Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Avantasia's 'The Mystery of Time' - Album Review

Avantasia have been a side project of Edguy's mastermind Tobias Sammet since 1999 and 2013 sees the release of their sixth studio album The Mystery of Time. I always think that it seems an understatment to call Avantasia a side project. The band is epic in sound and scope and takes the power metal combined with hard rock of Sammet's day job and increases it tenfold creating one of the biggest sounds in the world of metal. As usual, Sammet has mustered a great cast of musicians and singers to help him realise the album's concept and sound. The cast includes Avantasia stalwarts like former Helloween frontman Michael Kiske and Magnum's Bob Catley alongside new recruits such as ex-Rainbow singer Joe Lynn Turner and Saxon's Biff Byford to name but a few. Guitars and production are once again handled by Sascha Paeth, and the keyboards by Michael 'Miro' Rodenberg, but the drums this time were played by Uriah Heep skinsman Russell Gilbrook who brings a more organic sound to the drumstool. This is the first Avantasia studio album since the double release of The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon in 2010 and the overall sound of the album is largely similar to those albums with the added dimension of the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg who's sound adds a real feeling of class to the album.

The album kicks off with Spectres and a great symphonic intro that shows just what using a real orchestra can bring to a metal album. It has such a warm sound that a synthesisted strings just do not have. It is not long before the rest of the band join in and the song becomes a mid-paced rocker that is built around the 'riff' from the strings. Sammet's recognisable vocals lead the verses backed by some delicate piano before the song really takes off in the chorus. Parts of the song see Sammet backed up by Turner but mostly this song belongs to Sammet. Considering the amount of Edguy and Avantasia albums that the guy has written almost single-handedly, I always find it amazing how fresh he manages to keep his albums sounding. Up next is The Watchmakers' Dream which is a more traditional duet between Sammet and Turner. Their voices are actually quite similar these days, with Turner's becoming slightly lower over the years - but it clear to see that Turner was probably a big influence on Sammet growing up. This is more traditional power metal in the early Edguy vein with plenty of double-bass drumming and fast guitar riffing. Some great hammond organ played by Ferdy Doernberg creates a great contrast with the speedy metal guitars and seem to recal Turner's past in both Rainbow and Deep Purple. There is also a guitar solo from Arjen Anthony Lucassen, himself a master of the metal opera! Following that we get Black Orchid. This is another symphonic rocker that sees Sammet sharing vocal duties with Byford and their two voices contrast well. It is a really epic piece that uses the orchestra to their full potential and has a really stellar chorus. It is also great to hear another side to Byford's voice, away from the balls-to-the-wall metal of Saxon's music. The next highlight is the album's single and ballad Sleepwalking. It is a nice break from all the metal mid album and features the beautiful voice of Cloudy Yang dueting with Sammet. It is similar to Avantasia ballads past but it is always nice to have a balance in an album, and having a break from the pounding drums and harsh guitars is alwasy nice.

Savior in the Clockwork is up next and this is the first of two pieces that exceed ten minutes in length. It is a real tour-de-force featuring Turner, Byford and Kiske along with Sammet on the vocals. It has a bit of everything that has made Avantasia so successful over the years. The word 'epic' is overused thee days (including by me) but there is really no other word that can be used to describe this piece - it just is a monster! All the vocalists are on top of their game here, even Kiske who I feel is a little weak these days, and they make the song what it is. There is also a guitar solo from former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick. Possibly the heaviest song on the album follows with Invoke the Machine. Featuring Pretty Maids' frontman Ronnie Atkins, this is a riff-heavy song that puts the heavy back into metal. However, there is still plenty of melody to be found. The piano in the pre-chorus is fast but tuneful and the chorus makes the best of Atkins' gravely voice. What's Left of Me follows, and is another semi-ballad with the dulcet tones of Mr. Big's Eric Martin giving the song a very 80s feel. Martin does a great job here with a very heartfelt performance. For me, he is the James LaBrie of the 80s, always overshadowed by the musical talents of his bandmembers but here he gets to shine. The next highlight is the final song and other ten minute-plus song The Great Mystery. Sammet, Turner and Byford sound great here as always; but Catley is the star here. He has sung on most of the Avantasia albums to be released so far and still has a great voice after all these years. It is just a great end to a great album. When it comes to Avantasia, you are never quite sure whether each album will be their last or not - but if this is the final note in the Avantasia history then it will have gone out on a high. This album is a real ride through everything that is great about modern melodic metal and features a great supporting cast of singers and musicians. A real highlight!

The album was released on 1st April 2013 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Sleepwalking.

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