Avantasia_GhostlightsIf there was ever a “Yacht Metal” band, Tobias Sammet’s aspirational ego project Avantasia is it. Perpetually over-sized, ostentatious, crowded with celebrities and in danger of sinking under the weight of its own pretentious pomposity, the entire catalog is a monument to the man’s inherent lack of restraint. Yet despite all the troubled waters and swirling eddies of doom that await these kinds of super projects, the H.M.S. Overblown is still afloat in its high-rent slip for one reason: quality song writing. And on the cringe-inducingly titled Ghostlights, the impressive writing somehow continues unabated. Yes, Tobias is back at the helm captaining his vessel of destiny alongside such loyal and battle tested crewmen as Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske and Bob Catley, and this time he’s impressed Dee Snider, Geoff Tate, Marco Hietala and Sharon Den Adel into service for this new voyage into excess. With a lineup like that, you can just picture an epic wreck upon the harsh reef of reality, and yet, that yacht keeps on yachting and my admiration grows ever more profound.

With twelve tracks spanning 1 hour 10 minutes, this certainly isn’t a single-serving symphonic metal platter. It dabbles in various styles and moods but at its attention-whoring heart is a big, throbbing rock opera – like Gutter Ballet era Savatage, Meatloaf and Nightwish dumped in a Smoothie King and sprinkled with…Jorn. Opener “Mystery of the Blood Red Rose” reeks of Meatloaf‘s oversized bombast, and in fact, Sammet wrote it with Mr. Loaf in mind. When that pairing never came to pass, he did all the vocals himself and layered them thicker than a triple-decker lasagna. As the song unfurls you can almost see Robert Paulson in his frilly shirt twirling his silk handkerchiefs, and though it’ll clog your arteries, there’s no point denying the hooks embedded in the song’s quasi-Broadway pop-pomp.

They fearlessly follow this with the 12 minute, Kamelot-y epic “Let the Storm Descend Upon You,” fortified with vocals from Admiral Jorn, Ronny Atkins (Pretty Maids) and Robert Mason (Warrant, Lynch Mob). It’s actually quite an awesome tune full of metallic swagger filtered through pop and hard rock sensibilities. Jorn’s big, raspy vocals rock the boat whenever they appear and he definitely steals the show, but everyone does yeoman’s work and the chorus is bigger than the Titanic. It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that the song never feels long or overstays its welcome.

Tobias Sammet_2016

Dee Snider turns in a dark and ominous performance on the creepy but catchy “The Haunting,” and Geoff Tate actually impresses on the brooding “Seduction of Decay.” Tate sounds much better and more lively than he has in years and he rides the heavy-prog music like a well-oiled exercise machine. Elsewhere, Kiske and Jorn aggressively throw down on the very Helloweeen-y title track, Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot) lends his unusual vocals to the very Nightwish-like “Master of the Pendulum,” and Jorn does the heavy lifting on the Savatage inspired “Lucifer.” Oddly enough, the most addictive track is the emo/cock rocking “Draconian Love” where Sammet’s wailing vocals are juxtaposed with deep, gothy intonations by Herbie Langhans (Seventh Avenue, Sinbreed).

There are no bad tunes, though Within Temptation frontwoman Sharon Den Adel’s vehicle “Isle of Evermore’ is a bit dull. I was a bit let down by the scant use of Bob Catley (Magnum), but with a cast of thousands there’s only so much room for any one talent. This time out it’s Kiske that gets the lion’s share of airtime, even pushing Jorn out of the spotlight (sacrilege) and he sounds amazing throughout. Though some editing and trimming here and there could have helped increase the impact of tunes like “Seduction of Decay,” it’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.

Avantasia_2016aThe music behind the revolving door of singers is handled by Sammet and long-time collaborators Sascha Paeth (Aina, ex-Luca Turilli, ex-Heavens Gate) and Michael “Miro” Rodenberg (Aina, ex-Luca Turilli). As usual they craft some interesting foundations for the diva drama. Sascha is a talented guitarist and his solos are impressive but sometimes feel a bit soulless and cold. The same can be said for some of Miro’s keys and orchestrations, but they hit way more than they miss, and that’s all that really matters. Sammet’s vocals are solid and sometimes excellent and he holds his own with the metal luminaries surrounding him.

