As a long time fan of metal superheroes Edguy, I am constantly amazed at the frequency with which their frontman and songwriter Tobias Sammett manages to fire out quality albums and in between recording and touring with them still has the time, energy and creative juice left to grace us with his side-project Avantasia.
Originally intended to be a one-off metal opera, featuring an elaborate story and a host of guest musicians from the rock and metal world, it has grown and mutated into an unstoppable beast that, despite the enormous cost and co-ordination involved, even made it into the live arena and graced many European festival stages in recent years.
As this isn’t a specific, defined band with a fixed set of members, one never knows if we will see another Avantasia album and tours seem increasingly unlikely, but last year we were greeted with the news that we were getting both in 2013.
Avantasia‘s last offering – the double album “Wicked Symphony/Angel Of Babylon” was tucked tightly between two Edguy albums and, to my ear, was sadly the first sign that Tobias may have overstretched himself. The 20 plus songs varied hugely in quality and although there were never any stinkers, the gems were diluted a little amongst some more predicatble plodding euro-metal-by-numbers.
With the last Edguy album proving popular, another opus of this magnitude was always going to be welcome but inevitably throwing up the question of whether it really has enough material to justify the fanfare. The good news is this has barely left my car stereo since I got my grubby mits on it.
Opening with ‘Spectres’, a cacophonous wall of sound with full orchestra galloping along and high camp broadway melody blasting out, this is everything an Avantasia ditty should be and leads neatly into the fist-pumping singalong of ‘The Watchmaker’s Dream’. Both tracks feature ex-Rainbow/Yngwie vocalist Joe-Lynn Turner putting in a stellar performance. Saxon‘s very own metal legend Biff Byford adds some real meat to the chorus of the darkly melodramatic ‘Black Orchid’, but the best is yet to come. Michael Kiske, the definitive euro-metal singer in my books, is on astonishing form on ‘When Clock Hands Freeze’. Uplifting and ear-piercing and sounding as good as he did back in the early Helloween days, this is an instant classic and will have your head banging like a deranged woodpecker.
Sammett, as always, proves that beyond crafting great songs he has a feel for setting a scene, telling a story and directing the guest vocalists to get the very best out of them. With the modern pop-rock classic ‘Lost In Space’ not denting the charts in the way the record company had hoped, when it was released a few years back, it seems Toby isn’t to be deterred from sticking in another hummable single in this collection and ‘Sleepwalking’ is another testament to his alarmingly casual ability to fire out hits without batting an eyelid.
Other highlights include Eric Martin owning every word of ‘What’s Left Of Me’, Kiske reprising his role as vocal duellist on ‘Dweller In A Dream’ and the tempered majesty of closer ‘The Great Mystery’. Pleasingly, Avantasia stalwart Bob Catley appears here and showers absolute class all over this number, confidently crooning with that warmth and authority that makes his work with Magnum so memorable.
Overall, this is a real achievement, with the orchestration fitting beautifully around the band and never detracting nor simply plodding along following the main riff. The story is neat, quaint and told with skill and the artwork adds to the whole package so as to remind you that metal albums can still be a real work of art and way more than a collection of songs.
Where Sammett gets this many fantastic ideas from remains the greatest mystery and if this opus is anything to go by he is an unstoppable force that will continue to bless us with beautiful music for years to come. Roll on summer and get yourself to one of the many festivals Avantasia will be playing to truly appreciate the full experience of a metal opera.