AvantasiaIt’s the next installment of Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia folks, so expect lots of symphonic epic songs performed by top notch guest vocalists and teeth-out-jaws-locked-won’t-let-go melody lines. It’s Avantasia, yes, yes, you know what to expect…but let’s face it the interest is always in how it’s delivered!

Helping Tobias out once more are production maestro Sascha Paeth (Guitars, additional Keyboards and Bass) and Michael “Miro” Rodenberg (Keyboards, Orchestration). However, Sammet’s Edguy band-mate, the amusingly named Felix Bohnke (OK, maybe if you’re 12…) has control of the drum-stool this time around. The opening track is actually Tobias taking all lead vocals…which I presume is because he couldn’t actually get Meat Loaf. Seriously, the vocal lines, backing vocals and arrangement are massively influenced by Steinman’s dalliances with Meat Loaf. I personally think it’s a strange choice of opener, but what do I know, I’ll leave you the listener to decide if it works or not and swiftly move on to the rest of the album if I may…

I always feel Tobias Sammet does some of his most prolific vocal work on Avantasia, whether it’s because he has his peers to measure himself against or whether the various styles of music has a bit more room for him to try other things I’m unsure, but I’d certainly like to first applaud his contributions, before mentioning the attention he takes to give each guest vocalist the perfect platform for them to excel in their particular style. Take Geoff Tate’s performance on the Oh-so-Queensryche-yet-a-bit-groovier ‘Seduction Of Decay’. Tate is absolutely excellent here – and I’ve been wanting to say that for quite a few years now and Oh look, someone writes him a classic Queensryche number and he sounds as good as he ever did. Funny that…

But as a further example, check out Michael Kiske’s famous high-register vocals on the Classic Power Metal flavoured title track. Now OK, he’s been back doing this style admirably with Unisonic for a while now, but here we find him in fine form like “…Seven Keys” was just a couple of years ago – totally at home. The question is, is it the vocalist that makes a track sound like the band he/she is from, or is it Sammet’s sympathetic song writing with them in mind? For instance, Marco Hietala sings ‘Master Of The Pendulum’ (that may be a euphemism…I’ve not decided yet), which pitches almost perfectly between Nightwish and Tarot, whilst Within Temptation’s Sharon Den Adel is as Within Temptation as ever on the Within Temptation flavoured atmospheric ’Isle Of Evermore’…that sounds quite like Within Temptation. But I know, I know, why analyse it when it just works so well. And besides, occasionally there is also a vocalist who does something unexpected – Sinbreed’s Herbie Langhans gives ‘Draconian Love’ a distinctly Gothic Metal feel with a lower vocal style I’ve not heard him do before – very accomplished indeed!

I should really round out the other vocal contributors at this point; Current Warrant (ex-Lynch Mob) vocalist Robert Mason flexes his pipes on a couple of tracks (including the unmistakably Edguy-esque ‘Babylon Vampyres‘), Jorn Lande is as fabulous as always on three songs (taking the main lead with Sammet on the dynamic piano-led-then-heavy ‘Lucifer’), Pretty Maids’ Ronnie Atkins is wonderfully unmistakable on a couple of tracks (including a great track with Sammet and Kiske – ‘Unchain The Night’), Dee Snider lets rip on the eerie-yet-catchy ‘The Haunting’ and like welcoming an old friend, Magnum’s Bob Catley returns in silky-smooth time honoured tradition to close proceedings along with Sammet on the resounding ‘A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies’. Also worthy of note has to be the way Atkins, Lande, Sammet and Mason combine so well on the 12 minute epic ‘Let The Storm Descend Upon You’ – it’s everything you expect and hope for from Avantasia and the singers involved, wrapped up in one track. Best not forget some fabulous lead guitar contributions from Bruce Kulick and Oliver Hartmann, whose fabulous shreddings help to make this release just a hint heavier on the whole than its predecessor…maybe…if I conveniently wash over that Meat Loafy thing at the start…!

All this together is of course, classic Avantasia. There’s Hard Rock parts through to Power Metal and it all works together as effortlessly as always. Everyone concerned is fabulous on it, utterly faultless, and as you would hope, there are some great songs and arrangements. Really, what more do you need to know? I reckon I could have just said who was on it, what tracks it had, when it was released and that it was just as good as ever and that would have sufficed such is Tobias Sammet and Avantasia’s reputation. That would have been a much easier and shorter review…damn…missed a trick there!

(8/10  Andy Barker)