The first review I ever penned for AMG was for Avantasia‘s The Wicked Symphony, and here I am six years later still gushing platitudes for a “band” I instinctively expect to flounder and go under with every release. Nothing seems capable of sinking Sammet’s big ship of dreams and there’s something inspiring about that, isn’t there? Keep reaching for the stars, Toby, and keep that yacht moving ever onward. Next time drag John Arch and Jennie-Ann Smith on-board and make them sing for their damn supper!


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 274 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast [EU][US]
Websites: facebook.com/avantasia
Releases Worldwide: January 29th, 2016

 

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  • El_Cuervo

    A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies will be tough to knock off my number 1 song of 2016. It’s everything I love in Avantasia.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      6 months from now*

      All of a sudden, a wild prog-death record appears and attacks El with ‘Gush’. It’s super effective!

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    This is really intense for underaged kids like me. I feel like i’ve lost something special listening to it. Jornography addiction is the last thing I need right now, damn it Steel

  • This is kind of like that movie the Ring only anyone who watches this video is found encased in a block of cheddar.

  • Feytalist

    The thing about Sammet is that, regardless of the cheese, and the cringe, and the ego, the man writes supremely catchy music. Like, annoyingly so. Oh sure, there’s been a couple of missteps, like previous Edguy albums can attest to, but overall, even when it really seems like it should fall flat, the songwriting makes up for it.

    Having a football team’s worth of world-class guest musicians on-board helps too, I guess.

    • El_Cuervo

      His ability to write catchy melodies is machine-like. He’s just so good at it.

    • I agree completely. Songs like Lavatory Love Machine, Do Me Like a Caveman, and F**king with Fire (Hair Force One) shouldn’t work, but they do. Samnet and the Edguy/Avantasia machine have an uncanny ability to keep coming back with one catchy song after another!

  • Monsterth Goatom

    Stoked to hear this. And I think it’s that time of the year when I should let a little Loaf into my life.

  • Dethjesta

    Did Meatloaf turn town the chance to sing the opening track because he was suing for plagiarism?

    • El_Cuervo

      It’s probably a good thing to be honest. His voice is supposed to have drastically deteriorated.

      Then again, if Tobi can make Geoff Tate sound good again, I’m sure he can manage Meat Loaf!

    • Mr. Water

      I read in an interview with Tobi that Meat Loaf didn’t turn down, it was his management that torpedoed the idea.

  • WhamBamSam

    I haven’t really been keeping up with Avantasia since The Wicked Symphony (which was great, don’t get me wrong). I should check this out.

    Speaking of massively overblown potential shipwrecks in a sea of molten cheese, the new Dream Theater must be up for review soon too, yes?

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Can’t wait for this release! I also always love the cover art for Avantasia’s albums.

  • Shiiit, if I were to read these kinds of lyrics as a poem I would vomit due to cheese-induced cringing, but somehow the combination with the yet more cheesy music makes it palatable? What kind of dark magic??

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Good music can do wonders to questionable lyrics. My favourite example is “Sellout” by Trollfest:

      “Give us your cash. gives us all your hard earned dollars babe
      Give us all your money, I’m asking for it honey
      Give us all your dollars!”

      It actually sounds quite good when sung.

      • Spinal Tap already wrote that song.

        • André Snyde Lopes

          Dethklok as well.

          • Diego Molero

            But Dethklok makes it sound really badass

  • Innit Bartender

    The question has to be asked, finally:
    In a battle between Sammet and Arjen, who would win? We’re looking at two guys throwing 4-hours rock operas at each other, shaking the fundations of the world in the meantime.

    • Stefunal

      Arjen. Definitely.

    • Dethjesta

      Arjen, by KO. Wouldn’t even go past 2nd round.

    • El_Cuervo

      I’d take Tobi. It’s a controversial view, but I’ve always generally preferred his work to Arjen’s (notwithstanding a good Arjen release is still better than a bad Tobi release, obviously).

      • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

        Have a very small dog in this fight (a chihuahua named Dale to be specific), and I’m with you here. Also, Space Police was better than Gentle Storm. We can’t forget that the Avantasia-Ayreon Jorn ratio is 6:1 discounting the Avantasia live record. KO by default.

        • El_Cuervo

          Gosh darn, I hadn’t even noted the Jorn ratio! Agreed about Space Police though, I really grew into that record.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Guilt Machine and Star One are among my favourite Arjen projects. Wonder if we’ll hear any more from those two.

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            Never heard Star One, might have to check that out.

          • Monsterth Goatom

            I probably wouldn’t have heard of the project either if SD didn’t turn me onto them with his review of Victims of the Modern Age back in 2010.

