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Avantasia's best release ever! Memorable, bombastic and varied
on 3 April 2010
(This review is for the 2CD 'Box Set' edition of The Wicked Symphony & Angel Of Babylon)
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 cast of guest vocalists includes some of the biggest names in rock and metal! Klaus Meine (Scorpions), Tim Owens (ex-Judas Priest, ex-Iced Earth), Jon Oliva (Savatage, Jon Oliva's Pain), Jorn Lande (ex-Ark, Masterplan), Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Place Vendome), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Bob Catley (Magnum), Andre Matos (ex-Angra, Shaaman), Cloudy Yang and Ralf Zdiarstek.
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.
Both The Wicked Symphony and Angel Of Babylon are outstanding albums. They offer plenty of musical variety and especially The Wicked Symphony can be regarded as the best Avantasia release up to today. As in the prequel, the music focuses more on hard rock with bombastic choruses and great guitar melodies. Nevertheless, there are at least three fast paced power metal tracks, several heavy metal pieces, some ballads and a few progressive touches scattered throughout the two albums. Additionally, some symphonic passages, big choirs and several extended guitar battles add further colors to the music.
Most of the songs manage to stand out and only a few fall short.
"The Wicked Symphony" is one of the longest tracks on offer and probably one of the most varied peaces on the albums. It begins with a slow symphonic intro, which is soon joined by a section of hard rock riffs. The verses are powered by a vocal battle between Sammet, Russell Allen and Jorn Lande. The chorus features choirs and is catchy and huge. There are several tempo changes, symphonic parts and a long guitar solo. The title track is one of the best songs on offer and both Allen and Lande give outstanding performances.
The single "Dying For An Angel", features Klaus Meine on vocals and is probably the most catchy and accessible rocker. The song features nice balladry vocals on the mellow verses and a big melodic rock chorus, with Meine's vocals harkening back to the Scorpions.
"Wastelands" is one of the strongest songs on both albums, even though it is a somewhat typical power metal tune. It begins with a majestic intro (similar to Helloween's March Of Time) and soon kicks into fast double bass speed with the addition of a melodic guitar solo. Michael Kiske hits some higher notes on the verses and soars to the heaven's on the epic chorus. This is probably Kiske's best vocal performance on a fast power metal song since the 90's. Tobias takes the lead for the second verse and chorus and an extended exchange of guitar solos between Oliver Hartmann and Sascha Paeth follows.
"Stargazers" is the second longest song after The Wicked Symphony 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 one of the best songs here.
"Death Is Just A Feeling" featuring Jon Oliva is the most theatrical song. 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, addictive and very fitting for Oliva's voice.
"Runaway Train" is another long song, which can be best described as something between a ballad and a Meat Loaf type of slow rocker. The vocals are shared between Bob Catley, Tobias Sammet and Jorn Lande, while Michael Kiske sings a small part towards the end. The chorus of the song is memorable and bombastic, a mid-tempo Magnum like rock passage is included and the guitar solos throughout the track are outstanding. The voices of the different singers work very well together.
"Promised Land" is an up-tempo hard rock/melodic metal song, with a very powerful chorus, an enjoyable guitar solo and a fine vocal performance by Jorn Lande. Promised Land is another sure highlight.
"Scales Of Justice" features an aggressive Tim 'Ripper' Owens on vocals and is one of the heavier tracks on both albums. The song contains heavy riffing and a good chorus, but suffers from similarities to Iced Earth and a strange Queen-like passage instead of a guitar solo. Nevertheless, a song to check out especially if you enjoy Tim's vocals.
"Your Love Is Evil" is a simple, but catchy rock track. It has a late Edguy feel, a pleasing chorus and a memorable vocal performance by Sammet.
"States Of Matter" is another enjoyable mid-tempo hard rock song. Strong guitar riffs, great vocals by Russell Allen and Sammet, a memorable chorus and a fitting guitar solo round of the track perfectly.
"Symphony Of Life" is a very nice mid tempo gothic/metal song. The track is sang by the female vocalist Cloudy Yang and features symphonic backings, choirs and a very good chorus. While memorable, Symphony Of Life, sounds very out of place on the album.
"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 good closing track, nothing more and nothing less.
The remaining songs are quality offerings as well, but not to the extend of the aforementioned tracks.
Fortunately, there are no big disadvantages on this release. One of the major drawbacks of previous Avantasia releases was the fact that Sammet got the lion's share of the vocals. Thankfully Sammet's appearance is minimal on the tunes were the big names like Oliva, Maine and Owens sing, while the longer tracks are vocally more well balanced. One negative point is the fact that although this was supposed to be a concept album, the songs don't flow perfectly together in order to create continuity. Another disadvantage is the inclusion of many mid-tempo and slower rock songs (especially on Angel Of Babylon) and not enough heavier or faster tracks, to perfectly balance the release. One can also argue that with the exclusion of Jorn Lande, the guest vocalists don't get to sing on more than one or two songs.
If listened as a single release and not as two separate albums, "The Wicked Symphony & Angel Of Babylon" probably surpasses both The Scarecrow and The Metal Opera's. Surely some older, classic Avantasia songs like The Seven Angels, Farewell, The Tower and The Scarecrow are not topped here, but the new release is stronger as a whole.
If judged as two separate releases, The Wicked Symphony is surely the better album, as it contains stronger songs and a larger number of guest vocalists. Angel Of Babylon falls a little short due to some weaker songs.
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.
(The Box Set edition features the 2 albums in digibook cases and a booklet containing an extensive interview, a biography and numerous photos)