Released: 2016, Nuclear Blast
In anticipation of the new Avantasia album GHOSTLIGHTS I was looking at our database and realized we fell a bit behind on Avantasia reviews. To get us caught up we have reviewed six Avantasia releases this month. Please enjoy all the reviews in this feature.
For readers who are familiar with my few music, DVD and concert/festival reviews, you will know that I’m a big, big fan of Edguy and Avantasia seeing them live multiple times in 5 countries, which isn’t a light feat for someone hailing from Australia. So, it was with great anticipation that I sat for my virgin listening of the latest Avantasia instalment, GHOSTLIGHTS
I won’t bore you (that’s coming later) with the history of Avantasia– there are plenty of good reviews on metal-rules.com that will provide you with background information if you’re not familiar with Tobias Sammet’s metal opera project. Although, if you’re not familiar with Avantasia, I wonder if you’ve been held captive by a cult (if so, enjoy your freedom) or finally seen the light and joined our diverse and talented metal family (if so, welcome to the dark side muwhahahah! “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Metal will consume your entire being.). Anyway, about GHOSTLIGHTS…
As with all Avantasia albums, Ghostlights was produced by Sascha Paeth and Tobias Sammet, a relationship that has worked since day one and continues to produce quality material. While the base line-up has only slight variations album to album, notably, Ghostlights includes Bruce Kulick on guitar and the alien drum bunny himself, Felix Bohnke. It seems like a long time since a fellow Edguy member was involved with Avantasia. Ghostlights continues the story started in The Mystery of Time and gets into the meat of the music straight away; no prolonged introductions or symphonies. It’s almost like “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” was meant to be the last song of The Mystery of Time.
“Mystery of a Blood Red Rose”, which was released as the first single from the album late 2015, takes me back to Jim Steinmanesque songs, production, choral backing vocals and key changes. While researching the background to Ghostlights after my first listen, I came across many instances where Sammet is quoted admitting he wrote the song with MEATLOAF in mind. (I hope that was a long time ago. Has Sammet not seen MEATLOAF’s performances of the past few years?) Hopefully that comfortable familiarity will aid Avantasia after a recent announcement that “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” will be an entry in the German heats of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016. As a long-time fan of the competition, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see Tobias Sammet representing his country.
“Let the Storm Descend upon You” brings back the longer introduction and epic song proportions. Enter long-time Avantasia contributor Jorn Lande, with Ronnie Atkins (PRETTY MAIDS and NORDIC UNION) and some fairly heavy vocals care of Robert Mason (WARRANT) supporting Sammet’s vocals.
“The Haunting” is Dee Snider’s maiden contribution to Avantasia and the haunting tones of the suitably named song definitely fit the reputation of this heavy metal royal, proving that Dee Snider is not just stage antics and charisma, but an accomplished singer.
Eastern influences flavoured with a distinct guitar riff make “Seduction of Decay” a standout track on this album for me. No doubt the much anticipated vocals by power vocalist Geoff Tate will have devout fans arguing he should have played a larger role in the story.
The father of power metal vocals, Michael Kiske, lends his Helloween style vocals to one of the faster songs and title track “Ghostlights”. Tobias Sammet has regularly been criticised as being a Kiske copycat by the power metal elitists, but with their vocals so close together in this song, there is no doubt which voice is which and Sammet has absolutely no problems matching Kiske’s vocal quality. Thankfully though, Lande’s deeper and courser voice gives just the right amount texture to a song that could have easily been described as a competition between castratos. The high vocals became a little uncomfortable at times, but main songs from Wicked hurt my ears sometimes. Good thing I was using headphones too as the song may have set off a few car alarms had it been blasting through the stereo.
“Draconian Love” had me saying ‘yes please’ as I experienced the rich, smooth voice of Herbie Langhans (SINBREED, BEYOND THE BRIDGE, RADIANT). Is it me? Is it the word ‘Draconian’? Is it the rich vocals? Is it the production? I’m getting PARADISE LOST vibes with this song. I have to confess, I didn’t know his name and had to do the research. I’m familiar with SINBREED, but this isn’t Langhans’s usual style of singing which is probably why I didn’t know his name and haven’t paid that much attention to him as a vocalist in the past. “More natural vocals Mr Langhans!”, I say.
