Album Review: Sully Erna - "Avalon"

Sully Erna's solo album "Avalon" seems to serve two purposes. First, he finally gets to explore his fascination with tribal drums and acoustic music to his heart's content, without the weight of the Godsmack name and subsequent label expectations. Second, he created a vehicle which allows him to create all the songs about longing and soul-searching emotional torment that it seems he's been brimming with since his band's eponymous album.

To get in the proper mindset for "Avalon," there are two things the listener must recall. First, the Godsmack-supported soundtrack to "Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within." Second, and hand in hand with that game, the lackluster Godsmack album "Faceless," where the band really began to experiment with tribal themes.

Lastly, for a man trying to avoid the shadow of Alice in Chains, Erna's solo album isn't really helping his cause. There are an awful lot of moments, particularly the title track, that sound eerily like AiC's iconic performance on "MTV Unplugged." You can almost hear the faint strains of the softer sides from "Got Me Wrong" and "Heaven Beside You" at "Avalon's" outset.

Still, to be judged in proper context, "Avalon" must be regarded solely on its own merits. It's a mixed bag with a slippery slope at the end.

The title track leads things off, and if the title "Avalon" is supposed to be an allusion to traveling to that pristine territory, then the track serves its purpose. The airy, sweeping grace of the song lends a mental picture of ascending and cresting a grand snowy peak, only to gaze down into a welcoming paradise.

Following that is "7 Years" which may or may not be a thinly veiled reference to Brad Pitt's "Seven Years in Tibet," but in any event capitalizes on the same kind of spiritual feeling that Erna tries to project in the first track.

After that is when the album's effectiveness starts to fade.

As the songs carry forward, they become very similar. In an album of this type, which is a departure from the common idea of Erna’s idiom and is intended to be a more subtle, emotionally driven work, singularity of theme can work. Ideally though, so long as Erna was experimenting in an environment free of expectations and stereotypes, he might have been better suited to really push the boundaries and see what musical concepts he could unlock.

One of the things that Erna tries is to juxtapose his own scratchy, earthy vocals with an airy female singer, which doesn't mesh like he hoped. His co-vocalist is too sharp, and her voice creates too great a contrast between his and the tone of the music.

There are differences between the later tracks, but the overall rhythmic nature of the native style drums only gives Erna so much range to work in. As such, even though "Until Then..." is very stark, and "My Light" is charged with a hopeful atmosphere, they are essentially cousins in terms of style and affect. The same goes for the slightly more powerful "Eyes of a Child" and the barely-qualifies-as-a-song "In Through Time."

The lack of diversity becomes striking the longer the album goes on. It's worth noting that while I was listening to the album and taking notes for this review, I wrote down "GIVE ME SOMETHING DIFFERENT!"

That really might be all you need to know. "Avalon" isn't an embarrassment and has some nice placid, expansive moments. In the end, it could've been so much more.

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