What was once Tobias Sammet’s “little” side-project to his day-job as the singer and song writer in Edguy, looks more and more to take over his musical life completely – and no one is happier for that than me. The happy-go-lucky sounding power metal that is Edguy’s signum was never my can of beer – in fact, I really dislike that kind of music. So the fact that Sammet decided NOT to kill off Avanatasia – like he said he would – after the brilliant twin release of The Wicked Symphony and Angel Of Babylon (2010), has turned out the smartest thing he could have done. He even brings out Avantasia on the road these days – must cost him a fortune with all those musicians – which probably have gained the project some well-earned respect and a some new fans as well. I wonder how many new fans Avantasia got after their magnificent performance at Sweden Rock Festival in 2013, but my guess is that quite a few people discovered the greatness of the band there. And more people will find out when they play there in 2016. When it comes to Avantasia’s back catalogue, I will always remember a friend of mine telling me just how amazingly good their debut album, The Metal Opera (2001) was and me refusing to give the album a shot just to hear his nagging continue a year later when the follow-up, The Metal Opera II, came out. So I listened to them and I wasn’t impressed at all – too much German power metal for this guy and that was that. Until I heard the title track off the 2008 album The Scarecrow. Damn! After there have been no turning back for me when it comes to Avantasia – hell, I have even been enjoying some stuff from the first two records lately. But even though Avantasia’s latest effort, The Mystery Of Time (2003) couldn’t break the brilliance of its twin release predecessors, it was an awesome album and to me it’s also a symbol of the fact that Sammet decided to not only go forward with Avantasia, but also make it bigger and better and as far as I know, his main project. The project’s seventh release comes with some extremely high expectations, of course, but to be honest, nowadays it’s not if Sammet will release a good album, it’s about HOW good the album will turn out. The vocalist issue is another thing to look forward to – exactly who will be singing on this one then? On this one there’s a few new ones, a few that’s been there all the time and some returnees.
The first spin was digested somewhat in the background at home, but it did reveal that, no, there was nothing to worry about at all. But just how great would this record be then? The second spin gave me all the answers. Opener and first single “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose”, sung by Sammet alone, has a motherf**ker of a chorus, so catchy it hurts and the whole song just reeks – in a good way…- of Meat Loaf. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to have the loaf singing this one? That said, I usually have the opinion that Sammet himself is the weakest link of the singers he hires for this project, but on this tune, he really rises to the occasion. I have never heard Sammet sound so good before. At times, it’s actually hard to tell whether it’s him or someone else singing. “Let The Storm Descend Upon You” is a 12-minute rocker with elements of metal, progressive and even pop and the whole melody is striking. A nordic union (yeah, yeah, I know…) made up by Norwegian singer Jorn Lande (ex- Masterplan) and Danish dito Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids, Nordic Union) is a match made in Heaven – both singers are just bloody amazing. Great to hear that Lande is back after a five-year hiatus from this project. Also, one Robert Mason (Warrant, ex-Lynch Mob, Cry Of Love) loans his voice to this one. Maybe an unexpected and odd choice, but the guy is really great. One of the most outstanding tracks on this album is “The Haunting” featuring none other than Dee Snider (Twisted Sister, Widowmaker). Take “The Toy Master” (sung by Alice Cooper on The Scarecrow) and mix it with “Death Is Just A Feeling” (sung by Jon Oliva (Savatage, Pain, Dr Butcher, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) on Angel Of Babylon) and spice it up with Twisted Sister’s “Captain Howdy” (Stay Hungry, 1984) and you’re pretty much there. It’s slow, dark, fierce and scary and Snider totally owns the tune – amazing! “Seduction Of Decay” brings out another newie in Geoff Tate (Operation: Mindcrime, ex-Queensrÿche). It’s a heavy, yet melodic hard rock track with a catchy