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Avatar's Johannes: "I wanted to stab the desecrated body of Jesus Christ"

Avatar have become metal’s resident freaks, with their circus outfits and cane-twirling antics. Is ringmaster Johannes Eckerstrom serious about his band, or is it all one big joke?

It’s two days before Halloween, in 2011. Backstage at a small venue called the The Tivoli in Helsingborg, Sweden, Avatar are getting ready to debut their new image. Singer Johannes Eckerström pulls on a filthy white tank top and puts the finishing touches to his black, Joker-style facepaint, giving him the look of a demented ringmaster. It is meant to be dramatic, theatrical, incredible.

“We marched onstage, people laughed and I panicked,” he recalls today, reliving the feeling. “I felt the sensation of public speaking in school, or a mean girl saying a mean comment. I didn’t expect it. But now I expect it. Of course I do – I’m a clown!”

Since that day, Avatar have taken their travelling freakshow to venues around the world, and are steadily becoming an underground sensation. The cult of personality around Johannes has built so much that fans dress up as him, and give him dolls they’ve made in his image. In a world where true showmanship is rare, he is a flamboyant figurehead, keeping the spirit of artistic expression alive – current album Feathers & Flesh even comes with an illustrated companion storybook.

Onstage, he can be found twirling his cane and whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Offstage, he is quietly self-assured and geekily intelligent. He’s become accustomed to the laughing, and even embraces it, but insists that Avatar are anything but a gag.

“We’re very serious,” he says. “There’s a huge difference between being fun and being a joke. Even if I tell a joke, we’re not a joke. We care a lot about what we’re doing, and we want to do the best we can.”

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