Released: 2010, Nuclear Blast
Tobias Sammet is a prolific and talented song-writer. As the main composer in his main band, Edguy, he has been constantly evolving, never staying in one signature style. Every couple of albums Edguy’s style would change and evolve. Being such a creative and talented writer it was no surprise that Sammet branched out and start the Avantasia project at the turn of the century. His initial project, the two-part Metal Opera was well received by fans and critics alike. This year Sammet has released the final installments of The WICKED TRILOGY started back in 2007. This review is not meant to replace the excellent review of THE SCARECROW written by Chaosankh back in 2008, but rather a review of the whole project in it’s entirety.
If you are not familiar THE WICKED TRILOGY comprises three albums. THE SACRECROW (released in very early 2008) and THE WICKED SYMPHONY and ANGEL OF BABYLON, both released in early April, 2010. This project is epic in scale and scope, I mean, I’m talking Rhapsody (Of Fire) levels of epic-ness. Avantasia has joined an elite, few bands (Derdian, Genius, Metallium, Iron Savior) that have put out multiple album concept/thematic projects. Let’s run the numbers shall we? THE WICKED TRILOGY is…
-3+ years in the making
-3 hours long
and a couple more friends helping with keyboards and orchestration and so on.
Pretty damn impressive! Collaborating with highly regarded producer and ex-Heaven’s Gate member, Sascha Paeth, Sammet, aside from being the creative visionary, handles the singing and bass tracks. He also wrote every song with the exception of one, which was a Paeth contribution. Sammet has surrounded himself with the best of the best in the business for this project. He has recruited some heavy-weights in the genre to contribute. The list of contributors (as mentioned) is a couple dozen long, world-class musicians and performers from around the world. From such veteran vocal gods as Jon Oliva (Savatage), Klaus Meine (Scorpions), Michael Kiske (Helloween) and Alice Cooper to the newer breed of titans, Andre Matos, Jorn Lande, Sir Russell Allen, Roy Kahn and more, this whole project is a vocalists wet-dream. Kai Hansen and Rudolph Schenker are no slouches on guitar either!
Physically in terms of packaging and presentation the project is pretty cool. I’m not reviewing the box-set, just the three individual albums. Each album comes with full lyrics, eye-catching cover art, liner notes, photos and so on. I would like to have seen the main charter of the Scarecrow on the cover of ANGEL OF BABYLON for consistency with the other two albums, but that is a very minor complaint. The product is fantastic, crystal clear, good mix, guitars and vocal balanced nicely. The sound is consistent across the three albums, which is good. Another fine production job from the always reliable, Paeth at Gatestudio which I believe he owns and operates in Germany.
The concept behind THE WICKED TRILOGY is admittedly quite vague. Sammet states in the liner notes that it is not a concept album in the stricter sense, with readily definable characters, but something “more abstract and not your typical good-vs-evil fantasy stuff”. (from the liner notes of THE SCARECROW). Accordingly the whole story is wide-open to interpretation. The main story, however loose, is the story of a 19th century composer and his various states of mind and his descent into madness (and perhaps back again?). The scale is grand, concepts of Heaven & Hell, Life & Death, Love & Hate, Insanity & Genius all intertwine. The lyrics are metaphorical, metaphysical and again (with an overused phrase) epic. This is one of the more ambitious projects I’ve had the pleasure of hearing.
To be honest I would have liked to see a little more structure in the story. It is almost too vague! There is the added potential complication of different people playing the same character on different albums. For example on THE SCARECROW, the character of The Toy Master is sung by Alice Cooper. On ANGEL OF BABYLON, the same character is vocalized by Jon Oliva. Both do a fantastic job but it can be confusing. However, that is the way Sammet wanted it and it is his project. I found it a little confusing and would have like a little more direction and/or guidance through the story with some additional liner notes perhaps. Ideally there could have been some narration on the series. That would have been cool.
It is an investment in time to try to embrace the whole project however the songs have enough distinction that you could listen to the albums individually or songs out of sequence and still get immense enjoyment from it. Lyrically speaking some strict concept albums (like King Diamond’s ABIGAIL I & II for example) if you listen to the songs out of sequence you would have no idea what is going on. With story-line concept albums like that, it is like reading a book and reading the chapters out of sequence. It doesn’t make sense. With THE WICKED TRILOGY, it’s more along the lines of a tome of poetry about the same topic. The reader can make sense of the theme without being spoon-fed. Either way I like both styles and I have my own interpretation of THE WICKED TRILOGY, which I won’t bore you with, because it will likely be different than yours!
