When I heard of this album's release, I was convinced that what I considered to be the zenith of the genre would be reached, but for some reason I'm still stubborn enough to believe that there will be an album better than this one, and that's why I can't give it the 100% that I have yet to give, but this one got extremely close.
The same bunch of musicians that pulled forces to bring us the amazing Avantasia Part 1 has now returned to dish it out once more. I can't say that it's better or worse, nor can I say it's exactly the same as it's predecessor despite that I gave it the same rating. In truth, you have to treat both CDs as one album, one story, even though they were released separately.
First I will hit on the talent in this group. First rate musicians from beginning to end. I was particularly taken by the guitar work on here, the tracks laid down by Henjo Richter are mind blowing, as are the leads that he dishes out, particularly the riveting twin guitar lead on Chalice of Agony. I actually had the unique honor of teaching this solo to 2 teenagers at a summer camp who performed this song with a band of campers. I assure you it is quite challenging. But also note the efforts of Timo Tolkki and Jens Ludwig.
I have to hand it to Tobias Sammet for rounding out such top notch musical collaborators for his effort. Michael Kiske's role has diminished in this part as opposed to part 1, which is my lone complaint of this album. But this has given way to include the new character performed by Bob Catley, whose voice fills the gap and puts a new feel to the story. Andre Matos and Kai Hansen are back in good form, and naturally Tobias is ruling the roost, which is the right of the man who leads the project and composes the songs. lol
And on a side-note, the production is excellent. Too many albums in the power metal genre have a poor balance between the guitars and the synths, here they are both equally discernable and complement each other rather than fight each other. The voices are also well blended in with the music and don't drown out the background, which is amazing when you consider that at times 7 or 8 people are singing as a group.
Here is how the songs break down.
Seven Angels (10/10) - In the same vain as Edguy, Tobias brings a flair to the drawn out epic like no other. This is probably the best song on the album and clocks in at 14 minutes. There is a drawn out stream of modulations in sections, combining together to make you feel that your listening to 4 or 5 different songs in succession. High points include Timo Tolkki's guitar solo, Tobias' and Kiske's Meatloaf inspired piano and voice section which completely blew me away, and the amazing outro where Tobias, Matos and Hansen create a stream of vocal melodies that mystify the ears. An aria for the power metal ages to be sure.
No Return (9.5/10) - Fast paced cooker that works nicely, but it feels lacking merely because it had to follow the massive epic which is usually the closer for such albums. Michael Kiske and Tobias do well on this one, as does the lead work by Richter.
The Looking Glass (10/10) - This is an excellent mid-tempo track that features the new charactered called The Tree of Knowledge, sung by Bob Catley. What ensues is a riveting duet between two amazing singers, the lyrics on this one are very philosophical, yet work well in the fantasy world that Sammet has concocted. Another brilliant solo by Richter, along with some flashy beats by Alex Holzwarth.
In Quest for (10/10) - A continuation of the Catley and Tobias duet, this time with but a lone piano and some strings in the background. With voices completely exposed to the scrutiny that normally doesn't exist with loud guitars, these two guys prove that they can match abilities with any broadway singer. Kudos for originality on this one too, considering who this song came from.
Final Sacrifice (10/10) - Things get nice and rough here, Catley exits to bring in Virgin Steele screamer David Defeis, whose lion growls dwarf Tobi's banshee shreeks with thunderous fury. Jens Ludwig provides a very agitated solo which plays against the more idiomatic and structured soloing that Richter has been utilizing.
Neverland (9.5/10) - Great song, featuring Rob Rock reprising his role as Bishop Von Bicken. Great vocal performances save this song from it's almost cliche musical accompaniment, which sounded alot like Gamma Ray's "One with the World" at the beginning.
Anywhere (10/10) - Tobias goes it alone on this one, starting out with just a piano to back him up. This is definately one of the better power ballads I've heard. There is alot of emotion in the vocal performance, and Richter's solo uses all the precise notes to make the guitar sing as a voice rather than a highly embellished harpsichord line befitting of a shred fest.
Chalice of Agony (10/10) - This song, like Seven Angels, never gets old for me. I can understand why this was chosen as a single, because it's catchy themes grab the listener immediately. This track gets my pic for best guitar solo on the album. The pace is fast and the sections contrast each other nicely. Tobias does the majority of the vocal work, but both Matos and Hansen make breif appearances to add aditional color. Nothing short of amazing.
Memory (10/10) - Ralph Ziardstek reprises his role as the evil Baliff Falk Von Kronberg, the most loathsome of the characters. This song is lyrically excellent, and paints a very vivid picture of the plot, which sees justice served within it's span. Ziardstek dominates this song, but Tobias makes a brief appearance. Jens Ludwig also plays a decent solo on this one.
Into the Unknown (10/10) - The exiting chorus of the story, featuring solos by Tobias and Sharon reprising her role as the main character's sister. But the real strength to this shorter closing track is in the words of the chorus. The greatest one line that Tobias ever wrote is within that chorus, and it reads....
Dreamers come and go, but a dream's forever.
In conclusion, if you like Power Metal in general, you must get this album. If you enjoyed Avantasia Part 1, you must get this album. And if you like the other bands that the members of this project are in (Edguy, Gamma Ray, Rhapsody, Helloween, Virgin Steele, Stratovarius, ect.) you must get this album. No more excuses, start saving up those hard earned dollars or euros that you get for breaking rocks all day and invest it in a piece of artistic genius.