Review Summary: The whole may not be as strong, but the parts are as excellent as ever.
There was a fleeting, nigh-imperceptible moment during the grande opening of Avantasia’s latest opus where I could’ve sworn Tobias Sammet sounded just a little bit tired—an iota of exhaustion at best, and it was gone too quickly to consider definitive. Oddly enough, I ended up encountering a sensation of relief, perhaps comforted by the fact that this possibly imaginary instance proved to me that Tobi was, despite all evidence to the contrary, human, and thus prone to the eventual drawbacks of age. The energetic commander of the equally animated power metal collective has now been engaged in constructing whimsical expeditions in faraway fantasy realms for practically two decades. Throughout that period, a diverse cast of contributors have ventured through a landscape awash in the vibrant colors of power metal, the bygone architecture of 80’s arena rock standing tall against the weathering of time, their towering frames being sentinels of this enduring adventure that carries on the motifs of the era. And the greatest thing about this unification of personnel and styles is that it is tonally consistent album-to-album while still maintaining to resonate as new, fresh, and passionate. Critiquing music occasionally feels like awaiting a car crash to occur, almost expecting an artist to stumble at some point and promptly pouncing upon the opportunity; twenty years in the game and Moonglow
verifies that any inclination of Avantasia losing steam is certainly a distant consideration. Here again is an open invitation to grow out whatever hair can be grown out, headbanging and dancing all the way down a winding path colored by bright guitar tones and the most infectious choruses one can find.
A treasure trove of vocabulary has been launched at power metal over the years, though it’s undeniable that chief among those descriptors is the concept of ‘cheese’: this bombastic, absolutely exaggerated and dramatic presentation that accompanies the genre like a too-tight sweater that’s gotten a bit worn from overuse. More often that not this is embodied in the prevalent incorporation of raucous orchestral elements, candy-sweet melodies, and vocal lines that pile on as many harmonies and layers as technically conceivable. For most, the journey is immediately terminated here, the book hastily closed and crammed back into the shelf, the listener disgusted by the overpowering displays. Such is not the case for Tobias Sammet, who seemingly wears this portrayal as a badge of pride, an emblem that proudly proclaims the mission statement of Avantasia—the endeavor to craft lovingly self-aware forays into nostalgic categories dipped in a modern coating. Akin to a cartoon superhero, the supergroup continuously ‘gets away with it’; whether it is a fast-tempo assault punctuated by a dominating, heavy riff or an extensive cut that builds momentum, cycling through singer after singer as a symphonic crescendo brews underneath, the songs included on Moonglow
unequivocally succeed. When concerning the aforementioned characteristics, the eighth iteration of the cheddar-infused communal features a heightened influence of atmospheric, mood-driven sampling and instrumentation, a shift that is magnified by a much more prominent keys presence.
The contents discovered in the pages of this particular novel mainly distinguish themselves from preceding efforts because of the previously-observed theatrical theme; the expansive tunes lining up the record’s duration find Avantasia at their most operatic, the more metallic facet of their sonic identity being noticeably decreased for the lighter-waving rock components to grow and take root in their place. Despite the sheer magnitude of inspirations swimming about in the mix—the trademark instrumental overload, the symphonic embellishments, and a sizeable bench of rotating vocalists—the production of Moonglow
is crystal clear so that everyone is heard playing their role, the polished exhibition stemming from the stellar example set by Ghostlights
. Whereas the former had an internal pacing and general uniformity that equaled to an impressive flow, the latter product ends up proceeding through its duration in a more scattered manner, the tracks linked in seemingly arbitrary methodology. The seamless transitions and maintenance of mood from Point A to Point B are therefore difficult to locate. However, what Moonglow
is deficient in—that landscape seems to stop abruptly at a cliff rather than an easy, rolling hill ala “Obsidian Skies”—does not necessarily cause considerable damage to quality. Focusing on songs epic in their individual scope rather than their positioning on a list leads to a series of explosive numbers that stand as some of the best and most ambitious in Avantasia’s discography.
If any sole formation is to be singled out, “Book of Shallows” unquestionably deserves to be picked as the embodiment of the album’s direction. The central riff that supports the relatively short track (using the Avantasia timing scale™) brings down a hefty weight upon the audience, the chords relishing in a melody that balances uplifting notes with powerful intensity. An impressive array of four separate voices initially join the fray, ranging from Tobi’s distinctive tenor belting to the commanding routine delivered by Hansi Kursch. Each verse swells into an anthemic chorus punctuated by a group shout of “Chase your dream!” What ends up adding the finishing touch is an even heavier second half built into the song that begins with a crushing breakdown—in an Avantasia album, of all places. Then, none other than Mille Petrozza of Kreator fame kicks down the door, immediately taking control of the situation and guiding the track with absolute authority. Having something so immense crafted so late in one’s career is a sign of how much determination still lies in the collective to push their sound to a higher plane, even if it occasionally doesn’t obtain that status. It’s as dramatic and hard-hitting as one could ask for from a power metal outing. The opposite side of the spectrum is just as praiseworthy in its own right, or the portion of Avantasia that leans harder on the arena rock features. Stylistically, the one-two punch of “Invincible” and “Alchemy” champion this perspective above peers; the first of the double-team-attack is a heartfelt, piano-driven ballad that brings Geoff Tate back into the fold, his unique vocal quality a perfect accompaniment to the record’s course. Promptly afterwards, Sammet and Tate continue their duet into one of Moonglow
’s strongest choruses, the electronic-led creation erupting into a delicious pop-esque harmony that is destined to become a concert staple.
The metaphorical misfit of power metal folklore may indeed have sacrificed some edge, yet that does not mean that his teeth have been pulled out; there is certainly enough bite in Moonglow
amongst the opera subjects. Even when it’s flawed, I always sport a goofy smile when Avantasia bursts through my headphones, as if it somehow unlocks this youthful exuberance otherwise hidden beneath all of the stuff of life. All of this seems strange when the knowledge of Tobi’s somewhat-advanced age of 41 lurks in the back of my head. Here is a man halfway through the passage of existence that still possesses a remarkable vitality, running about that imaginary domain of vivacious 80’s jams partying alongside a bunch of Helloween and Blind Guardian fans. I suppose anyone might get a tad fatigued from spearheading the voyage for so long and with such spirit. I also suppose that searching through Moonglow
for any more proof of this would be a fruitless venture, since I’m too busy staring around at the scenery Sammet and company paint, eyes wide open and mouth agape like a child’s visit to a candy emporium: sweet, entertaining, memorable, and important—I hear this place is full of some cheesy delights that are to die for.