The "Mystery Of Time" is the sixth studio album by Tobias Sammet's rock opera project. Avantasia offers a very good new album that rivals some of its past achievements. The use of a real orchestra proves to be a welcome addition, creating a bigger and more captivating sound.
The cast of musicians includes Tobias Sammet (Edguy) on bass and lead vocals, Sascha Paeth (ex-Heaven's Gate) on guitars, Russell Gilbrook (Uriah Heep) on drums and guest guitarists Bruce Kulick (ex-Kiss, ex-Meat Loaf), Oliver Hartmann (ex-At Vance) and Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon). The Mystery Of Time is also the first Avantasia album to feature the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg.
The list of guest vocalists is expectedly impressive and includes Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Rainbow, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Biff Byford (Saxon), Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Bob Catley (Magnum) and Cloudy Yang.
The album offers a variety of hard rock, symphonic rock, power metal and pop-rock. The overall sound doesn't differ a lot from The Wicked Trilogy releases, but the orchestra surely makes things more interesting and the vocals are more evenly distributed.
There are many highlights among the songs and only two of them sound rather weak or filler-like. There are several longer songs and even two ten-minute epics, but surprisingly none of them gets tiresome or boring.
The best track is probably the longest song, entitled "Savior In The Clockwork". This is a varied track, with several tempo changes, but it is essentially a hard rock epic with some doses of power metal. The song is vocally dominated by Tobias Sammet and an impressive Biff Byford, with Joe Lynn Turner singing the first verse and Michael Kiske joining for some short passages towards the end. A strong chorus, several memorable guitar riffs and a good guitar solo, by Bruce Kulick, round off the track perfectly.
"Where Clock Hands Freeze" is the mandatory Michael Kiske fronted power metal track and it is definitely one of the best songs on the album. Besides the short orchestral intro this is a fast and melodic double-bass driven song, with one of the best choruses on offer. Kiske probably delivers his best vocal performance ever on an Avantasia song. The track also features vocals by Sammet on the second verse, background orchestration and memorable guitar solos by both Sascha Paeth and Oliver Hartmann.
"Black Orchid" is the darkest song and another highlight. A slower symphonic rock epic, featuring a successful duet between Sammet and Byford. Black Orchid includes many orchestrations, a great chorus with big choirs and is probably the most atmospheric track on the album.
"The Great Mystery" is the second longest track and the perfect album closer. A big ballad type of song, with several tempo changes, that combines influences from Magnum and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The vocals are shared between Bob Catley and Sammet, with small contributions from Turner and Byford. The song features a very memorable chorus and a well arranged and bombastic orchestral passage. A major theatrical highlight.
"Dweller In A Dream" is a catchy up-tempo melodic hard rocker. It features a strong duet between Sammet and Kiske and another memorable chorus. Nothing mind blowing, but still very enjoyable and another stand out.
"What's Left Of Me" is one of Avantasia's best ballads ever. A very nicely arranged track with strings, piano and choirs, which includes a very addictive chorus and is dominated by an emotional vocal performance by Eric Martin.
"Spectres" does a good job as the album opener but ultimately fails to amaze. A mid-tempo rock song, with prominent orchestra backing and a good chorus. The orchestral intro is truly captivating but the song looses points due to some strange arrangements.
"Invoke The Machine" is the heaviest song on offer and features a rough and very fitting vocal performance by Ronnie Atkins. The track includes memorable guitar riffs and good solos by Paeth and Hartmann. Unfortunately the chorus is rather unimpressive and drags the whole tune down. It is still a good up-tempo melodic heavy metal song that many will enjoy.
Besides the album's strong points there are also some flaws. The biggest flaw is the absence of longer and more technical guitar solos and the low mix of the guitars (in parts). Another disadvantage is the weak pop ballad "Sleepwalking", which ruins the flow of the album. The up-tempo hard rocker "The Watchmaker's Dream", is overall mediocre and another low point. The final minor flaw is the use of certain tempo changes, on some songs, that don't necessarily work for the best.
In conclusion, The Mystery Of Time is a great rock opera release. It flows better than the previous three Avantasia albums and includes only two weak songs. Most guest vocalists do a great job and their roles are overall more prominent. The orchestra proves to be a very good addition to the sound and is used wisely. Personally I view the new installment as one of the stronger Avantasia albums, which surpasses both Angel Of Babylon and The Metal Opera part II.
Tobias Sammet should be congratulated once again for this achievement. The Mystery Of Time is surely a contender for the album of the year.