Avaland – Theater of Sorcery Review

The metal opera is, enduringly, one of my favorite concepts of the genre. Avantasia and Ayreon are the two projects that I return to most often, and it seems I’m not the only one. Adrien Gzagg, of Grenoble, France, has been similarly inspired, which is why today I’m introducing you to Avaland and its debut full-length, Theater of Sorcery, a symphonic power metal opera with a fantastical backstory. Credits for the album stretch include singers such as Gzagg himself, Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Heli Andrea (Mobius), Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Madie (Nightmare), and Emmanuelson (Rising Steel). So it’s hard to walk into this one with anything less than seriously high expectations. Do Gzagg and his merry crew meet the high bar before them?

Yeah. They do. Theater of Sorcery is an immediate, exciting, well-written symphonic extravaganza of awesome ideas and solid executions. There are two main things that Theater of Sorcery really has going for it: the first is that it is very well-written. From the opening title track, the hooks don’t stop coming, beginning with that song’s massive chorus and sauntering on through to similarly fiery numbers like “Storyteller” and “Holy Kingdom of Fools.” Of course, it’s hard to argue with the vocal talent on display here, but Avaland comes across as a rare metal opera whose instrumental prowess is just as strong, if not stronger at times, than its vocal direction. Guitarists Christophe Feutrier and Lucas Martinez duel with sharp, cheesy intensity throughout, while Camille Souffron’s bass-related escapades are both audible and exciting with an execution that reminds me more of the technical death metal style (in its creativity) than anything else. Léo Mouchonay ties it all together nicely behind the drum kit, matching the many moods and intensities demanded by the story. Atop it all, layered like molten cheese, the symphonic elements, orchestrated by Gzagg, are catchy, speedy, fun metal at heart, and that’s the way I like it.

The second thing is much harder to quantify, but has just as much impact. While the metal itself comes across as a largely power metal variation of Sonata Arctica meets Kamelot meets Ayreon meets Avantasia, the real key to Avaland is the sheer enthusiasm the band has for what they’re doing. Although they’re working with experienced industry professionals, this is, as far as I know, the first professional exposure for Avaland itself, and you can just feel their excitement in every moment of Theater of Sorcery, an enthusiasm that is at least partially matched by Emmanuelson and Madie in particular. It’s the same quality that keeps Oceanborn (Nightwish) from fading forever into the depths of symphonic metal history, and the same reason people keep coming back to aged debut albums long after they’re past their prime — because albums like this one accurately showcase passion, love, and true excitement for the craft of making music.

As a result, it’s hard to say that there are any bad tracks in Theater of Sorcery. Were I to level a couple of criticisms, I would argue that the album loses steam close to the end, in the trio of “Never Let Me Walk Aline,” “Déjà Vu,” and “I’ll Be Ready for Your Love.” These mid-paced, rock-like numbers (think Avantasia’s The Scarecrow) feel lesser by far to tracks like “Gypsum Flower,” with its subtle-yet-catchy symphonic undertones and heavy riffs, or “War of Minds,” in which Zorgati and Madie absolutely excel atop one of the best power metal melodies I’ve heard this year. On paper, it’s very much a cheesy tune, but Avaland pull it off with grace. Here and there a few vocal melodies sound a bit awkward — I suspect the lyrics were written before the music and modified appropriately, to mostly good effect — but the foundation is so solid, and the talent so good that none of it prevents me from recommending this album to all of you.

For sixty-three minutes, Theater of Sorcery remains engaging, interesting, and solid. I generally expect new metal opera projects to get started by biting off more than they can chew. Gzagg and company have opted to skip that step. I don’t have a clue how a brand-new act from France pulled all of this off, but they might find themselves in the company of their idols sooner than they think. This is a project to keep an eye on. I really don’t think I can stress that enough.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Rockshots Records
Websites: avaland-themetalopera.com | facebook.com/avaland.metal.opera
Releases Worldwide: April 2nd, 2021

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