Review Summary: Ambitious power metal that is not recommended to cynics.
I have to admit that it took me a while before checking Avantasia’s debut; a concept album which blends a number of characters created by mastermind Tobias Sammet (Edguy) and played by various vocalists, with some historical figures like Pope Clement VIII and Bishop Johann Adam von Bicken. The combination of its title and the symphonic power metal genre tag, always made me fear that this was a bloated cheese fest containing an uninspired 18th century classical approach to heavy metal. To make thing even worse, it is not unusual to see similar projects failing under the weight of their expectations or because of their ambition.
The Metal Opera
describes the story of Gabriel Laymann (played by Tobias Sammet), a Dominican order novice in the abbey of Mainz who participates, among others, in a major witch-hunt. When Gabriel meets his stepsister Anna (Sharon den Adel) facing sorcery charges, his perspective of the Order’s actions starts to change. For that reason, he sneaks into a library in order to read a forbidden book but when his mentor Friar Jakob (David DeFeis) finds out, he is taken into custody. While in jail, he meets a druid named Lugaid Vandroiy (Michael Kiske), who introduces Gabriel to a world that is in danger called Avantasia. Lugaid agrees to help Gabriel save his sister in exchange of Gabriel’s help saving Avantasia. Therefore, together they escape prison and using a gateway Lugaid sends Gabriel to Avantasia as “Breaking Away” describes.
In the meantime (“Glory of Rome”), Bishop Johann von Bicken (Rob Rock), Friar Jakob and Bailiff Falk von Kronberg (Ralf Zdiarstek) are travelling to Rome to meet with Pope Clement VIII (Oliver Hartman). With them, they carry the book Gabriel was reading earlier which, according to old documents, is the last of the seven parts of an ancient seal that provides its owner with absolute wisdom if carried to the center of the tower in Avantasia. “Avantasia” recites Gabriel’s arrival into the homonymous world and on “Inside” he is welcomed by Elf Elderane (Andre Matos) and the Dwarf Regrin (Kai Hansen). Those two inform him about the war against the forces of evil and Pope’s plan of using the seal and cutting the connection between Avantasia and humans (“Sign of the Cross”). The final chapter of the opera is “The Tower” where Gabriel obtains the seal and carries it to the Elven capital city of Sesidhbana.
Granted, the above may seem a bit too much and, paired with Edguy’s goofy approach to power metal, even enough to make someone disregard Avantasia’s debut entirely. However, give it a chance and you will realize that The Metal Opera
is not only an ambitious offering, but more importantly catchy, fun, consistent and actually unpretentious. Clocking at almost 60 minutes, it is full of memorable vocal lines delivered by an all-star cast including Michael Kiske, David DeFeis, Sharon den Adel, Andre Matos, Kai Hansen, Timo Tolkki and of course Tobias Sammet who takes the lion’s share of lines. Each vocalist represents a character and the distribution of roles is spot-on with Kai Hansen for example playing the role of a dwarf. As expected, the music is quite uplifting and the variety of melodies and riffs keeps the LP interesting throughout. The adventurous “Reach Out for the Light” is fairly representative of the album’s adventurous nature. Contrary to Sammet’s background at the time, The Metal Opera
is meant to be enjoyed as a whole and indeed the sum is so much stronger than the individual parts on here. The arrangements are quite complex but at the same time, the songwriting is pretty compelling, creating an epic atmosphere with “The Tower” being one of the highlights on here. The vocalists are used almost to perfection with the final two minutes of “The Glory of Rome” or the ultra-memorable “Avantasia” serving as fine examples of their joint efforts.
As a whole, The Metal Opera
is Tobias Sammet at the peak of his abilities, as he uses all the elements that have made Edguy a powerhouse but elevates them by making them part of an ambitious project. Unfortunately, there are some hints of Eurovision cheesiness here and there, and the interludes could have been a bit more elaborate, but those aren’t enough to lower the overall experience. Of course, the album is not recommended to cynics, but those who love ‘90s power metal are in for one hell of a ride.