It’s probably not necessary to tell you who or what AVANTASIA is, but in case you haven’t paid attention to the power metal scene in the last few decades, they’re one of the most noteworthy metal opera collectives. Formed by EDGUY‘s Tobias Sammet and commonly featuring vocalists like Jørn Lande [ex-MASTERPLAN] and Michael Kiske [ex-HELLOWEEN], AVANTASIA have not only produced some of the best metal operas of our time, but they also put on one hell of a live show. With the release of “Moonglow” announced for February 15th, 2019, we thought we’d tune in with the rest of the world to check it out.
I’ve been meaning to listen to AVANTASIA for about 15 years now. I can’t really say why it hasn’t happened before this year. I just… haven’t ever thought, “I need to listen to some AVANTASIA” at the same time as, “I need to listen to something new.” So when the team mentioned that “Moonglow” would be released and that they wanted to do a listening, we decided to review it together.
1. “Ghost in the Moon”
The album starts with the fairly long “Ghost in the Moon” and the song sounds exactly like it’s name suggests: mystical cheesy power metal, over-the-top (would you expect anything else from Sammet?), and so happy you risk barfing rainbows. Simo pointed out that it actually has a very Meat Loaf feel to it – just dramatic as hell and full of power. It’s hard not to giggle at the fact that the 10+ minute opener was sung exclusively by Sammet, but what the heck? It gets the album off to a great start, even including the fake stop and dynamic build back up to a great finish.
2. “Book of Shallows”
The album takes a turn for the more intense with “Book of Shallows,” with deeper, lower tones and a more ominous feel (at least to start with). This track features more of the vocalists, including Hansi Kürsch, Ronnie Atkins, Jørn Lande, and Mille Petrozza.
The second single to be released was the title track of the album, featuring Candice Night of BLACKMORE’S NIGHT fame on vocals alongside Sammet. This song is definitely fun and catchy, and its undeniable that Night has a gorgeous voice. Her gentle purr against Sammet‘s rasp works surprisingly well. This is exactly the kind of song we would get excited about at a live show, singing along with the “moonglow, moonglow” in the chorus. Plus, props for bringing Candice Night back into the metal scene for the first time since HELLOWEEN‘s collaboration with her in 2005. She should be in more collaborations because she’s wonderful, especially while her husband and musical partner, Richie Blackmore, is currently doing RAINBOW gigs.
4. “The Raven Child”
The first single, “The Raven Child,” starts wonderfully, with a “Hansi the bard in a tavern, plucking a lute” feel to it. This song balances heavy riffs and beautiful escapist ambient music masterfully. The overall fantasy feel of the music is a nerd’s musical wet dream (we were all guilty of this pleasure) and if you like heavy music too, such as ’90s BLIND GUARDIAN or EDGUY… well, this is good stuff. And then just for extra kicks, in comes Jørn again. Then there’s a “dwarven cave” style part with deep manly choirs and it still works! Then kick up the tempo because it’s not over yet. It’s so overwhelmingly happy and positive by the end, I want to prescribe it to other people with depression. It’s hard not to feel good listening to this wonderful cheese.
“Starlight,” unfortunately, is the start of a three-song streak of forgettable material that fails to rise to the level set by the first four tracks. On first listen, the optimist might consider it a pleasant breath of air, a necessary break from the intensity, but sadly, it lacks a hook and ends up giving an almost-but-not-quite feeling overall.
“Invincible” is the proper ballad, with Geoff Tate on vocals. There are traditional ballad keyboards and cheese lyrics, a true sugary power metal slow song. You could imagine Mariah Carey singing this. It’s a tad superficial, and ultimately feels a bit too cheesy – none of us could imagine seeing it live with the vocalist getting lost in the feeling. It’s a bit of a disappointment on the ballad front.
