TIMO TOLKKI’S AVALON – Return To Eden

Metal-operas and Power Metal seem to go hand in hand. There are quite a few of them out there, most of them fantasy based but truth be told, I can hardly remember what most of them are called, let alone any songs or members – I’m really not that interested in either Power Metal or Metal-opera. That said, contradictory enough, I’m a massive fan of both Avantasia and Ayreon. However, I don’t see those projects as Power Metal at all, to me, Avantasia are melodic Metal with Hard Rock, Melodic Rock and even AOR elements stuck in there. But sure, there are Power Metal waved in as well. Ayreon is way too progressive to be called Power Metal. They are Metal-operas, though but the way I see it, I love those projects because of the music, not the themes. In fact, I don’t even know what the Avantasia story is about. Another Metal-opera that has been talked about quite a lot in the last years is Avalon, created by former Stratovarious guitarist and song writer Timo Tolkki.

Timo Tolkki’s Avalon released their debut album The Land Of New Hope in 2013 and in 2014 Angels Of The Apocalypse followed and it was from the latter that I first got acquainted with the project through one of its promotion videos but I must admit it fell short on me and even though I didn’t think it sucked, it never embraced me either and I never found the urge to check it out further. For me personally, Avalon was never a project I have taken a closer look into since I have never been into Stratovarious at all. Also, Avalon has not brought in as big names in the vocal department as Tobias Sammet (Avantasia) and Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon) has managed to, so for me, Avalon was never anything else than just another Power Metal opera. On the other hand, I was never and still am not, a fan of Edguy either and as I said, I love Avantasia, so now that Avalon are releasing a new album, why not give it a fair shot?

“Enlighten”, that opens the record is an orchestrated and pompous instrumental intro that closes with some heavy rain that leads us right into the first “real” track, the album’s leading single “Promises”. It’s a fast-tempo Power Metal track with some classic Metal riffing, featuring singer Todd Michael Hall of Riot V fame. It’s a rhythmic and quite powerful track with a refrain that sends a nod back to the glory days of Helloween without going into clone territory at all. It’s a catchy stomper and a pretty good song, without flooring me. The title track features three lead voices – Hall, Zachary Stevens (Savatage, Circle II Circle) and Mariangela Demurtas from Tristania and Ardours, who has an album coming out in August. It’s a stand-out track much because if its slightly twisted, King Diamond-like keyboard arrangements and its Celtic sounding orchestrations that even brings on a slight Thin Lizzy touch. It’s clearly a Power Metal track in the verses but the direct chorus is strong and very melodic Hard Rock, catchy with a big hit-feel. Very good.

Anneke Van Giersbergen might be mostly known for her band The Gathering and as a solo artist but she’s also been involved as a guest on albums by Ayreon, Devin Townsend, Anathema and Within Temptation and it stands clear after just one listen at “Hear My Call” that she’s an amazing singer. It’s a softer laden and mid-paced tune with a good rhythm and vocal melodies that draws my mind towards Within Temptation. With some stellar melodies, less Power Metal injected and a refrain containing shitloads of hooks and catchiness, the song wins me over from hello. Very good. Hall is back for “Now And Forever”, a tune that lands somewhere between Power Metal and regular Metal in an upbeat pace. It holds a big refrain, very sing-along friendly and I guess it’ll go down well among Power Metal fans but for me it’s somewhat forgettable without being bad.

The mid-paced and punchy “Miles Away” brings back Stevens to the mike. This rocker mixes Power Metal in an early Avantasia vibe and pure Melodic Rock, the latter actually saving the song for me since, you know, I’m not that big on pure Power Metal. It holds a strong chorus, very direct and it stuck already by the first spin. A great track. Eduard Hovinga is a name I got acquainted with when I started writing this review so I don’t know much about the guy apart from him being in Elegy, Mother Of Sin and Prime Time and that he’s from Holland. He sings on “Limits”, a track that holds some classic Metal riffing right in from the same box as Dio or/and Accept but with a rhythm section all Power Metal. Unfortunately, I can’t embrace Hovinga’s voice at all. Yes, I can hear that he can sing but the big falsetto with an overdone vibrato that sounds manufactured and glued on. If that wasn’t enough, the whole tune is forgettable at best and makes me want to hit the skip-button right on the spot.

The phenomenal Giersbergen is back for the big early Avantasia rip-off “We Are The Ones”. Fact is, the chorus even sounds scarily alike the tune “Avantasia” and while I do like that song, these borrowings are a bit too close for comfort. If you put that aside, this punchy hard-rocker is a catchy tune, impossible to get rid off after it’s done. Demurtas, another awesome singer, lends her vocal cords to the slow and soft ballad “Godsend”, a song full of strings and piano. Solemn and taciturn, the tune is also heavy, dark and atmospheric with a slight punch, a memorable vocal melody and a catchy refrain that sticks right away without being the least sugary. No wonder it’s the album’s latest single.

“Give Me Hope” is another one of those in-your-face, uptempo Power Metal songs with drums running amok, sing-along friendly soccer-refrains and high-pitch vocals – very German sounding (yes, I know Tolkki’s from Finland). This is a song easily skipped for me and no, I don’t find Hovinga any easier on my ears this time. “Wasted Dreams” carries on in the same frame as its predecessor, albeit with some rhythmic breaks that breaks off the Power Metal mould at least some. The otherwise flawless Stevens actually sounds a bit strained here, something the song don’t exactly benefits from. The chorus is really catchy, though. Closing track “Guiding Star” brings on fast drumming, a punchy foundation and a slight symphonic arrangement but make no mistake, this is also a full on Power Metal stomper. What saves the song is Demurtas amazing voice and the soft-laden and atmospheric break in the middle that gives the tune a chance to breathe before it ravages on again.

While I don’t think this is a crap album, it do feel like some kind of Avantasia light for me. I know that Tolkki will probably deny this whole-heartedly, but to me the early Avantasia influences are obvious it sometimes borders to cloning. Also, the fact that I’m not that big on Power Metal, I have problems getting into many of the songs because of that so maybe if you’re a big fan of that, this album will work for you. Performance wise, the musicians’ work here is flawless and almost all of the singers does a splendid job here, especially the female contributions are really spot-on. When it comes to arrangements and song structure I find this record both predictable and unoriginal and even though there are some really good songs here, I don’t know how to convince myself to listen to this when I have a whole world of Avantasia to dive in to when the urge for a Metal-opera kicks in.

4/10

Tracklist:

1. Enlighten
2. Promises (feat. Todd Michael Hall)
3. Return To Eden (feat. Mariangela Demurtas, Zachary Stevens & Todd Michael Hall)
4. Hear My Call (feat. Anneke Van Giersbergen)
5. Now And Forever (feat. Todd Michael Hall)
6. Miles Away (feat. Zachary Stevens)
7. Limits (feat. Eduard Hovinga)
8. We Are The Ones (feat. Anneke Van Giersbergen)
9. Godsend (feat. Mariangela Demurtas)
10. Give Me Hope (feat. Eduard Hovinga)
11. Wasted Dreams (feat. Zachary Stevens)
12. Guiding Star (feat. Mariangela Demurtas)

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