melody and Tate is damn brilliant on it. There’s a melody line apparent that brings old Queensrÿche to mind as well. The title track goes in faster direction, not a far cry from Helloween’s 80’s and Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex- Helloween), who sings the living daylight out of the song, makes that even more apparent. He duets with Lande and Sammet (he sings on every track, just to make that clear) and they’re a great fit. The tune is really addictive and is a very Avantasia-sounding song. “Draconian Love” must be the most out-there song Avantasia have ever recorded. The song is sung by one Herbie Langhans, to me a total unknown from a German band called Sinbreed (also ex- Seventh Avenue) and it takes a gothic turn. Think Him, Nightwish and a light version of Type O Negative and mix it up with some catchy pop melodies and some good time metal and you’re pretty close. If that’s not your bag of crisps, don’t sweat because the song is fabulous, a real killer. “Master Of The Pendulum” takes the path down power metal road, not too far from the two first records, but it still have much of what make today’s Avantasia great. The vocal is done by Marco Hietala, bass player and second lead singer in Nightwish. Marco might not be the strongest vocalist ever, but his voice fits perfectly on this tune. “Isle Of Evermore” is a ballad, very soft and atmospheric with a Celtic vibe and there are melodies that makes me think of Gary Moore and Thin Lizzy. Sharon Del Adel (Within Temptation) makes a return to the project – she sang on the two first albums – and as always, she’s brilliant. Mason fits really well on “Babylon Vampires”, a fast melodic rocker that brings the style of Helloween’s Keeper Of The Seven Keys-era to mind. Maybe not the kind of music Mason usually sings, but he nails this really good. “Lucifer”, sung by Jorn Lande, starts out as an atmospheric ballad, but it gets harder as the song goes on. It’s a really good song, but it’s a bit short, it ends too quick. “Unchain The Light” brings Atkins and Kiske together and they are both in top shape on this pop metal anthem. I’m guessing this could be a future single. “A Restless Heart And Obsidian Skies”, featuring Bob Catley of Magnum, is an up-tempo ballad in the vein of “Runaway Train” or “Blowing Out The Flame”. This is insanely catchy and as I am completely in love with the two mentioned songs, this one is also right up my alley. “Wake Up To The Moon” is a digibook edition bonus track featuring Kiske, Catley, Atkins, Lande and Mason and why this song has been degraded to just a bonus track is beyond me – because it’s awesome. It’s a melodic rocker with a big pop influence and a whole lotta catchiness. So, yes, you really have to get the digibook. The digibook also contains a live bonus disc.
Here’s the deal – Tobias Sammet is a song writing genius. Yes, it might sound like I’m a bit over the top with this one, but the truth is, the guy has an almost abnormal sense for catchy choruses and a way to write whole songs that drips of memorable melodies and more hooks than a store that sells fishing gear. And the guy write everything himself – every damn song, no co-writers at all. Sammet is also credited as producer together with his guitarist Sascha Paeth which makes things even more impressive. Speaking of guitarists, ex- Kiss and Union guitarist Bruce Kulick plays on three songs as well. I will stick my neck out here and appoint this album as Avantasia’s best album to date, which really says something when you consider just how high in quality the music on the other records is. For anyone who have been enjoying the later Avantasia records, this one is a must. For anyone who have never heard this project, it’s time now. With this album or any other one. Just do it. Now!
Other Avantasia reviews:
1. Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose (Sammet)
2. Let The Storm Descend Upon You (Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, Robert Mason, Sammet)
3. The Haunting (Dee Snider, Sammet)
4. Seduction Of Decay (Geoff Tate, Sammet)
5. Ghostlights (Michael Kiske, Lande, Sammet)
6. Draconian Love (Herbie Langhans, Sammet)
7. Master Of The Pendulum (Marco Hietala, Sammet)
8. Isle Of Evermore (Sharon Del Adel, Sammet)
9. Babylon Vampires (Mason, Sammet)
10. Lucifer (Lande, Sammet)
11. Unchain The Light (Atkins, Kiske, Sammet)
12. A Restless Heart And Obsidian Skies (Bob Catley, Sammet)
13. Wake Up To The Moon (digibook bonus track) (Kiske, Catley, Lande, Atkins, Mason)