          • Dethjesta

            Victims of a Modern Age is superb, I cannot get on with Space Metal, personally (even though I’m a big Arjen fanboy).

          • Monsterth Goatom

            Yea, me too. Victims is special.

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            2010?! You’re more of an old-school and trve AMG fan than I am, and I write here!

          • Monsterth Goatom

            Na, I haven’t been around that long. I just stumbled upon it while surfing through old reviews.

          • 2010? Ha, you’re old!

      • Seconded.

    • BaboonKing

      They recorded some stuff together once, and joked about their supposed rivalry.

  • Stefunal

    Avantasia actually was one of the bands which brought me into metal. Can’t wait, partly due to having heard some songs of a leaked version online (Arrr!!).

  • I have a really high-tolerance to lactose, but Avantasia and Edguy is too much for me. Sorry pals.

  • Kronos

    Not Jorn enough.

    • Diego Molero

      When I first start reading AMG I had no clue about who Jorn was, so I came across with all the comments about him in diferent reviews and I really thought he was some kind of metal god, so I obviously listen to a bunch of records of his solo work and feel kind of bad because I didn’t liked it that much so I keep trying and listen, but nothing, it was OK but i didn’t see why everybody love him so much here at AMG. Man I was so naive

      • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

        Did you listen to “Walking on Water” from the Dracula record? If not, check that out. If so, listen to it again anyway because it’s awesome.

        • Kronos

          Or don’t of you value your life.

        • Diego Molero

          I just re-listen to the song and with all the jokes I really don’t know if you’re being serious, but i don’t found it to be awesome, maybe just ok

          • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

            I think I speak for everyone on staff here when I say that every word of praise for Jorn is completely serious and all disparaging of Jorn is probably CIA COINTELPRO stuff for purposes unknown.

        • One of the best records of the year. No doubt. :D

      • Try his work on the debut from Masterplan and on Beyond Twilight’s the Devil’s Hall of Fame.

        • Diego Molero

          I will, I just hope its not as cheese as that Dracula thing.

          • BaboonKing

            He is an amazing singer, it’s just his solo career is, as you said, just OK. But those two records Steel Druhm mentions are absolutely great, no jokes there. His stuff with Russell Allen and his work on the Avantasia and Ayreon records are also fantastic.

            Edit: oh, and I forgot about Ark’s Burn the Sun… another top notch record.

          • WhamBamSam

            I’d put Aeronautics up there alongside the Masterplan debut, and the s/t Ark record is solid as well, though it’s hard to track down legally and isn’t quite as good as Burn the Sun. The first and most recent Allen Lande albums are great, though the middle two aren’t as much fun in my opinion. I’ll agree that the songwriting on his solo work generally isn’t as strong as in other bands he’s in, but there are some great moments (the cover of “I Walk Alone” is a good example. Obviously he didn’t write it, but he made it his own.)

            Honestly though, I absolutely love the Dracula record. It was my AotY for 2015 by a pretty wide margin and I’ll probably be annoying people about how good I think it is for years to come.

          • Aeronautics was good but way more hard rock. The Russell Allen collaborations were really good, forgot to mention those.

          • WhamBamSam

            I never really got that impression, but I’m not going to turn down an excuse to listen back to that album. After listening back, I suppose the cocktail of Power Metal and Hard Rock might skew a bit more toward the latter than on the s/t, but I’d still say that its tempo, keyboards, and so on skew more toward Power Metal than what I typically associate with Hard Rock.

          • Diego Molero

            I will have to listen but if you really mean it then it must be good.

          • CarvedInStone

            Î couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. It’s not that his solo work is necessarily bad. There are some enjoyable tracks here and there. But for the most part it’s utterly forgetable and it is a shame that one of the best voices in rock and metal today wastes his talent releasing mediocre music.

            In the past that wasn’t a problem. For every Jorn album there were at least about 3 other releases he was featured on in some way, shape or form. But as he built up his reputation more and more these appearances happened less and less.

            I was hopping that he would at least stick around with Masterplan but that didn’t happen either. And that is probably for the better. I remember how disappointed I was when “Time To Be King” was released. The single they released beforehand (Far From The End Of The World) made me think that the new album would be their debut 2.0. But it turns out it was more like a mix of the worst elements of Aeronautics and his solo stuff. It kinda grew on me in recent years but I still consider it the most disappointing album in their discography. Jorn simply isn’t into that kind of music that Masterplan did on their first album. In an interview Roland said that Jorn finds it to be “too German”. Make of that what you will.

