Review Summary: Tobias Starts to Spin in Place
The year is 2022 and like Clockwork Mr. Sammet and his band of friends have unleashed another album. Love him, or hate him, one thing is sure, he is consistent. While he hasn’t really changed his formula in over a decade, his hooks have remained generally solid as do the concepts behind each new project. As long as those two pieces continue to click together then creative stagnation can be forgiven. And really, with this formula the 2010s have arguably seen Sammet hit new highs, with the three recent Avantasia
albums being top tier career highlights, even with the muddled cohesion of Moonglow
. Veering into the post pandemic 2020s Tobi seems complacent with continuing down the same path he always has been. If it was successful over a dozen times prior why not keep it up? Unfortunately for Tobi, this time around the pandemic has seemed to dislodge just enough progress to make the whole machine he built for decades spin its wheels in place.
That is not to say A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society
is a bad album, at the end of the day it is still Tobi doing his thing; belting choruses with his group of recurring guests and establishing a vague concept to tie it all together. However, this time it feels lesser as a complete album. Avantasia has never been superb at delivering a cohesive concept. At times they hit the nail, however most concepts dreamt up are more a set up to use a wide range of different vocalists to perform than to actually tell a cohesive tale. Not typically an issue, but when the album’s core concept seems to tie almost perfectly with the appearance of the guest vocalists and yet fails to capitalize on that then it becomes more of an issue.
Album opener, “Welcome to the Shadows”, serves as one of the few moments where Tobi really tries to break his formula. Downplaying the Jim Steinman influence that was seen in the openings to both Moonglow
it instead explores a dark gothic atmosphere, letting Tobi theatrically prowl through the verses and cut through the darkness with an explosive chorus. The chorus works, but is nothing new or unexpected. Far from the bombast and emotion displayed on Moonglow’s opening moments the verses serve as a unique and addictive addition to his catalog that does a good job setting the tone for what should be a superb journey..
Most of the album tracks, unfortunately, fall more so in the style of that chorus from the opening track than any of the gothic verses. They are all at worst decent, some clearly better than others, but all never stray from the formula Tobi knows, letting the unique elements go to waste. “Kill the Pain Away” and “Rhyme and Reason” are both prime examples, both fairly flaccid in their hooks. Pleasant? For sure. Catchy? At points. But, nothing sticks out and by the end of the album these lesser hooks are all but forgotten until the next listen. However, some tracks do have stellar hooks, like the bizarrely electronic “Paper Plane” which includes one of the best melodic moments on the album, letting Tobi’s voice rise and float in the air, as if he was that aforementioned Paper Plane. It shockingly works in spite of its dangerously high cheese content.
In a rare case for Avantasia, the first three singles released for the album all serve as album highlights. “The Wicked Rule the Night” with its thunderously aggressive verses take the formula listeners are used to from Avantasia and gives it a shot of adrenaline and aggression, something that some of the other tracks sorely could have used as well. The obligatory ballad for the album, “Misplaced Among the Angles”, which is arguably Tobi’s best penned ballad since “What’s Left of Me” from 2013’s Mystery of Time
, is yet another album highlight with its soaring chorus effortlessly acting as a cry for help on top of its chugging guitars and bombastic orchestration. Cheese no doubt, but still delicious. “The Moonflower Society” showcases what the concept of the album could have been developed into, serving as a second introduction to the album’s story confusingly at its third act, but regardless remains a fun and weird highlight.
Production on this project continues down the same path Edguy and Avantasia have been on for decades. It's crisp, electric and really packs a bombastic punch when it needs to. Sascha Paeth continues to be an extremely talented producer. While not his best work, tracks like the closer "Arabesque" and the aforementioned "The Wicked Rule the Night" pack a massive punch and sound fantastic. While "Paper Plane" for its melodic success sounds slightly flaccid with its soft electronic production.
Maybe due to the pandemic, with scheduling being understandably a nightmare, but no Avantasia album in recent memory has ever felt so conceptually thin and bizarrely underdeveloped at points as shown here.
One thing that across the board is disappointing is the usage of the guest vocalists. Besides the cast including six returning faces and only two new, No one track could have only been made with the involvement of the Guest vocalist. Excluding the verses on the previously mentioned “Wicked Rule the Night” and Kiske on “Arabesque”, there is nothing special about any of the guest performances. Even when there is something to be said about the guests they are shuffled off the track almost instantly, Feeding the theory that the album (conceptually) was majorly hindered due to the pandemic.
Even more disappointing, the album’s core concept seems to tie these eight guest vocalists together as the voices for the titular Moonflower Society, made up of eight figures on the album’s cover. However beyond this connection and the vague tissue that runs through some tracks thematically this concept is never properly expanded upon. Moments where it is are far too early to stick, like on the opening track, or too late to matter, like “The Moonflower Society” and the closing track. There is a clear desire to make the concept stick, maybe with a revised track listing and a vocal overhaul of the closing track this would work, but as is the entire album’s concept feels as deep as a puddle.
Album closer “Arabesque” serves as one of the album’s most conceptually interesting points, closest at hitting that conceptual sweet spot. With its middle eastern tinged riffs and excellent vocal performance from Kiske and Tobi, it is an album highlight no doubt. A much more definite closer than Ghostlights
were given, it still could have been pushed further. Specifically, Having only Kiske and Jorn reprise feels like wasted potential for the other vocalists involved. Not to downplay the successful elements of the track, the center moments, involving Tobi borderline rambling out his self reflective anxieties, works wonderfully as a satisfying final statement for the album to close on.
What is there to take away from Avantasia’s newest outing? Fans of the supergroup will find something to enjoy, most will. Whether from the familiarity of the hooks, production, or voices that have defined Tobias Sammet for over two decades. The album still has these shining moments, more than enough to make for an enjoyable listen. The moments where the album strays from the formula hits the mark on the head, but typically shelters itself back into the same familiar groove of melodically decent hooks before too long. It appears that for once the great Avantasia machine has stalled in place, spinning its wheels hoping to break out into something truly fresh. Maybe next time.