Review Summary: What a day for a pastel dream that’s coming to life…
Tobias Sammet isn’t exactly an unfamiliar name to metal fans, least of all those into the power or symphonic subgenres. He quickly made a name for himself with Edguy, a project heavily influenced by traditional 80’s heavy metal. Recently, however, his fantastical metal opera supergroup Avantasia has been spearheading his growing charge to fame. Between this and Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s more sci-fi-oriented Ayreon, the very term “metal opera” has become a bit more commonplace, thanks in no small part to their combined success in album reception and desirable live shows. 2016’s Ghostlights
was a powerful testament to the former, with many (self included) declaring it Sammet’s best work--potentially his magnum opus. Thus we reach the age-old question when an oft-claimed masterpiece receives a successor: How will it be followed up?
What’s immediately clear when listening to any of Moonglow
’s songs is just how phenomenal it sounds. Given the top-notch production on Ghostlights
, it only makes sense that we’d get an album that sounds as good, if not better to the ears. Everything sounds like it was polished to perfection, but not to the point that it feels overproduced. This is one of those albums that can practically stand on its production alone, but fortunately for us, the performances are also second-to-none. Once again, Sammet has enlisted the help of several featured musicians, most providing vocal talent to a sprawling, operatic epic. Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Jorn Lande (ex-Masterplan) and Geoff Tate (ex-Queensryche) are just the start of returning talents, along with Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) turning in some particularly powerful vocal work when compared against his recent outputs. Additionally, Mille Petrozza (Kreator) takes part in the notably aggressive yet strangely welcomed “Book of Shallows.” Needless to say, talent and versatility are the least of anyone’s concerns on Moonglow
From a design standpoint, Moonglow
unsurprisingly follows in its predecessor’s footsteps, letting the individual tracks create their own narratives that can spill into and out of each other. Whether or not it holds together as a collective piece is a different story (pun not intended). Something that becomes abundantly clear as the album plays out is its relative lack of cohesion. For a while, Moonglow
does a spectacular job at lowering the listener’s defenses, as three of the first four tracks are among Sammet’s best work to-date. Opener “Ghost in the Moon” is positively alluring and, to borrow from the album’s title track, like an “enchanting magic light” shining bright promise for the following ten tracks. It’s easy to get comfortable during this half-hour of musical excellence, yet as it turns out, we’re not the only ones ready to settle down. Inspiration appears to run its course after the back-to-back tracks featuring Geoff Tate (“Invincible” and “Alchemy”), as this is roughly the point where Moonglow
starts to meander a bit. Then, after a fun but out-of-place cover of “Maniac,” the album ends. At best, this is a bizarre choice in tracklisting; at worst, it’s a damper of a cliffhanger for those wanting a vague sense of closure.
As you might imagine, Moonglow
isn’t an album that mandates hearing from start to finish in order to fully appreciate. The fact its overall pacing feels so off is almost an endorsement to cherry-pick the tracks and slide the others into the “maybe” or “shuffle” playlist. Taken individually, these last half-dozen tracks hold up well enough and still possess qualities that make the album’s early moments so damn good. Because in all fairness, Moonglow
has a lot to love, and even these lesser moments are still of high quality. In fact, were these placed into the vast majority of other power metal albums, they’d likely be seen as highlights. The issue has less to do with objective track quality, and more to do with how this quality is dispersed throughout the album. One reason Ghostlights
worked so well, despite having some tracks that are clearly better than others, is because there was a pitch-perfect ebb and flow to the entire affair. Less interesting tracks often broke up the highlights, a good way to let both the album and its listener breathe in a way that felt natural. Moonglow
, by comparison, essentially blows its load in the first half, setting the bar so high for the already-inferior tracks that there’s almost no way for them to please to the same degree. Although one can technically pick and modify the track listing to their liking, a project the likes of Avantasia really shouldn’t put that small yet important responsibility on its own audience.
is both easy and difficult to criticize; easy because the shortcomings are quickly apparent, difficult because pointing them out can make the album sound far worse than it is. When all is said and done, Moonglow
isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, but that sum is hardly going to leave anyone hungry. And when many albums struggle to fill the grumbling holes in many stomachs with actual, quality material, Moonglow
only ends up feeling like that much greater of a feast, one worth indulging and remembering multiple times.