            But I have to say that I loved that Dracula album. The guitarist he wrote the album with is also the guitarist of his solo band. I hope that after this he’ll get more a bit more creative freedom when they’ll start to work on the next regular album with new material. Which won’t be in a while since accordign to Jorn’s facebook the next album will be another cover album.

          • WhamBamSam

            It really is a shame that he left Masterplan, and the new guy just isn’t quite up to snuff. I’d probably mind him less if I couldn’t hear exactly how Jorn would sing all the new songs in the back of my mind.

            The Dracula record was the best thing he’s done since Aeronautics though, as was The Great Divide before it, so there’s some hope that he’s got some of his mojo back.

            I agree that whatever Trond Holter did to get his name on the billing for Swing of Death, he should do a lot more of.

          • CarvedInStone

            I don’t think it’s Rick Altzi who isn’t up to snuff. He has improved by leaps and bounds since I first heard him sing on his first At Vance record in 2007. Listen to the latest At Vance album “Facing The Enemy” or the 2nd Herman Frank album. Altzi is a great singer in his own right and he can sing the new material as well as the old stuff. That was a big complaint I had about Mike DiMeo. He could sing his own material quite well but his version’s of the Jorn songs weren’t that good.

            I think what really hurt “Novum Initium” was the weak songwritting. It had a decent first half but the quality of the songs really drops off during the 2nd half. And for all the talk about how they were finally able to write Power Metal like they used to after Jorn left the the album isn’t that different compared to “Time To Be King”. I expected a lot more from it.

            Unfortunately it looks like the next Masterplan album is going to be a cover album of tunes that Grapow wrote for Helloween. Completely unnecessary if you ask me. Just do another regular album already!

          • WhamBamSam

            Listening to the At Vance and listening back to a bit of Novum Initium, I guess I’ll concede that maybe it’s not so much a technical ability issue that I’ve got with Altzi’s vocals. But if he’s going to be filling Jorn’s shoes he really needs to be going at maximum cheese output all the time, or it’s just going to sound like he’s phoning it in.

          • CarvedInStone

            I agree with everything except the “going at maximum cheese” part. If you want that Jorn is still very much doing it in his solo stuff, Dracula, Avantasia and the occasional Allen/Lande record. Let Altzi do his own thing.

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Well, those two are new to me. I’m enjoying Masterplan now. Great choruses. Maybe I should give Jorn’s latest a try and see how Dracula swings.

          • No, don’t do that.

          • Monsterth Goatom

            Yea, alright. I’ll hold off for Frankenstein: Screw That Neck.

            Still, for some, Dracula, Faith no More, and Deathmass Cloak are the Axis of Evil; to others, the Holy Trinity.

  • Steve

    Not heard this yet but it sounded decidedly more promising than the last album. Not been too thrilled with the last 3 Edguy albums either so this sounds like atleast a partial return to form.

  • William Hebblewhite

    I loved Metal Opera 1 + 2 when they were released…and despite a bit of a lucklustre previous release Im really looking forward to this album

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Yacht metal!!!! I want yacht metal sooo MUCH!!!
    If ever anyone was to spearhead a new yacht metal genre it would be Tobias and Jorn.
    I’ll check this out, It so easy to hear meatloaf singing that embedded tune that it was almost distracting that he wasn’t.

  • Guillotine of Papal Crowns

    I don´t know why but “The Metal Opera Pt.I” is one of my favourite power metal albums of all time and I couldn´t care less about the rest of Sammet´s output… And Jensen be my witness, I´ve tried so fucking hard.

    • Toretron

      Same here. TMO Pt.II wanted to repeat the pattern but just isn’t as good, I’m kind of ok with the transition to power rock for Scarecrow, but after that everything sounds cheesy and boring, except Scales of justice song.

  • This makes me happy.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    great album, is so varied and yet it always feels like Avantasia, and the music gets more mature with every album, i really liked it, tough this album and the previous are more to listen like a whole thing more than song by song, but is a great album

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Underrated. This album deserves at least a 4.5. Halfway through the year now, it’s easily one of my top 5’s.

  • Chris Thomas

    This album is simply amazing an absolute masterpiece and I’d have to say Tobias’ finest hour. It helped me rediscover my love for melodic power metal and music in general. It hasn’t stopped playing in my stereo!