JENNIE-ANN SMITH (AVATARIUM): “It’s Fair To Say That We’ve Pushed The Boundaries Of Doom Metal”

Jennie Ann-Smith (Avatarium) - Photo By Niklas Palmklint
Photo: Niklas Palmklint

What essentially started off as a side-project for Leif Edling of Candlemass back in 2013, Avatarium has come a long way in forging their own identity allowing Edling to step back and leave guitarist Marcus Jidell and singer Jennie-Ann Smith to take the band forward. Death, Where Is Your Sting? is their fifth album and sees the band pushing the boundaries way beyond those of their debut release producing their most creative and classy album yet. Mick Burgess called up lead singer Jennie-Ann Smith to talk about the making of the album.

Your latest album Death, Where Is Your Sting? came out a couple of months ago. Are you pleased with the reaction it’s received?

It’s almost unbelievable how great the reviews have been. We’ve taken some risks on this album and chosen to follow our instincts and done the music that we’ve wanted to do. People seem to like what we like.

It is your most varied, diverse album that you’ve done and shows a band that is really pushing its musical boundaries way beyond where you first started back in 2013. Was that the plan when you started writing the album?

It took us quite some time to write this record due to the pandemic. We have a heritage that we are mindful of and that we love but we write for an album and that’s a format that I enjoy very much. I think that helps the creative process when you know you have this frame to work within. When you have worked alongside a songwriting genius like Leif Edling you are anxious of whether you could match that and whether it would be good enough. I think that because The Fire I Long For was so well received and we’d written most of that ourselves, then that gave us a lot more confidence with this one.

Album opener, “A Love Like Ours” is dark and moody and a real slow burner which sets the tone for the whole record. It’s not as immediate or catchy as some of your other songs but each listen reveals more. Songs and indeed albums like this tend to have more longevity than those instant hit albums?

The albums that I have loved the most myself and have lasted the longest are multi-dimensional and you find new things every time you listen to them. Those are the albums that you can listen to for years and years and hopefully people will find that with this.

Is it more of a challenge to write songs like this but ultimately more satisfying?

It is a challenge to write any music! Anyone who says it is easy and comes naturally is lying. It’s so difficult and demanding. I love it but it brings out serious self-doubt in me but that’s what I need as I need to pull myself together and put myself into a creative zone and that’s difficult as there’s always a phone ringing or a bill you have to pay, so there’s all these distractions. I think social media has made that worse so today there are so many distractions but I’m very glad that I had the courage to write and challenge myself to become better.

The title track, “Death, Where Is Your Sting?” has something of a James Bond Theme to it, particularly on the verse. Do you hear that too?

I do hear those James Bond references. There is a cinematic feel to it.

I take it you wouldn’t say no if you were asked to compose a tune for the next Bond movie?

I would most definitely say, yes!

Which is your favourite Bond tune?

I love Shirley Bassey so it would most definitely be one of her songs but I also liked A-ha “The Living Daylights” and Jack White’s song “Another Way To Die”, that he did with Alicia Keys which I thought was pretty cool.

Marcus really steps up and delivers on this album with particular emphasis on strong melodic solos such as on “A Love Like Ours” and especially “Stockholm” which evokes memories of Ritchie Blackmore at his best with that beautiful slide playing. I take it that Blackmore is a big influence on Marcus.

He certainly is. He is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists of our time. The music that he’s written has influenced so many. He’s an iconic player. Marcus has a great way of displaying his influences in a very well-balanced way. I’m not just saying this because he’s my husband but I love the way that he plays. It never becomes cliched, it’s always tasteful. There is a small homage to Blackmore there of course, but he does bring his own unique elements too. He could shred to pieces if he wanted to but he chooses not to as he’s a musician and a songwriter and knows what the song needs. He has the good taste to step back when it’s needed even if he has these urges for shredding.

“Psalm For The Living” is another wonderful melody and beautifully sung by you. You don’t come from a traditional Metal background being more of a Jazz singer. Do you think that gives you the ability to deliver melodies and interpret music differently and it is that, that helps to give Avatarium such a unique sound?

