REVIEW: AVANTASIA – “Moonglow”
At just 14 years old, German composer and vocalist Tobias Sammet created Edguy, the band that would launch him into the rock and heavy metal world. Despite the success that the band had after releasing four albums (still hailed as some of the best power metal albums of all time) Sammet visualized more for himself. He started writing down new ideas taking him down another path entirely, creating the rock opera project we now know as Avantasia. It took over twenty months to physically come to life, but in 2001 the world was exposed to the genius that is ‘The Metal Opera pt. 1’. What young musician doesn’t dream about one day sharing a stage with some of their biggest influences? Lucky for Tobias Sammet and all of us fans, his blood, sweat, and tears invested made his dream come true; dear gods what a remarkable dream this is.
For twenty years, Sammet has balanced his hard-hitting straight forward rocking style of Edguy with his epic, melodic, and soaring story-telling in Avantasia. Each release has grown upon the previous, and while no album is truly an ‘opera’ by definition, the fantastic story of each album is vividly told by some of the biggest names of heavy metal royalty. Fans have heard appearances from Alice Cooper, Michael Kiske (Helloween), Kai Hansen (Helloween, Gamma Ray), Roy Khan (Kamelot), Rudolf Schenker (Scorpions), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), and Andre Matos (Angra) – just to name a few! The newest release from Sammet, ‘Moonglow’ is set to release February 15th via Nuclear Blast Records. While this record features many familiar names to the Avantasia universe, two buzzworthy appearances on the record are the thrash metal legend Mille Petrozza of Kreator, and power metal’s lord and savior himself, Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian.
Let’s be real here, I knew I was going to love this album before I even heard the first single “The Raven Child”. It is no secret that anything Tobias Sammet touches is gold in my eyes. However, what was really so striking to me initially was the artwork created with this release. Created by Swedish artist Alexander Jansson, the cover immediately pulls you into another world before the music even starts. Some bands neglect the importance of great artwork, but this was not the case for “Moonglow” – it is truly a stunning piece of art.
Opening track “Ghost in the Moon” is a great homage/follow-up to 2016’s ‘Ghostlights’ track “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose”. The near ten-minute track is very familiar to all Avantasia fans in overall style with catchy melodies, a great hook, and a massive chorus. One of my favorite songs on the album, “Book of Shallows” picks up the speed a bit with a soaring guitar melody, soon met with a voice we all know – Hansi Kursch. This track features even more characters sang by Jorn Lande and Ronnie Atkins, and when all voices combine with Sammet in the chorus – this song is damn near perfect. In a particularly heavy moment of the song, a more sinister sounding character arrives played by Mille Petrozza. His gritty voice is the last dynamic piece the song needed to truly become next level Avantasia. Just think metal fans – you’re listening to a heavy metal song with Hansi Kursch, Tobias Sammet, and Mille Petrozza? Hell, my dreams just came true.
American musician and vocalist Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night) is featured on the album’s title track, “Moonglow” and I am honestly so happy to hear a female vocalist on a bit of a heavier track. Up to this point I always felt like the female vocalists featured in Avantasia were only used in a weak or ballad-like way, and there are far too many strong female voices out there to see that become a habit. Night’s voice is perfect with Sammet’s and the song is written in such a way that her soulful voice really drives it home. The lyrics are simple and I feel like it becomes a bit repetitive, but I still really enjoy the song.
Another golden point on the album is of course, the first single released, “The Raven Child” and while not too many bands can say their first single for an album is over eleven minutes long, this song still doesn’t feel long enough for the sheer beauty it holds – check out the music video for yourself! “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is another long song, but I just love the dancing intro keyboard melody and how it builds into a beautiful motif for the rest of the tune. Featuring Ronnie Atkins, Geoff Tate, and Jorn Lande the vocal talent is colossal in this song. The “Moonglow” story comes to a close with “Requiem for a Dream” which is one of the strongest tracks on the album, featuring very prominent bass solos of all things, immediately followed by Michael Kiske wailing. I don’t think I could ask for more, honestly.
The keyboard, piano, and various other orchestrations done by Sascha Paeth and Michael Rodenberg deserve a shout-out, as well as the perfect production!
There are some weaknesses to the album. I hate to focus on them, but I will mention “Lavender”, “Alchemy”, and “Invincible” are very beautiful sounding songs musically, although I feel like they fall flat a little. One thing that Sammet is known for, is creating insane hooks that really sink deep in you and never let go, and I feel that these songs just didn’t quite get there.
That being said, the album as a whole is incredibly strong, and a perfect addition to the Avantasia story built thus far by Tobias and crew. I remember reading an article written just after the listening party claiming that this was Avantasia’s most diverse record by far, and I have to agree. There is so much meat in this record, it takes a few sittings to fully take it in. I hear so much Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Meatloaf-esque moments, all while sounding so original and new – it truly is a sight to be seen (or heard?). I think this album will please all fans of Avantasia, old and new. Don’t be afraid to give it a listen.
I can’t imagine that this project was developed by such a young aspiring musician, but we are so lucky and thankful that we were able to watch it grow and blossom into this phenomenal project that it is now. Lucky for us, Tobias Sammet and Avantasia are taking “Moonglow” to fans around the world, touring from March to May of 2019. Keep your eyes peeled for a show near you – I will see you in Chicago, IL!