Thursday, 10 March 2016

Avantasia - London Review

While Tobias Sammet tours often with his hard rock/power metal act Edguy, his epic side project Avantasia has had limited opportunities to play live over the years. The mammoth undertaking of getting everyone's schedules to co-inside, plus the assumed huge cost of putting together a show of this magnitude, means that Avantasia have mostly only played big festival shows, with a few headline appearances organised around these festival shows. With the release of the band's seventh studio album Ghostlights, Sammet decided to take Avantasia on the road for a proper tour. This is no mean feat, but the lengthy trek around Europe (and some US dates) mean that lots of fans will finally get the chance to hear Avantasia songs performed live. In the time running up to the tour, Sammet promised the most epic Avantasia live experience yet, with the band performing around three hours of material each night, with the biggest cast of guest singers yet. It took thirteen singers and musicians to recreate the epic Avantasia sound on stage, but it worked really well. The band was made up of returning faces. Sascha Paeth (guitar) and Oliver Hartmann (vocals/guitar) made for an explosive guitar duo, and the pair traded flashy solos all night. André Neygenfind (bass guitar) and Felix Bohnke (drums) formed the perfect rhythm section. Bohnke in particular shined, his relentless energy and skill forming the backbone of Avantasia's bombastic metal sound. Michael 'Miro' Rodenberg (keyboards/vocals) was the icing on the cake, his keyboard and piano lines knitting everything together and giving Avantasia their sparkle. Sammet did the lion's share of the singing of course, but he was helped by Michael Kiske, Ronnie Atkins, Jørn Lande, Bob Catley, Eric Martin, Herbie Langhans, and Amanda Somerville throughout; and they all brought their unique talents to the overall performance. The O2 Forum in Kenish Town, London seems to the go-to venue for the bigger European metal acts these days. While it is not my favourite venue, the stage and sound system are good. I am glad I elected to sit in the balcony however, given the length of the show. The view was excellent too, and I have sometimes found the view from the floor can be quite poor, and the pit can get rather crushed.

There was no support act, so at 8pm exactly, Avantasia hit the stage with the piano-led rocker Mystery of a Blood Red Rose and the energy and bombast never let up until 11pm when everything came to a close. The guest vocal spots were fairly evenly distributed, with no one person hogging the spotlight for too long, which made for a diverse and dynamic show. Kiske demonstrated his unique, controlled high-pitched voice on Ghostlights, and the grit of Atkins made the Saxon-esque Invoke the Machine tick. Catley, in his home country, received a huge cheer from the crowd whenever he took to the stage. He really stole Sammet's thunder on the epic The Great Mystery, and rightfully so as the man is a rock legend. The setlist contained material from all seven Avantasia albums, but seemed to focus more on the most recent two albums, which is understandable. Lande is easily the most powerful singer of the lot, and his duet with Sammet on the celtic-rocker The Scarecrow is something too behold. This also acted as a showcase for Paeth and Hartmann, with the two trading solos during the song's atmospheric mid-section. Even Hartmann took the occasional break from shredding to sing, including on the power metal anthem The Watchmakers' Dream - originally sung by Joe Lynn Turner. Being a three hour show, Sammet sat out of some songs for a break. One of these was The Wicked Symphony, but Martin sung his parts with ease. Six singers traded lines on this one, and it was one of the highlights of the show. It was probably the first Avantasia song that I really loved, so to finally hear it live was a treat! In the second half of the set, more of the band's well-known anthems were given outings. The power ballad Farewell went down well, and it was a chance for Somerville to show off her powerful voice, as was Catley's The Story Ain't Over. Stargazers was a surprise however, and the epic song was owned by Kiske, who's voice soared. My favourite song of the night however was Let the Storm Descend Upon You from the latest album. Lande really showcases his power on that song, and the combination of him, Sammet, and Atkins works wonders. It is one of my favourite Sammet songs, so to hear it live was amazing. The energy was growing as Sammet and Kiske duetted on the fast Reach Out for the Light and the keyboard-heavy Avantasia. The sold-out crowd were singing every word by this point, and everyone on stage seemed delighted by the response. Two more melodic numbers in the shape of Twisted Mind and Dying for an Angel saw the main set come to an end, with the whole crowd on their feet cheering. There was time for a couple more however, with the old single Lost in Space getting everyone back in the mood for things, before a medley of Sign of the Cross and The Seven Angels brought the evening to an anthemic and triumphant end, as everyone was on stage and singing their hearts out. The setlist was:

Mystery of a Blood Red Rose
Invoke the Machine
Unchain the Light
A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies
The Great Mystery
The Scarecrow
The Watchmakers' Dream
What's Left of Me
The Wicked Symphony
Draconian Love
Shelter from the Rain
The Story Ain't Over
Let the Storm Descend Upon You
Promised Land
Reach Out for the Light
Twisted Mind
Dying for an Angel
Lost in Space
Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels

Overall, this was a truly fantastic evening of live music from some of the best in the melodic metal business. I think it is unlikely that Sammet will attempt another massive Avantasia tour of this magnitude for quite some time, so I knew I had to take this chance to see them. I am very glad I did, as the performance and setlist was stunning. 

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