on 3 April 2010
Avantasia is a project composed and put together by vocalist Tobias Sammet of Edguy. The first Avantasia releases were the 'The Metal Opera' parts 1 and 2. Both records are regarded as some of the best, modern power metal albums and feature famous guests such as Michael Kiske, Kai Hansen and Timo Tolkki. The project was revived in 2008 with the release of the album 'The Scarecrow'. The album featured famous guests such as Alice Cooper, Jorn Lande and Rudolf Schenker, among others and the music leaned more towards hard rock rather than power metal. The Scarecrow was amongst the 20 best selling albums in Europe upon it's release.
On April 3, 2010, Tobias Sammet released The Scarecrow's sequel, as a double album named "The Wicked Symphony & Angel Of Babylon" or as two separate disks. The main musicians remain the same, with Tobias Sammet on bass and lead vocals, Sascha Paeth (ex-Heaven's Gate) on guitars and Eric Singer (Kiss) on drums.
The list of guest vocalists is shorter, compared to The Wicked Symphony, but still impressive! Jon Oliva (Savatage, Jon Oliva's Pain), Jorn Lande (ex-Ark, Masterplan), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Place Vendome), Bob Catley (Magnum) and Cloudy Yang.
Guest musicians include guitarists Bruce Kulick (ex-Kiss, ex-Meat Loaf) and Oliver Hartmann (ex-At Vance), keyboardist Jens Johansson (Stratovarius) and both Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody) and Felix Bohnke (Edguy) on drums.
"Angel Of Babylon" is a very solid release, but weaker in comparison to The Wicked Symphony and The Scarecrow. As in the prequels, the music focuses more on hard rock with bombastic choruses and great guitar melodies. Nevertheless, there is at least one fast paced power metal track, one heavier piece, some ballads and a few progressive touches. Additionally, big choirs and some extended guitar solos add further colors to the music.
Most of the songs manage to stand out and only a few fall a bit short.
"Stargazers" is one of the longest tracks on offer and features vocals by Tobias Sammet, Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske, Russell Allen and a brief performance by Oliver Hartmann. On guitars we have Bruce Kulick and Sascha Paeth. The song begins with a ballad type intro and explodes into fast paced double bass tempo, heading for the bridge and chorus. Half way to the song the music switches to a slow lead guitar passage, changes into faster speed again for an impressive guitar battle and drops to a mid-tempo hard rock mode, continuing in that vein until the end. Stargazers contains a memorable power metal chorus, good vocal transitions, impressive solos, tempo changes and both Michael Kiske and Jorn Lande in top form. Definitely the best song on this album and one of the strongest tracks on both releases.
"Death Is Just A Feeling" featuring Jon Oliva is the most theatrical song and another highlight. It begins in a slow tempo and gets heavier in the pre-chorus. Oliva sings in an eerie way (reminding of Alice Cooper on The Toy Master), while the verses provide a creepy atmosphere. The chorus is bombastic, memorable and fitting for Oliva's voice.
"Your Love Is Evil" is a simple, but catchy mid-tempo rock track. It has a late Edguy feel, an enjoyable chorus and a memorable vocal performance by Sammet.
A different version of "Promised Land" (originally found on the Lost In Space EP 2), were Michael Kiske's vocal part is sang by Jorn Lande, is included in this release. Promised Land is an up tempo hard rock/melodic metal tune, with a very powerful chorus and an enjoyable guitar solo. While the track remains a highlight, it looses some of its old magic brought by the contrast of Kiske's clean voice.
"Journey To Arcadia" is another theatrical highlight, with great melodies and Bob Catley's strongest vocal performance on the new albums. Nice vocal transitions between Sammet and Allen and a good chorus. All in all, a wonderful closing track.
"Down In The Dark" is an overall good rock track, with a memorable chorus. The verses hint back to Whitesnake and Jorn Lande turns in another good performance.
Most of the remaining songs are quality offerings as well, but not to the extend of the aforementioned tracks. The title track is the best of the bunch, with a mid tempo melodic power metal backbone and some of the most powerful vocal performances by Sammet and especially Jorn Lande. "Rate Race", "Blowing Out The Flame" and "Alone I Remember" are the weakest songs.
Angel Of Babylon has some disadvantages, especially when compared to its brother release. One of the major drawbacks of previous Avantasia releases was the fact that Sammet got the lion's share of the vocals and unfortunately this is somewhat repeated here as well. With the exception of Death Is Just A Feeling, Symphony Of Life, Stargazers and Journey To Arcadia, the release is dominated by vocal duets of Sammet and Lande. While both of them are exceptional vocalists, their duels are overused on the album, especially when compared to the vocal diversity found on The Wicked Symphony. The final disadvantage is the inclusion of many mid-tempo and slower rock songs and not enough heavier or faster tracks to perfectly balance the release.
If Angel Of Babylon is viewed as a separate album, while good, it pales in comparison to past Avantasia releases. When compared to The Wicked Symphony, it is the weaker album, as it contains fewer stand out songs and a smaller number of guest vocalists. Nevertheless, there are several memorable songs, a few modern ideas, some incredible vocal performances and pleasant guitar work to be found on this album.
Tobias Sammet should be congratulated for creating this impressive rock opera and for being one of the best modern day songwriters in both rock and metal.
(Be sure to check out The Wicked Symphony and The Scarecrow)