Release Date: 29th January 2016
The Europeans have done a lot with Power Metal and the Symphonic branch of the family tree has spread far and wide. And it's produced many a band, or in this case, a project. The brainchild of Edguy vocalist Tobias Sammet, with a group of core musicians and a number of "name" guests, this is the German band Avantasia's seventh album.
The project's name comes from a combination of the words Avalon and Fantasia, which gives a fair indication of the musical direction.
In keeping with the rock opera super group project of Avantasia's previous albums, the personnel includes Dee Snider, Geoff Tate, Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske and Bob Catley.
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Avantasia's first album, 2001's 'The Metal Opera' featured guitarist Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray), bassist Markus Grosskopf (Helloween) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody) alongside Sammet, and guests included guitarist Jens Ludwig and vocalists Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen.
The aesthetic and lyrical influences came from early fantasy literature such as Lord Of The Rings and the Red Sonja series, the story continuing in the following year's 'The Metal Opera pt II', which featured a similar array of guests.
The 'Lost In Space pt I & II' EPs both appeared in 2007, featuring Black Sabbath / Kiss drummer Eric Singer, and were part of the following year's Scarecrow concept album. Alongside the ever guesting Lande, Kiske and Bob Catley was an appearance by Alice Cooper. Star studded indeed.
'The Wicked Symphony' and 'Angel of Babylon' were released in parallel in 2010, which saw the sound get a little more progressive. 2013's 'The Mystery Of Time' was very well received and was real highlight, featuring Biff Byford, Bruce Kulick and Joe Lynn Turner alongside the core of Sammet, guitarist Sascha Paeth, keyboard player Miro and drummer Russell Gilbrook.
'Ghostlights', with a core of Sammet, Paeth, Michael Rodenberg (keyboards, orchestration) and Felix Bohnke (drums), and guest guitarists Oliver Hartman and Bruce Kulick, was recorded late in 2015 and kicks off in fine fashion with 'Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose' - melodic Power Metal with a solid background, a nod to the mid 80s hard rock.
Ed's note: "Tobias has swallowed the Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman songbook on this one and thinking he was in paradise, he belched it up all over one big, huge dashboard light. But Tobias told us: 'I wouldn't do that...'"
The second track, 'Let The Storm Descend Upon You', runs to over 12 minutes and it's where it's all happening. Big swirling keyboards interplay with the guitars, and some hard crunchy vocals from Jorn Lande and Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids). The changes in heaviness add a good dimension.
'The Haunting' is a more atmospheric track, which builds to a heavy and equally melodic number. Upfront alongside Semmet is Twisted Sister's Dee Snider, power and range adding to the feeling. 'Seduction Of Decay' is a chunkier number, and vocals come from (ex Queensryche) Geoff Tate.
The title track is more Melodic Power Metal than Symphonic, like a heavier Freedom Call, with lead vocals coming from Semmet, Lande and Michael Kiske. Piercing and driving, and a blistering guitar solo too.
'Draconian Love' is a gentler track before building, and 'Master Of The Pendulum' has a rocking bouncy rock feel in between the crunchy riffs.
Turn it down a notch (or three) with the Sharon Del Adel led 'Isle Of Evermore', as hypnotic as atmospheric. In contrast 'Babylon Vampyres' is an intricate guitar led track, shredding from the outset. 'Lucifer' is a quiet starter and builds well to a blistering finale.
A highlight for me is 'A Restless Heart And Obsidian Skies'; gentle and mid-paced before building, it is Bob Catley's vocals that stand out. This guy can hold power and melody, and more importantly your attention. I've always been a fan of Catley and Snider and their tracks here more than prove their worth.
A largely fantastic album, there's one or two weaker moments, but when it goes all out it is really wonderful listening. Look out for the 2CD edition with a bonus track and disc of live material.