The Metal Opera
Released: 2001, AFM Records
Reviewer: Michael De Los Muertos
Possibly the most enjoyable duty I have yet had to perform for Metal-Rules.com has fallen upon me: I have the pleasure of reviewing a truly groundbreaking album, one that will be remembered years from now, and one whose impact will probably remain as fresh and powerful as it is now, less than a month after its release. Tobias Sammet’s ambitious “metal opera,” the long-awaited Avantasia, is here, and it is truly a wonder to behold.
Avantasia is probably the finest concept album to emerge from metal since Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime appeared in 1988. Like that album, Avantasia is very broad in scope (somewhat broader, in fact) and attempts the daunting task of delineating numerous major characters and holding together a very complex plot, while at the same time presenting a host of powerful pieces of music that can stand on their own as viable metal songs. This is the true strength of Avantasia. It’s not just “The Metal Opera,” but it’s also a damn good power metal album. No – not just damn good. Incredible! An album presenting songs of this quality, even if they were unconnected by story or a common theme, would be at least on par with Sammet’s last effort of his full-time band Edguy, the pants-shittingly-amazing Theater of Salvation. Combining such expertly-created metal in a coherent story is an even further kudos to Sammet’s genius, and the talent of the numerous vocalists and musicians that work with him, including Kai Hansen, Oliver Hartmann, Rob Rock, Timo Tolkki, Markus Grosskopf, and a fellow credited as “Ernie” who sounds surprisingly like Michael Kiske. This album is a who’s-who of European power metal, and everyone involved definitely proves their stature in the scene, as top-notch performance after top-notch performance packs this CD like sardines in a can. By the time you’re finished with the 13 tracks of this album you’re almost exhausted, but certainly sated.
The story of Avantasia takes place in the early 1600s and involves a young monk (voice of Tobias) who discovers a sacred book that holds the key to another realm of existence known as Avantasia. It seems certain religious personages, including the Pope (played by Oliver Hartmann of At Vance) are intent on keeping the knowledge of Avantasia secret so as to augment their own power. While this story is not really that clear unless you read the CD insert – which is about as thick a tome as the Egyptology dissertation that accompanies Nile’s Black Seeds of Vengeance – the songs are punchy enough that you don’t care. The fun starts with a fairly formulaic instrumental intro which sounds standard Edguy-ish, but quickly bursts into a full-fledged attempt to cause sudden catastrophic bowel evacuation with the track “Reach Out For The Light.” I was impressed by this song when I reviewed the Avantasia single last month, and I must say that it’s even more impressive here at the head of a long parade of terrific power metal anthems. “Serpents in Paradise” continues the assault with a spate of impressive guitar work. Like Mindcrime, most of the advancement of the plot occurs in the middle tracks, such as “Breaking Away,” but even throughout these pieces the energy never flags. Where rollicking choruses or choppy guitars do not carry the fire, soaring ultra-clean vocals (usually Sammet’s) do. These tracks also prove that this album was made specifically with long-time power metal veterans in mind. “Farewell” makes obvious references to Blind Guardian’s Nightfall In Middle Earth; other tracks hark back to Helloween-inspired traditions, and still others have a more technological Gamma Ray feel to them. This is a major strength of the album: Tobias may have directed the project, but it wasn’t all minted on Planet Edguy. He has the vision and tolerance to let the other great artists he’s brought on board do their thing as they know best. The result is a dazzling variety show of power metal talent.
Again, like Mindcrime, the best stuff on Avantasia comes at its end. Two blockbuster tracks – “Sign of the Cross” and “The Tower” – finish out the record by pulling out all the stops. We’re talking fist-in-the-air, sing-along, mega-emotional German-style power, absolutely irresistible to even the most hard-hearted anti-power-metal cynic. “The Tower,” clocking in at 9:43, is the best track on the album. It sails through extremely dense lyrical passages without ever seeming pretentious, and offers up a crushing assault of speed and melody. When it’s over and the dust clears it’s almost too much to take in at once. Mindcrime, at barely 45 minutes long, was digestible in one chunk. Avantasia is a minute shy of a full hour, and it’s a very busy hour. It may take several listens to even perceive all that’s here, but with everything that’s offered up on this disc it’s extremely unlikely you’ll get tired of any of it.
In short, Avantasia is a masterpiece. With all the talent involved, and with as flawlessly as it’s pulled off, it could well represent the apotheosis of modern power metal. Indeed its only match may be its sequel: this is Avantasia, The Metal Opera, PART ONE. On the liner notes Tobias himself finally delivers the best news of all – Part II of Avantasia will be coming out in a year or so, and a sentence later he pledges that another Edguy release may well come out before that. If you’re a power metal fan, methinks your eternal king has at last been enthroned, and his name is Tobias Sammet!