There will always be a very vocal percentage of Tobias Sammet who feel that Tobi’s main band Edguy has forsaken it’s power metal roots for a more stripped down, straight forward, hard rock sound. Sammet originally started Avantasia as a side project with guest vocalists and musicians to perform his metal opera material. Flash forward fifteen years, five studio albums, a live album/DVD, and two World Tours, Avantasia has just released it’s sixth studio album The Mystery of Time. Joined once again by guitarist/producer/collaborator Sascha Paeth and a who’s who in the world of hard rock and metal vocalists and players, The Mystery of Time combines the power metal and symphonic elements of the first two Metal Opera albums with the more commercial aspects of The Scarecrow to create a tighter cohesive collection of songs than the previous double album, which some fans and critics believed there was an identity crisis from too many songs. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon from start to finish, although I can concede that two albums worth of material is a lot to consume for most metal fans.
When it comes to Avantasia, it would appear that mastermind Sammet lives by the credo of “go big or go home”. One of the biggest sonic differences between the previous Avantasia alums and The Mystery of time is the use of the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg as opposed to using the usual symphonic keyboards to perform the orchestra parts. It makes a big difference in that the songs sound bigger and grander in scope. That doesn’t mean that keyboard and programming genius Michael “Miro” Rodenberg has a lesser role. Miro’s presence is felt on each and every song whether it’s a touching piano ballad or a 70’s analog keyboard sound. The album takes the listener on a journey with many highs and lows. The adjectives to describe The Mystery of Time would include bombastic, grandiose, majestic, and powerful.
The album kicks off in spectacular fashion with a pair of symphonic masterpieces, Spectres and The Watchmaker’s Dream both featuring legendary vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. Turner’s signature vocals have a raspiness that adds a special quality to the twists and turns of the music. The Watchmaker’s Dream has a 70’s prog quality with amazing keyboard work by Miro and a guest guitar solo by the master of modern prog rock Arjen Anthony Lucassen of Ayreon fame. Black Orchid is a stoming heavy rocker with a huge sounding chorus and features guest vocals from Saxon’s Bill Byford and Mr. Big’s Eric Martin. The intro to Where Clock Hands Freeze brings back memories of Prelude from the first Metal Opera album. The song kicks into high gear with some fantastic double kick drum work from Russell Gilbrook of Uriah Heep and the incredible vocals of former Helloween vocalist Michael Kiske. Kiske’s trademark vocals, like a fine wine, have only gotten better with age.
The first single Sleepwalking featuring the heartfelt and passionate vocals of Cloudy Yang is a great commercial rock ballad in the tradition of Lost in Space from The Scarecrow album. Savior in the Clockwork, has an heavy opening guitar riff that is reminiscent of classic Dokken and the trio of Kiske, Byford, and Turner joining Sammet on vocals is an absolute highlight of the album. Ronnie Atkins of Pretty Maids turns up the intensity on the heavy rock sound of Invoke the Machine.
One of the biggest surprises on the album would be the performance of Eric Martin of Mr. Big fame on the ballad What’s Left of Me. Surprising not because of Martin’s considerable vocal talent, but how he seamlessly fits into the more metal style of Avantasia as opposed to the more blues based hard rock of Mr. Big. The epic soaring chorus alone is one of the albums highlights, reminding me of a gospel choir..preaching the Gospel of Tobi to the metal masses! Kiske joins Sammet once again on Dweller In A Dream, an epic rocker with a powerful soaring chorus and once again Kiske sounds amazing here. The albums final destination arrives in a ten-minute opus sung by Sammet and vocal legend Bob Catley of Magnum. The emotion in Catley’s voice sends chills up my spine each time I hear it. I am reminded of Catley’s amazing performance on Runaway Train from the Wicked Symphony album. If you have never heard Catley’s solo album Immortal, I urge you to pick it up you won’t regret it. He is truly one of rock’s most underrated vocalists! In the final analysis, I have nothing to critique with The Mystery of Time. The only thing missing is the presence of vocalist Jorn Lande who has previously performed on the Scarecrow, TWS, and Angel of Babylon. That would have raised the bar to unparalleled levels, but you can’t have everything! The Mystery of Time just may be the crown jewel in the Avantasia discography. Recently, the band announced it’s first performance in North America, Quebec Canada to be specific. It looks like I’ll finally get to experience the live Avantasia experience!