Absolutely. It’s been ten years since we released our self-titled debut album and when I look at it now I think it’s fair to say that we’ve pushed the boundaries of Doom Metal and what Doom Metal can be. Me, Marcus and Leif first met and had the courage to collaborate and to be tolerant towards each other and it was a lucky accident that the blend of us three created something unique. I brought my style to the table and Marcus and Leif did too. We continued along that road and now we have our sound.

When did you start working on the new songs?

We started slowly after the pandemic broke out and we had four songs that we had ready to present to record labels and we had several offers and we chose to go with AFM. They liked the new songs which were “Death, Where Is Your Sting?”, “God Is Silent”, “A Love Like Ours” and one that didn’t end up on the album. We continued from there. I think that they really liked “Death, Where Is Your Sting?” as it has this memorable chorus with a fusion of Pop that makes it interesting. I had written that chorus at our kitchen table in a Johnny Cash-ish style on my acoustic guitar and I recorded it and sent it to Marcus and asked if it could be an Avatarium song as it was different to what we usually do and he was quietly positive. We worked on it and put a costume to the song that would fit Avatarium and I think it turned out pretty well.

Did you have any songs left that didn’t make the album?

We have fragments of ideas that we didn’t develop but we are about to start the writing process again. We have a lot of ideas to make a good start on the next record.

Did the experience of the pandemic influence you lyrically?

It seems as though the pandemic suited the Doom genre quite well. As well as being the singer in a band, I also work as a psychotherapist and I was working during the pandemic and met patients who were all terribly afraid and so was I as at the start we had no idea how dangerous or threatening the virus was so of course, that feeds you with material for lyrics. How could we deal with the this as death was threatening our whole existence. It was quite doomy for all of us.

“Mother Can You Hear Me Now” is a beautifully touching song and one many people can relate to you. Do you find being able to express your inner feelings through music helps to deal with events that we come across during our lives?

Yes, it does. It becomes more intellectual when I write but when I’m on stage singing, totally present in the now, it’s helpful. I’m very blessed to have that in my life.

How does it make you feel when people tell you how your music has touched them or moved them in some way?

It’s the best of gifts and so wonderful when people tell how our music has moved them or how much our music means to them.

What is the story behind “God Is Silent”, which is probably the heaviest song that you’ve ever done?

One thing I hadn’t realised is that we got an explicit certification on Spotify so I must be offensive. I was a bit shocked by that as I’d never intended that. The theme is existential. It’s about the problems in the world and asking why is God silent as a question. I thought that, the theme would work nicely with the music as it had started with a riff and we talked a lot about what the lyric could be about and for me, it came from meeting people who shared experiences of being through unbelievable suffering and I was talking to people in the therapy room who were sharing their inner most secrets with me and that’s where “Where the walls harbour fears and the carpets runneth over with tears” and that’s my reality.

“Transcendent” is a great way to round the album off. Whose idea was it to use a violin to reprise the haunting melody from “A Love Like Ours” over those heavy riffs?

Marcus wrote that song and we talked about the arrangement. We have used strings on three tracks on the album, mostly on “A Love Like Ours” which we co-wrote with Svante Henryson, who is probably best known in Metal circles as bassist for Yngwie Malmsteen but he is also a wonderful cello player. I was so happy that he wanted to play with us and his contribution is amazing and it adds to the drama of the song which really suits Avatarium. We also had a violin player called Hanna Helgegren on “Stockholm”. We wrote “Stockholm” together with Leif Edling. We had written the verses and chorus to that song and sent it to Leif to finish and it turned out such a great song. He wrote the intro and outro and has a little hello to “Moonhorse” I think. I hope we collaborate more with him again in the future.

The special edition of the album comes in a book with a bonus disc of five reworked versions of songs mainly from The Fire I Long For and “Boneflower” from your first album. Did that idea come from when you did the acoustic session with Marcus and Rikard during the lockdown?

Yes, it did and we loved those arrangements and the stripped-down versions and we thought that others might enjoy them too. That’s a great addition to the earbook to go with the lovely photos by Niklas Palmklint.

Looking to the future, what are your plans for the coming months?

We have some shows in Europe in April and May which we are very much looking forward to.

Can we hope to see some UK shows sometime soon?

If someone would pop the question, we’d absolutely love to come over and play.

Death, Where Is Your Sting is out now on AFM Records.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

    View all posts

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.