal circus to the Fillmore Silver Spring last week, one of the last stops on the Dance Devil Dance tour. Joining Avatar was fellow Swedish death metal band Orbit Culture and Veil of Maya, from Chicago. It was a marathon night—the festivities started at 7:30 sharp and it was after 11:30 when the Fillmore emptied out. The crowd was left exhilarated and joyful after an incredible show. I expected nothing less.

Swedish melodic death metal outfit Orbit Culture (Niklas Karlsson, Frederik Lennartsson, Richard Hansson, and Christopher Wallerstedt) kicked the night off with an enjoyable set. The 30-minute set featured songs from the band’s newest album Nija such as “Open Eye,” “North Star of Nija,” and “The Shadowing.” The buzz among us photographers and our security pal, Keith, was that the band had a distinct Metallica sound to their music. Orbit Culture’s latest track is “Vultures of North,” released in August 2022, a brutal, thudding bit of violence I just added to my music library.

Chicago metalcore band Veil of Maya (Marc Okubo, Sam Applebaum, Danny Hauser, and Lukas Magyar) took the stage and promptly had us photographers dodging crowd surfers in the photo pit. Launching into the 2021 single “Viscera,” the band’s 12-song set showcased songs from across the band’s career. In particular, “Godhead,” “Red Fur,” and “Synthwave Vegan” are from Veil of Maya’s latest album, [m]other, released this year. That album is praised for Veil of Maya’s ability to evolve. It was an excellent set that prepped the crowd for the dark carnival to follow.

I first caught Avatar in 2019, when I covered them at the Anthem in Washington, DC; they were on tour as support for Babymetal. I had never heard of the band and had no idea what I was getting into when they took the stage. There have only been a few instances in my life where I felt like I’d been hit by lightning seeing a band for the first time; that night a bolt hit me square in the head. From that moment, I was hooked on the thundering metal made by the five men from Gothenburg, Sweden (Jonas Jarlsby, John Alfredsson, Johannes Eckerström, Tim Öhrström, and Henrik Sandelin).

I’ve seen Avatar many times in the years since that night, covering them for The Vinyl District as well as just attending shows as a fan. What strikes me is that they are always good. They never appear to have an off night and as time wears on, they just get better, tweaking their live shows so the circus remains fresh while hitting crowds with their incredible metal chops and swirling headbanging. They are immensely talented and outrageously fun.

That freshness and joy were on display at the Fillmore. At 9:35 pm, the darkened venue filled with the sound of ominous bells, the stage was backlit, and drummer Alfredsson took his place, leaning into his robotic stage persona as he pounded on the drums. The rest of the band joined him, appearing from behind large metal cages, standing on individual platforms. The crowd lost its collective mind as Avatar launched into “Dance Devil Dance,” from Dance Devil Dance, the band’s ninth studio album, which was released just in February.

What followed was a set that covered a whopping 18 songs over two hours. While the set list included songs from across Avatar’s discography, the new album contributed five songs to the show, “Chimp Mosh Pit,” the aforementioned “Dance Devil Dance,” “Do You Feel in Control,” “The Dirt I’m Buried In,” and “Valley of Disease.” Late in the set, I was thrilled when the men gathered at the front of the stage for “Colossus,” one of my favorite songs by any band in the last few years. The fans sang and moshed hard all night.

As mentioned earlier, Avatar keeps things fresh when they tour, from mixing up the stage set, the costumes, and the set lists themselves. On the Dance Devil Dance tour, there were extra circus peanuts thrown in to keep things fun. It was great to see John Alfredsson take center stage for a bit, again leaning into his robotic stage persona, dancing and shooting paper streamers into the crowd. Front man Johannes Eckerström seemed naughtier than usual, teasing the fans with banter, and even appearing above the crowd in the balcony to blow up a balloon animal to drop to a lucky fan below before whipping out a trombone to play during “Puppet Show,” a song about a king who is a real “dick.”

Per usual, bassist Henrik Sandelin, guitarist Tim Öhrström, and guitarist Jonas Jarlsby were on fire, nailing their roles while head banging and interacting with fans. I have mentioned this before, but part of the fun of watching Avatar perform is how obviously in sync the men are with each other. These are five distinct individuals, with obviously different personalities and parts to play, who come together as a tight unit around their thundering Swedish metal.

As a photographer, nothing I could say could do justice to what a happy challenge it is to shoot this band. It is hard to know where to look—the stage set, the gorgeous instruments, the costumes, the swirling hair—it is all a feast. I have yet to meet any photographer who does not love covering Avatar. Most of us would travel anywhere to have the privilege of prowling the photo pit of an Avatar gig.

What a night. What a treat.

As of this publication, the US spring Dance Devil Dance tour has ended. After making the rounds of the European summer festivals and touring Australia, they will be back for a few US festivals in September.



Orbit Culture Set List
1. Open Eye
2. Strangler
3. North Start of Nija
4. The Shadowing
5. Alienated
6. Vultures of North
7. Saw

Veil of Maya Set List
1. Viscera
2. Whistleblower
3. Doublespeak
4. Leeloo
5. Overthrow
6. Lisbeth
7. Red Fur
8. Godhead
9. Synthwave Vegan
10. Outsider
11. Outrun
12. Mikasa

Avatar Set List
1. Dance Devil Dance
2. The Eagle Has Landed
3. Valley of Disease
4. Chimp Mosh Pit
5. Scream Until You Wake
6. Bloody Angel
7. For the Swarm
8. Puppet Show
9. When the Snow Lies Red
10. Do You Feel in Control
11. Black Waltz
12. Tower
13. Colossus
14. Let It Burn
15. A Statue of the King

16. The Dirt I’m Buried In
17. Smells Like a Freakshow
18. Hail the Apocalypse

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