Avantasia – Moonglow
Label: Nuclear Blast
Have your ears ready as soon as you press play otherwise you could miss the start of the first, lengthy song which consists
of a number of movements. “Ghost in the Moon” doesn’t waste time with overtures or preludes, instead, the first thing you hear is the voice of AVANTASIA creator/composer/performer, Tobias Sammet.
I read that Sammet states Moonglow is a story on its own, however there is hint of a relationship to the album Ghostlights in the opening song with mentions of “blood red rose”, “ghosts” and “moonlight”. In a video talking about the new album, Sammet explains that as a musician most of his life is lived at night, in the darkness and he’s always been fascinated by the moon.
Sammet says Moonglow is a conceptual fantasy album, but all the songs tell individual stories rather than linking to complete a story as in a metal/rock opera, and the writing of the “poems” is heavily influenced by the Victorian revival of the gothic novel and dark romanticism.
“Moonglow is about a nocturnal creature who shelters in the dark from reality and wants to be invisible in the moon glow,” says Sammet.
Sammet is joined by some new voices to AVANTASIA for “Book of Shallows”. The first most recognisable new voice is that of Hansi Kursch (BLIND GUARDIAN). (As I’m reviewing from a promotional copy which arrived without any line notes, I ask forgiveness if I have misheard someone’s voice.) Sammet and Kursch are joined by seasoned guests Ronnie Atkins (PRETTY MAIDS) and Jorn Lande (MASTERPLAN, ALLEN-LANDE, etc.) whose combined voices provide a rich performance of an extremely catchy chorus. A verse is also sung by Mille Petrozza (KREATOR). While Petrozza has made a guest appearance on EDGUY’s “Mysteria”, this is his first outing with AVANTASIA.
The singing duties for the title track are shared between Sammet and Candice Night (BLACKMORE’S NIGHT). It’s been a long time since I last listened to a Blackmore’s Night album and I had forgotten how utterly lovely Night’s voice is—feminine without sounding girlie; smooth but not monotonous; melodic but not over sung. With only two weeks before the release of the album, the song “Moonglow” has been released as a single via a lyric video.
When you first hear Kursch start singing in the epic “The Raven Child” you’d be forgiven for wondering if you were listening to BLIND GUARDIAN. A harp plays instead of an acoustic guitar and Kursch’s smooth singing style in The Bard’s Song is even smoother in “The Raven Child” but that’s where the similarities end. As the song warms up and the tempo changes, familiar Avantasia guitar riffs kick in played by long-serving AVANTASIA guitarist and producer, Sascha Paeth. Lande’s unmistakeable vocals also feature in this song. “The Raven Child” was promoted in December 2018 as the first single with the release of an official lyric video. The up-tempo pace continues in the next song with Sammet and Atkins singing “Starlight”.
While listening to the opening verse of the short and mellow “Invincible” I was corrected in my thinking that it was Sammet’s singing I was listening to, with his wavering note-holds style. “I grew up listening to QUEENSRYCHE, I know Geoff Tate’s voice when I hear it”, I was told. It took a good set of headphones to block out all other noise to recognise when Sammet came in and identify himself as he reached the higher notes. I’ve never spent much time listening to QUEENSRYCHE or Tate so I was surprised at this revelation.
“Alchemy” speeds up and the Sammet/Tate collaboration continues with a catchy chorus you can hum along to after only one of two listens. This is probably one of the heavier songs on the album and includes familiar Avantasia guitar rhythms.
“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” raised my heartbeat with its tempo and symphony of voices. Even after a few listens with headphones I’m still not exactly sure at which stages the guest singers–Atkins, Lande, Tate, joined by Eric Martin (MR BIG) and Bob Catley (MAGNUM)—come in during the fast-paced song, where voices change every couple of lines making the song all the more interesting.
The pace continues as Catley sings the chorus of “Lavender”. The symphony of voices (or clever layering) during the chorus gives it brightness.
Legendary power metal singer Michael Kiske lends his voice to the equally power metal-ish “Requiem for a Dream”. The song is a throwback to the style of writing that made me a Sammet/EDGUY fan 18 odd years ago, with galloping rhythms and double-kick drums provided by Felix (alien drum bunny) Bohnke (EDGUY).
For years I have heard devout HELLOWEEN fans accuse Sammet of being a Kiske copycat-wannabe and have ignored their taunts, rolled my eyes and/or replied with a few choice words. Not even in early EDGUY material did I hear any resemblance in their singing styles. Sure Sammet can sing the notes Kiske can reach, but if that was the basis for their accusations, then those of us who can also reach those notes also sound like Kiske—yeah, right, good onyas. I would like to present evidence on behalf of the debating team for the Negative—the songs “Invincible” and “Requiem for a Dream”.
The final track of Moonglow (sans bonus track) gave me mixed emotions—surprise, giggles, joy, confusion. On the first listen this was my thought process: first four bars “oh that sounds very ‘80s”; the first bar of keyboards “sounds like ‘Maniac’ from Flashdance”; the keyboards continue “it IS ‘Maniac’!” Martin joins in this ‘80s hit cover. After a week of solid listening I’m still confused about this track.
In May 2018 Tobias Sammet announced a Moonglow World Tour releasing a number of European dates. By October 2018 Australia was added to the tour with two east coast dates ahead of any North America announcements. Tickets are now on sale for the announced dates.
While a lot of people are speculating which guest vocalists will join Sammet and the band on tour, and delaying the purchase of tickets as result, some shows have already sold out. I was lucky enough to see AVANTASIA live twice in the European summer of 2008 and it was a tremendous joy to be able see and hear favourite AVANTASIA songs performed.
There have been many speculations about who will and won’t be on the tour. Some stating Kiske will be busy with HELLOWEEN commitments and the Australian promoter wrote a not so cryptic message late 2018 which pointed towards Jorn Lande, but only time will tell. Regardless of who the singers will be, the Moonglow World Tour is going to be smashing.
If you’re familiar with the AVANTASIA back catalogue listening to Moonglow will be like putting on a brand new pair of your favourite shoes or jeans—the style and fit are familiar and perfect, but with the sense of crispness and novelty new items have.
As with all major releases Moonglow will be released in a number of formats including the LP-sized “earbook” which is the edition I have ordered, so I reserve the right to come back to this review and correct any errors I have made in identifying the various singers.
01. Ghost in the Moon
02. Book of Shallows
04. The Raven Child
08. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
10. Requiem for a Dream
Tobias Sammet – lead vocals, additional keyboards and bass
Sascha Paeth – guitars and bass
Michael Rodenberg – piano, orchestration, keyboards
Felix Bohnke – drums