Anything bearing the imprimatur of Tobias Sammet is synonymous with excess, bombast and a superhuman resistance to restraint and modesty. Originally known for his larger-than-life Euro-power albums with Edguy, Sammet’s Avantasia project is something else altogether. It’s his own personal wonderland where he enlists friends, well wishers and contemporary musicians in a never-ending quest to create extravagant, over the top power metal infused with Broadway theatrics, hard rock grit and preening pop. Yes, it’s mega-yacht metal, and no, it definitely isn’t for everyone. When the man gets things right though, the results can be spectacular. Moonglow is Sammet’s eighth platter of shameless grandiosity and it boasts the usual supporting cast of metal luminaries like Jørn Lande (all things righteous and rocking), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) and Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween). With a trail of shockingly successful cheese platters already under his bedazzled belt, Sammet always promises the next Avantasia platter will have more of everything. At some point the golden brown biscuit wheels are going to come off his runaway gravy train and the man is going to lose his uncanny ability to make this kind of cheddar forward metal/rock opera shtick stick. That day is not today, however.
As Sammet is wont to do, he plays all his cards and most of yours on mammoth opener, “Ghost in the Moon.” At a decidedly zaftig 10 minutes, it’s the classic Avantasia showpiece, approximating what Savatage was doing in the late 80s fused with Trans-Siberian Orchestra1 and then pumped full of Meatloaf and Bonnie Tyler plasma. It’s a total eclipse of subtly in the interest of more is MOAR. More Broadway ready, jazz handsy vocals accompanied by the most ostentatious and overblown arrangements imaginable, and it all somehow meshes together into a helluva good time. Sammet’s knack for crafting killer hooks and embedding them like trip wires throughout a massive song is on display, and it seems this track has more catchy choruses than the law allows. Of course it’s all ridiculous as Hell but it’ll have you singing along to the massively cheestastic vocal lines like you’re the prima donna star of some fifth-rate back alley revival of Wicked. The fun wagon is just warning up, careening to the classic Euro-power aggression of “Book of Shadows” as Lord Protector Jørn joins Hansi Kursch, Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) and Mille Petrozza (Kreator) of all people for a sheer blast of sonic hysteria. When Mille joins the fray it’s hard not to guffaw at how he sounds dueling vocally with his clean singing cohorts, but it’s the heaviest moment in Avantasia history and it works in a madcap way that only Sammet could pull off.
Elsewhere you get a top-notch ballad in the title track with Sammet dueting with Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night, Rainbow), and a pair of typically overwrought set piece songs featuring the whole Sammet crew. The lengthier of these, “The Raven Child,” is well conceived but runs on way too long and at times feels overly formulaic by Avantasia standards. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” however, is easily the best in show, and exactly the kind of manic Euro-power extravaganza I love, with everyone from Bob Catley to Geoff Tate arriving to help push things to the next level. Speaking of Mr. Tate, he’s the unexpected star of this album’s freak show, bringing life to the moody, Queensryche-esque “Invincible” and helping carry a lot of the weight on the very Edguy-like “Alchemy.” He sounds surprisingly good and pairs very well with Sammet for some of the album’s most memorable moments.
As good as things are, the album has its clear ups and downs, and not every song works completely. “Starlight” is a fairly disposable cut, and the choice to conclude with a cover of Michael Sembello‘s 80s radio hit and Flashdance anthem “Maniac” is a puzzling one that ends this huge platter with a bewildering whimper. Add to that the fact both “Ghost in the Moon” and “The Raven Child” run at least 2 minutes past their expiration point and this can only be called a flawed victory.
Performance-wise, Sammet sounds great and less strained than he has in the past when he goes for those high notes. Ace vets like Jørn and Bob Catley do their thing with the expected charisma2, and Geoff Tate sounds the best he has since the late 90s. On the downside, Ronnie Atkins doesn’t really distinguish himself much though appearing on multiple tracks, and Mr. Kursch sounds decent but rather diminished.
Moonglow is everything you expect from an Avantasia release with over an hour of fun and frolic through the fields of ego and excess, and fans will not be disappointed. Mr. Sammet has managed to beat the odds yet again, harnessing the diverse talents of a score of musicians to create another collection of songs that are bigger than big. If you need more melodrama and unbridled enthusiasm in your dull, colorless life, this is the album to swaddle yourself in. It’s like a hit Broadway show in your mouth and everyone’s… invited. Taste the grandeur.