Few things in the world of metal music excite me more than the impending release of a new album from Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia, the would-be side project of the entertaining and prolific Edguy frontman. The first Avantasia album debuted in 1999 with The Metal Opera and its sequel The Metal Opera II, a pair of albums that has had such a huge influence in the world of power metal and spawned a million copycat “all-star” projects. The Metal Opera albums were everything a power metal fan could ever hope for. Huge orchestral arrangements, fast European power metal playing, soaring and dramatic vocals from Tobi and his handpicked cast of characters in his play. The albums were pure power metal bliss but according to Tobi, it was always meant to be a side project and Edguy was the priority….until 2007 and the release of the third Avantasia album, The Scarecrow. The Scarecrow was the start of a new era for Avantasia with main guitarist and producer Sascha Paeth joining the ranks, a partnership that continues to this day. The Scarecrow was a much more focused rock opera, which still had metal influences, but it was the start of something new and fresh for Avantasia. Flash forward to 2016 and the seventh studio album from Avantasia titled Ghostlights.
Joining Tobias this time around is a who’s who in the world of hard rock and metal.
There are the usual suspects who are near and dear to the hearts of all Avantasians.. Vocal Gods Jorn Lande (formerly of Masterplan), Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Bob Catley (Magnum), and Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids). Joining the Avantasians on Ghostlights, no strangers to the world of heavy metal, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, Geoff Tate formerly of Queensrÿche , Robert Mason of Warrant, Marco Hietala (Tarot, Nightwish),and Herbie Langhans of Beyond the Bridge/Sinbreed. Guest instrumentalists include Bruce Kulick formerly of KISS and Oliver Hartmann formerly of At Vance.
The album begins with the hard rock opera opus Mystery of A Blood Red Rose, with it’s use of orchestration, piano, and choir vocals you could almost swear that this song was written by Meatloaf and Jim Steinman for the classic Bat Out Of Hell album. It’s got a killer melodic chorus which is catchy as hell, just a terrific way to start the album.
Hands down my favorite track on the album is the dramatic, and passion-filled progressive power metal epic Let The Storm Descend Upon You. Sammet, Lande, Atkins, and Mason provide the powerful emotive vocals. Everything about this song is absolute perfection, from the piano orchestrated intro (which has a Savatage-esque vibe, think Edge of Thorns era) to the massive soaring chorus. The star of this song would be the vocals of Jorn Lande. The man could sing the phone book and sound ferocious and aggressive in his delivery. He absolutely shines on this track. Lande’s vocals blend so well into the fabric of Avantasia’s vocal sound. Atkins, Mason, and Sammet are stellar as well but Lande is the leader of the pack here.
On the next track, The Haunting, Twisted Sister frontman Dee Sider takes on the sinister role that was previously held on previous Avantasia albums by Jon Oliva of Savatage and Alice Cooper. Snider’s vocals are the perfect compliment to the song with an evil and melodramatic vibe.
The next song is probably the most surprising and somewhat controversial for some fans. When Tobi first announced that former Queensrÿche vocalist and metal pariah Geoff Tate would provide guest vocals on the song Seduction of Decay, the reaction was mixed between fans. Most fans familiar with Tate’s downward spiral and terrible songwriting output during the last decade or more which led to his firing from the legendary Rÿche were horrified at the thought of Tate being included on an Avantasia album. There were some, myself included that believed that if anyone could return Tate to his former status as a vocal metal god, it would be Tobias. After listening to Seduction of Decay, I can safely say that the latter is true. Tate’s vocal performace, undoubtedly directed closely by Sammet is classic Geoff Tate, melodic, dramatic, moody, and soaring vocals. The song itself is reminiscent of The Toy Master from The Scarecrow album, but retains enough of its own identity with Tate and Sammet’s excellent vocal work
The title track is a power metal classic with vocals from Michael Kiske who sounds just as vibrant and incredible as he has since his classic years with Helloween. Sammet and Lande lend their vocal talents as well with a song that has all the classic elements of early Helloween and the same energy and fast pacing as Shelter From the Rain from The Scarecrow with some shredding blistering guitar work thrown into the mix.
The next big surprise is on the gothic rock inspired Draconian Love featuring Herbie Langhans of Sinbreed. Known mainly as a power metal powerhouse vocalist, Langhans does a complete turn around, using a low and deep vocal more in the style of gothic hard rockers The 69 Eyes or HIM rather than a power metal screamfest. It works extremely well within the context of the song and Langhans turns in an excellent performance on a fantastic and different song for Avantasia.
Master of the Pendulum is another heavy powerful metal song with a Celtic feel, so who better to sing this one than Marco Hietala of Nightwish. The song is fast paced, with double bass drums, and crushingly heavy guitar rhythms. This song would not sound out of place on a Nightwish album with its Celtic influence and heavy guitars.
The album slows down for the return of Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel to the Avantasia fold for the beautiful orchestration of Isle of Evermore, an emotional duet with Tobias that brings chills to the listener with the perfect way the two vocalists interact and play off of each other to create a special gorgeous moment on the album.
Avantasia newcomer Robert Mason takes over the lead vocal reigns on Babylon Vampyres, another fast and furious power metal anthem with incredible guitar work and some impressive rhythm section interaction with Felix Bohnke (Edguy) providing a solid double bass driving beat. Mason shows why he is one of the most respected and talented vocalists in hard rock.
The album slows down for the piano driven ballad Lucifer, sung by the incomparable Jorn Lande. If Lande’s vocals on a heavy rock song are incredible, his ferocious vocal attack is sublime on this ballad, delivering passion and power in this duet with Sammet. Another huge highlight in an album chock full of highlights. The vocals are spine-tingling in their intensity and emotion. An absolute gem.
Unchain the Light is another fast paced rocker with incredible vocals from Sammet, Kiske, and Atkins. The song features more amazing guitar work and powerful heavy metal drums and bass.
The final track on the album A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies features Magnum’s Bob Catley doing what he does best, singing a soaring epic power ballad with huge orchestration, emotion and intensity. This song has such an uplifting vibe with a soaring chorus with a huge vocal choir providing the backing vocals. Catley’s vocals are perfection as usual. The man is another vocalist that can sing anything and make it his own. The perfect ending to the perfect album. There aren’t enough platitudes and praise for Ghostlights, without a doubt the best album of Tobias Sammet’s career.
On April 15th 2016, Avantasia will bring it’s massive rock/metal opera to America for the very first time, performing in New York City. The band will be bringing an all-star cast of vocalists as well as an epic 3 hour show that is guaranteed to blow peoples minds on a night filled with first times as people from all over the world will be attending, a night that will change peoples lives and memories that will last a lifetime.