Avantasia // The Mystery of Time
Rating: 3.5/5.0 — Fine German craftsmanship and gourmet cheese
Label: Nuclear Blast Records [EU] [US]
Websites: tobiassammet.com/eng/index.php  |  myspace.com/tobiassammet
Release Dates: EU: 2013.03.29  |  NA: 04.30.2013 (WTF??)

Avantasia You have to give Tobias Sammet his steely props. He doesn’t do things half-assed. Nope, he goes big, bold and lets the Metal Gods sort shit out. His Edguy material is plenty pretentious and overblown, but it can’t hold a magic candle to the sheer pretentious pomposity and bombast of his Avantasia project. Taking cues from Arjen Luccasen’s Ayreon outings, Sammet drags in every singer, guitarist and hanger-on he can as if he’s playing a metallic version of Pokemon (gotta catch em all). His last feat was the impressive double release of the Angel of Babylon and The Wicked Symphony albums (my fanboyish reviews of which, landed me a spot at AMG Industries, Ltd. for some reason), and I was very curious how he could top those massive platters of symphonic excess. Several years later we get The Mystery of Time and the answer is: he can’t. This time Sammet chose to dial things back and focus on a more direct, cohesive album. It results in some great, über hooky, polished metal, but at times it lacks the charm and finesse of earlier material. Another issue is the cast of supporting voices, which falls short of the stellar rosters of old. While classic rock vocalists like Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple, Yngwie) and reliable metal voices like Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, etc.) and Biff Byford (Saxon) are fine, some of the other additions are rather weak, and vocal titans Russell Allen and Jorn Lande are sorely missed. Still, there are some amazing songs and though a few are less than wonderful, none are outright bad and fans of the old stuff will welcome this with girlish glee.

This is the pure, puffed up Avantasia you’ve come to expect, sometimes more symphonic, sometimes less so, and Sammet’s affinity for writing huge, hooky choruses is still intact. As per usual, Sammet is joined by different vocalists on every track and this revolving door of voices is supposed to add spice and variety. While songs like “Spectres” and “The Watchmaker’s Dream” are both highly enjoyable doses of Euro-metal, Joe Lynn Turner’s vocals add very little to the mix and Sammet does most of the heavy lifting. Though the songs are still good, they lack the extra wow factor former guests like Roy Kahn, Russell Allen and Jorn Lande provided.

Faring better is Biff Byford who joins Sammet for the standout, “Black Orchid,” and his trademark nasal whine provides a cool counterpoint to Sammet’s classic power metal wail. The song is a big winner which builds to the kind ofAvantasia2013 enormous chorus that put Edguy on the map and has since established Avantasia as the de jure symphonic project. Good old Biff gets to come back for the other big slobberkocker track, “Savior in the Clockwork,” where he’s joined by Michael Kiske and Turner. It’s a great song and it’s a trip to hear his old school NWoBHM voice amid all the symphonic fluffer-nuttery and hijinks. The chorus is big enough to crush a Buick and the trade offs between singers is expertly managed. Kiske gets a bigger roll on ” Where Clock Hands Freeze” which is like a nostalgia trip back to the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums. Big singing, big chorus and lots of Euro-power zip and charm. Kiske still has the chops and he’s the right man for this job.

When things gets heavier and more urgent on “Invoke the Machine,” Sammet brings in Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) and his rough n ready vocals are fine, but this kind of material is perfectly suited to Jorn’s raspy voice and Atkins ain’t no Jorn. The song is still fun, but I can’t help thinking it could be so much better. More perplexing is the inclusion of Eric Martin (Mr. Big) on the sapptastic power ballad “What’s Left of Me,” which is radio-friendly, 80s hair metal. It works fairly well, but why Eric Martin of all people? Was Kip Winger busy that week? Don Dokken wasn’t returning calls? For the other maudlin ballad, Sammet swaps lines with unknown German singer Cloudy Yang and both the song and her performance are a bit underwhelming.

Things wrap up with the ten minute long “The Great Mystery,” which features Bob Catley (Magnum). All Sammet’s tricks are on display here as he drapes everything in drama, pathos, Mentos and anything else he could squeeze in. Catley sounds fine, Byford and Turner add some variety and though the song is long, it keeps the listener involved. It isn’t their best lengthy piece, but it’s still plenty good. It’s also the first time Avantasia reminded me of Trans-Siberian Orchestra (I’m not sure what I think about that).

BiffByfordThe core band is again composed of Sammet, guitarist Sascha Paeth and keyboardist Miro, with drumming handled this time by Russell Gilbrook (Uriah Heap). Guest musicians include Arjen Luccasen, Bruce Kulick (KISS) and Oliver Hartman (At Vance). Everything sounds great and they can all obviously play. The guitars feel a bit heavier and meaner than usual and some of this stuff gets fairly aggressive. Though it’s very symphonic, they get big credit for never letting it get as fruity and un-metal sounding as the new Stratovarius.