My most anticipated new recruit for Avantasia is Marco Hietala (Tarot, Nightwish…) on “Master of the Pendulum” and I’m not disappointed. Yes, I’m biased and would probably say ‘it’s brilliant’ to Hietala farting in a jar if it came out on CD, but this song has the speed, melody, catchiness and delivery to make it the best track of Ghostlights. Sammet’s and Hietala’s voices are a match made in heaven (if you believe in that). It’s one song that made me question if Sammet already had singers in mind while he wrote songs, because the chorus of “Master of the Pendulum” has similar Celtic aromas common in newer Nightwish material that stretch past Hietala’s distinctive voice.
“Isle of Evermore” features the only female character vocals provided by the ever popular Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation). There’s just something about Den Adel’s voice and her ability to project so much emotion.
Robert Mason joins Sammet once again in “Babylon Vampyres”. This is another fast and catchy song featuring three guitarists – Bruce Kulick, Oliver Hartmann (another AVANTASIA regular) and Sascha Paeth, so requires a lengthy lead break…or three.
“Lucifer” brings together Sammet’s and Lande’s voices singing in harmony as well as different parts of the song. There’s a reason Lande is an Avantasia favourite of mine – not only is he a passionate singer, his and Sammet’s voices together give me warm and fuzzies.
The catchy “Unchain the Light” features Sammet, Atkins and Kiske on vocals. This is one of the songs where you hear signature Sammet vocals – the style of vocalization that is present in every Edguy/Avantasia work.
I was worried I’d not hear Bob Catley on this Avantasia instalment, but not to disappoint, Catley’s tones bring the album to a conclusion with “A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies”. For a concluding song, it’s short, but isn’t missing any of the elements of a finale.
My review was written from a promotional version of the album and needless to say, my copy of Ghostlights is already ordered. There are so many versions coming out, I’m not sure if the 3 CD earbook is even the bee’s knees version. So here’s a summary of what is being promoted.
I’m assuming there will be a basic jewel case version, but that isn’t listed right now. The digibook version contains 2 CDs–CD 1 includes a bonus track “Wake Up to the Moon”, CD 2 is a collection of 11 live tracks.
The 12 inch sized earbook (what a weird name that is) includes a third karaoke version CD. Still unclear as to whether this version will have the bonus track. If it doesn’t, this Avantasia fan will be singing praises a little less.
It seems the bee’s knees version called the “mailorder box” (if you can afford the exorbitant shipping) includes the earbook, a poster, something autographed, lanyard and laminate plus a 10 inch vinyl of currently unknown content. (Maybe it’s that farting recording I’ve always wanted.) While this version is listed by Nuclear Blast, I’ve found no evidence of its availability to date.
And then, for the hipsters, the album is available as a double vinyl in black or gold and also includes the bonus track “Wake Up to the Moon”.
After listening to Ghostlights, I went back and listened to The Mystery of Time followed by Ghostlights again. There was a familiarity between the two albums and while Ghostlights has some new voices, they didn’t detract from the relationship between the two albums. I like The Mystery of Time, but I think Ghostlights is better (even with Joe Lynn Turner contributing to the former album). And, as it’s still very new to my ears, once I can wear the music like custom-made glove, I will probably hear completely different things in each song. The Avantasia formula has always worked much to the talents of Tobias Sammet. Let’s face it, if the material was amateurish or substandard, no number of the star/talented performers would be able to ‘fix’ it; but it’s because of Sammet’s talent, that Avantasia is able to attract heavy metal’s best as guest contributors.
My only criticism would be in the interest of projecting a good image to the female metal populace – female representation in Ghostlights was very thin as with previous Avantasia albums. There is a great number of talented female metal singers of varying genres making a name for themselves and it would good to hear a few more in future Avantasia albums.