There’s no hiatus between “Invincible” and “Alchemy,” which also features Tate on vocals. There’s a thrashy vibe in the aggressive feel to the music., and this song brings the metal back with the strong drums and heavy metal riffs. This song is a bit more basic, and again, while the verses were very good, the chorus failed to hook us, so the song loses any chance of sticking in your mind. This is a bit bad, because three mediocre songs at this point began to make us lose interest in the album as a whole entity.
8. “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”
“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” is the kind of name where you better deliver, as you’re setting some high standards to live up to. Particularly too, because the last three songs had been a bit forgettable, and being named (presumably) after PINK FLOYD‘s debut album, this sets the bar a bit high for itself in name alone. It’s immediately full-on power metal, and has a bit of a too-familiar progression, perhaps used in other AVANTASIA songs or power metal songs in general. After the first listen, we largely got the vibe that this is a track that needs a couple more listens and probably a reading of the lyrics before you’re like to gain full appreciation for it. It’s got a pretty clear dramatic arc, so we have hopes that this one will find its place once we’ve listened a few more times.
We were pleasantly surprised by “Lavender,” with it’s ever-rising dynamics and ambitious use of choirs. It’s a very positive, fist-pumping, happy anthem. It has a bit of a classic AVANTASIA feel, in a good way. Nice positive energy here. This is definitely back at the level of the earlier songs in quality. Props to Bob Catley for his role in this one!
10. “Requiem for a Dream”
“Requiem for a Dream” has connotations to the terrifying movie of the same name, and the song has such a serious intro that you get tricked into thinking this will be a far more grim song than it is. However, it progresses into the very traditional power metal drum tempo early on. Really, while listening to this song, we discussed our opinions of “laukkakomppi” – the sort of relentless galloping drum rhythm that is frequently overused in power metal. We applauded the album, for in spite of overusing laukkakomppi a tad, it doesn’t totally overwhelm the music on the whole. This song, much like “Piper,” will need a few more listens before we can form an concrete opinion, but it does lack the necessary hooks still that we hoped for.
11. “Maniac” (Michael Sembello cover)
So everyone knows this song. This is a great ’80s song that everyone knows. More likely than not, your opinion of this will relate 100% to whether you like metal covers. If you do, this is absolutely a metal cover and will tickle all your requirement checkboxes for a good metal cover. If, however, you do not like metal covers, this will annoy the shit out of you. Our group was pretty evenly divided on this front.
This is a true bonus song that feels like it wasn’t good enough to make it onto the album in full. Considering songs like “Invincible” and “Alchemy” were already pretty sub-par, that means this song is completely forgettable. I wouldn’t, personally, bother with finding a copy of the album with this track on it. There was absolutely nothing special here.
Well, my first foray into AVANTASIA was pretty fun. The album wasn’t an overwhelming success, but it was really enjoyable to listen to; the musicianship and vocals were fantastic. The album seems to burn through their best songs early on, but then in the second half fails to hit the mark, even if the general musical quality is still good (meaning, there are no straight-up bad songs). The vocalists in general were best used in the epic four first tracks and then again in “Lavender,” and the compositions seem to get less interesting through tracks 5-7. It’s unfortunate, as the album might’ve worked better on the whole if, simply, the songs had been in a different order that doesn’t blow its load so early on. The album sets itself up to be amazing and fails to deliver in the latter half, which is definitely a bummer. However, this album is still certainly worth listening to! There are some gems in here, even if the whole product falls a tad flat.
[Ed: after many more listens, this album is definitely growing on us a fair bit, so do keep that in mind!]
Written by Bear Wiseman
- Ghost in the Moon
- Book of Shallows
- The Raven Child
- The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
- Requiem for a Drean
- Maniac (Michael Sembello cover)
Tobias Sammet – lead vocals, additional keyboard, bass guitar
Sascha Paeth – guitar, bass guitar, mixing
Michael Rodenberg – keyboard, piano, orchestration, mastering
Felix Bohnke – drums
Nuclear Blast Records