Fear plays an interesting role in our lives. For performers like Avatar frontman Johannes Eckerström, it’s something he’s had to learn to cope with. The fear of going onstage is natural, but for a group as theatrical as the Swedish quintet, the fear of acceptance from a notoriously tough to crack metal scene is a far more prevalent concern. Avatar have always stood out, and though the band are seven albums deep into their career, only in the past few years has it felt like they’ve cemented themselves as a staple of the metal world. It’s been a long road, but for Eckerström, it’s one that’s led to a life free of the fear of approval.

“Exposing yourself to the world can be scary,” he begins. “We’ve been laughed at and talked down to by older guys at the metal club for years; we’ve made asses of ourselves, and I’ve acted like an idiot in the name of the band. With all that said, I don’t know what there is for me to be afraid of at this point. I don’t fear the consequences of messing up or unpopularity. Every hardship of this job is self-inflicted, so I’m not going to act like it’s harder than the lives most people lead.”

The life of a musician and the impact it has is something Eckerström explores in the video “With Horns In The Air.” A recently released “special message” from the band that can be viewed online, it finds Avatar’s frontman exploring the meaning of the career he’s chosen for himself. More than anything, though, it’s a thank you to his fans for allowing him to pursue a job he was born to do.

“We wanted to show appreciation to our supporters,” Eckerström says of the video. “But the other thing we were thinking about was the impact our music has on the world. When you’re a teenager, you can feel like an artist saves your life, and though I believe that idea becomes more nuanced as you get older, we receive many letters from people telling us amazing things about what our music has done for them. I was trying to come to terms with that… I’m stuttering just talking about it because it’s a hard thing to get your head around. Once we go onstage we give our music away to the fans, and it becomes this shared thing. That’s an experience we’re incredibly grateful for.”

Very soon, Avatar will be back in front of U.S. crowds. Beginning May 16, the band embarks on an extensive nationwide tour, culminating a month later at Las Vegas’ House Of Blues. Naturally, given the relationship he has with Avatar’s fans, Eckerström can’t wait to get started.

“We’ve managed to put something really special together,” he enthuses. “We always try to make a point of building eclectic line-ups, and in the spirit of that, I’m a lifelong Devin Townsend mega-fan, so it’s ridiculously cool that he agreed to support us by playing acoustically. That, plus ’68 and Dance With The Dead will make for a really good show. It’s not your typical line-up of stacking metal bands on top of each other.”

Coinciding with the tour is the release of Avatar’s new live album, The King In Paris (which you can preorder here). A recording of the band’s 2018 appearance at France’s Download Festival, it’s the perfect taste of what fans can expect from Eckerström and co. in a live setting.

“It speaks to what [2018 album] Avatar Country became,” Eckerström explains. “It’s a very unique part of our discography, but our fans were on board from day one, which is awesome. With that in mind, and in celebration of this era, it felt like the right time to do a live record.”

The King In Paris will no doubt satisfy the cravings of Avatar fans for new material from the band in the short term, but with the upcoming tour “bringing the curtain down” on the Avatar Country era, as Eckerström puts it, attentions will no doubt turn to album number eight. And, as Avatar’s leader cryptically concludes, the band’s next studio LP might not be so far away.

“There are a couple of announcements to come soon,” Eckerström offers. “We tend to start writing new songs the week after the previous album gets mastered, and about a year into that process is when we gear up and start to see where we can take these ideas. Avatar Country came out in January 2018, so there you go: Using that timeline I just outlined, you can probably do the math. One thing to remember when it comes to Avatar is this: You can always expect something different from us. That’s what Avatar Country was, and it’s what the next album will be, too.”

Festival Guide: 2019 Rock + Metal Festivals in the U.S. + Abroad