Overall, The Mystery of Time is another success for the man with the masterplan. It says something for Sammet that he can bring in a “B Team” of vocalists and still achieve this much win. If you love power metal with tons of frills, you likely already have season tickets for the Avantasia bandwagon. Those tickets pay for the whole seat, but during some of these songs, you’ll only need…THE EDGE!!

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  • I think Atkins did an amazing job, sure he is no Jorn but, who is?

    • sathriel

      Wait, I know that one… Jorn is :D

      • Realkman666

        Just say it auf Deutsch: Jorn ist Jorn ist Jorn ist Jorn is Jorn…

  • I was waiting for this review for several days, great review , I loved the album

  • Dmitry Shirokoryadov

    Tobi started playing with hard rock stuff on Rocket Ride and though the first steps were quite enjoyable and even great, the consequent ones are just more of the same but worse. Rocket Ride and especially The Scarecrow were really awesome, Tinnitus Sanctus was moderately nice but the Symphony/Angel thing already lost most of the metal feel to it and even more did Age of the Joker.

    This album is almost 100% hard rock (or hard’n’heavy, I’m really bad with these terms) and maybe the hard rock fans with a love to history of the genre and its past merits will be happy with it, for me the decrease in power metal part is far too deadly. There are, of course, some trademark choruses and other stuff but overall this thing sounds just like a shell of what Tobi used to make just even not so many years ago. Also, of course, I’m not a fan of most of these guest guys, which makes it even worse for me.

    Having listened to the new Pretty Maids record, I’d totally vouch for it over The Mystery of Time because it simply flourishes with melody and neat songwriting. It’s simple and doesn’t go this big but I like it much, much more. Besides, Ronnie still has the power in his voice while Tobi’s performance has been vastly deteriorating over the past years (he used to use a lot of clean, powerful singing even on Hellfire Club/Rocket Ride/The Scarecrow but now he’s mostly, I don’t know, mewing? Maybe he could try blues rock or something less vocally demanding). And,. of course, PM have Morten Sandager on board which was a great addition to their ranks, he really shines on Motherland and makes it even better.

    So, all in all, if Sammet is going to keep it up with this way of things, I’ll pass and enjoy his past works instead. This simply doesn’t click (even Age of the Joker did, to an extent, huh).

  • Jesse Bailey

    “but why Eric Martin of all people? Was Kip Winger busy that week? Don Dokken wasn’t returning calls?” Because Eric Martin is a vastly superior vocalist to these two and Sammet knows it.

  • Jesse Bailey

    “but why Eric Martin of all people? Was Kip Winger busy that week? Don Dokken wasn’t returning calls?” Because Eric Martin is a vastly superior vocalist to these two and Sammet knows it.

  • Sold. This is my favorite kind of thing, copious amounts of epic cheese!

    Oddly enough, I haven’t heard the previous release for some reason.
    I am a huge fan of Arjen’s works as well as Edguy (Hellfire Club especially.) So I feel like I need to check that Wicked Symphony/Angel of Babylon immediately.

  • Knutahh

    Loved the review. Good stuff!

    I’m also disappointed that Allen and Lande aren’t singing on this record. Allen / Lande’s spectacular vocals + Sammet’s cheesy lyrics and grandiose composition is always massive win. Still though, I can’t wait to listen to this record, been looking forward to the release for quite a while now!

  • I know it’s not on Voivod’s level of awfulness, but that cover art should get at least a mention, or a nomination for those (hopefully) future End of Year lists of worst album covers.

    • Juular

      Why? It’s wonderful

      • I might be biased against cliché fantasy themes, but IMO, it also seems to be made for a cartoon.

        • Juular

          It’s just a retro-style fantasy poster. Fantasy artwork of the past, was kind of cartooney, and they are harkening back to that with this cover art.

          And there ain’t nothing wrong with cartoon’s either. They are a great form of artistic expression and entertainment.

          • I don’t think there is something inherently wrong with cartoons, but maybe I just don’t feel that art style is a good match for the album.

          • Juular

            Fair enough! Thanks for replying. :)

    • lolwut?

    • Well, it is a bit too Thomas Kinkade-esque, but it isnt terrible.

  • Why anyone likes anything from Avantasia is beyond me. Another European supergroup with lots of egos and little substance. I love some good power metal and Edguy had that years and years ago, but this stuff is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

    • i know that everybody is entitled to their own opinion but your opinion sucks

  • Antonio Sacchi

    This bullshit is not heavy metal and is not good

  • I’ve only given it one spin but it’s definitely the weakest Avantasia release for me. Still very solid though and much better than anything Edguy has done since Hellfire Club

  • Michael N

    I’ve actually become a fan of the “B Team”. And I love hearing Bob Catley sing on Avantasia stuff.