Now, I’ll focus on the actual music and content of the three albums.
When this came out people were hoping for another speedy, metal-opera like the last pair. From the opening notes this was not to be the case. Some keyboards and a much slower more ponderous, darker sound, indicate this is going to be a much more dynamic affair. Next up is the epic of the album, the 11 minute title track, with many moods and paces. Tubular bell sounds and celtic influences make for a very interesting listen. ‘Shelter Me From The Rain’ is a traditional fast song with Michael Kiske on vocals. Another album highlight is the aforementioned track, ‘The Toy Master’ with Alice Cooper delivering an ominous vocal performance as only he can. ‘Another Angel Down’ is probably my favorite cut with a quick pace and catchy chorus that sticks in the brain. It also features a commanding vocal performance of Jorn Lande in a great duet with Sammet. ‘Devil In The Belfry is likely the heaviest track on the album and album closer ‘Lost In Space’ (the first single) is likely the catchiest and most commercial. THE SCARECROW has many moods and variations making it a great opening to the tale.
THE WICKED SYMPHONY
Musically speaking this is likely my favorite of the three, by a slim margin. Again the dynamic range of styles and compositions keep in tradition with the first album. Starting this time with the longest song on the album at 9+ minutes, the title track slowly fades in with a variety of horns and orchestral tones, gradually building in intensity and magnitude before dropping into a driving groove.
Klaus Meine distinct voice highlights ‘Dying for An Angel’ with it’s stellar chorus with awesome gang-vocals. Another heavier cut is ‘Blizzard On A Broken Mirror’ with Andre Matos on an somewhat uncharacteristically restrained vocal delivery but still unmistakably him, when he hits those fantastic high notes. Every song is well written and arranged making them interesting through their various paces. ‘The album closer ‘The edge’ is an epic ballad extraordinaire with another huge sing-along chorus with gang vocals. Great stuff!
ANGEL OF BABYLON
The elusive (at least in North American stores!) third chapter begins, like THE WICKED SYMPHONY with a 9 minute epic called ‘Stargazers’. Again, vocalists reign supreme with five vocalists (Landle, Allen, Kiske, Hartmann, and Sammet) all laced throughout the song.
A certain highlight is the cut, ‘Symphony Of Life’ with the outstanding vocals of Cloudy Yang. Not known in metal circles this German pop/rock singer has a breathy voice and delivery that reminds me a bit of Doro. A slower cut the whole song is a showcase for her excellent voice and delivery backed with symphonic female backing vocals and choral sounds.
‘Alone I Remember’ kicks off with some simple blues-based guitar before turning into a driving rock song with grit and swagger featuring another Lande/Sammet duet. Then it shifts gear into a super melodic almost AOR chorus that would made Europe or Harem Scarem proud. ‘Your Love Is Evil’ also has a very addictive chorus and a super solo by Paeth.
Any song with Jon Oliva on vocals catches my ear and the creepy and atmospheric track, ‘Death Is Just A Feeling’, is no exception. He was born to sing this song. It could have fit on any number of Savatage albums with it’s epic broadway show-stopping chorus, juxtaposed with the darker verses.
This album, perhaps more than the other two represents my slight feeling of unease when trying to embrace the story-line. There are not enough connecting elements to full grasp it. The albums ends with ‘Journey to Arcadia’. Where the hell is Arcadia? What is Arcadia? It’s not really explained that well. The song itself it excellent, the lyrics wistful and poignant but still as a closer cut it needs work. The albums just ends abruptly leaving me with a vague sense of dissatisfaction, a feeling of “That’s it? No giant epic finale? No wrap up?” It’s just…over. I suppose I didn’t want it to end. It is hard to articulate these very minor differences but ANGEL OF BABYLON is likely my least favorite of the three. Maybe it’s the lack of faster songs. It could have used a couple of double-kick numbers with to liven it up. The tracks don’t quite stand out as much, perhaps some of the better song-writing ideas were used on the first two. Maybe it is a factor of listeners fatigue…too much of a good thing!
The whole project is just total quality, in all aspects from individual performances, to composition, to production, the lyrics, great guitar solos, fantastic guest singers, it all combines into what I feel is one of the best concept/thematic projects I’ve ever heard. I will enjoy these three records for years to come.