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Friday, December 25, 2015

CD-Review: Avantasia - "Ghostlights"

Nowadays allstar-projects are nothing new, but remember the year 1999 when Edguy-singer Tobias Sammet defined a whole genre with his solo project Avantasia. The Metal Opera was born and in the following years Avantasia developed into a true force of bombastic Metal. With iconic guest musicians like Alice Cooper, Klaus Meine, Michael Kiske, Jorn Lande, Jon Oliva, Eric Martin and many others joining this ambitious project during the years expectations are getting higher with each new release. On January 29th the wait is over and the seventh album, called "Ghostlights" will hit the stores.

I've to say I was truely hyped when I heard a new album is coming out. You can easily compare it with the hypetrain that started when the new Star Wars movie was announced. So I thought my expectations are so huge that they simply can't be fulfilled, especially when you take a look at the long guest list. Beside longtime-members Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic) and Bob Catley (Magnum) you'll get to hear Dee "fucking" Snider (Twisted Sister), Robert Mason (Warrant), Geoff Tate (ex-Queensrÿche, Operation:Mindcrime), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Marco Hietala (Nightwish) and Herbie Langhans (Sinbreed) on vocals. "Ghostlights" sees also the return of two former Avantasia singers: Ronnie Atkins from Danish Rockers Pretty Maids and non other than the great Jorn Lande! Many fans missed him on the previous album "The Mystery Of Time", because Jorn was such an essential part of Avantasia since 2008. Now your prayers were heard and you'll love Jorns performance on this album. You see, the line-up is like a who-is-who in the Metal scene, but that's not enough. Ex-Kiss member Bruce Kulick is also back on guitar to deliver some killer solos and Oliver Hartmann and Sasha Paeth belong to this huge project, too.

"Ghostlights" is once more a concept album with a complex story. It continues the narrative from "The Mystery Of Time" where it's all about time and how they affect us human beings. While the previous album was a "Rock Epic" and had more of a Hard Rock record "Ghostlights" is a bit more Metal this time. For sure you have all the ingredients you love about Avantasia, which means bombastic arrangements, huge choirs and complexity while the songs are still very catchy and melodic, but "Ghostlights" is more heavy this time, more mysterious and has a more darker tone. The whole album is so rich and full of variety, creativity and great moments. That's why I'll discuss each song in the following lines to do this complex masterpiece justice.

It all starts with the first single "Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose", which sounds like one of the best Meat Loaf songs Meat Loaf has never written. This is the only song where Tobias Sammet sings alone and I'm really impressed how he uses his voice here. It's very different to all the stuff he has been done before. Sometimes you might think somebody else is singing here. The song itself has an infectious chorus that makes you feel good. All in all one of the more commercial songs on this album and by far not representative for the whole record.

The first standout track on this album comes with the 12 minute masterpiece "Let The Storm Descend Upon You". Damn, I've rarely heard such an EPIC song in recent years. Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins and Robert Mason fit together perfectly on this one and they all sound better than ever. The chorus is huge, but what I like the most on this one is the bridge until the chorus kicks in. What an outstanding hookline! These 12 minutes are over so quickly. A contender for "Song Of The Year" in 2016! Simply one of the best tracks Tobias Sammet has ever written.

After such a massive song the following track simply has to go a few steps back. "The Haunting" is performed by Dee Snider and comes along in the vein of tunes like "The Toy Master" (performed by Alice Cooper) and "Death is Just A Feeling" (performed by Jon Oliva) from previous albums. So, Dee Snider has big shoes to fill. "The Haunting" is a really atmospheric and creepy song, but to be honest here I expected a little bit more. Especially the chorus is nothing special if you compare this track to those previous ones. It is still a good song, but it needs some time to grow on you.

Same goes to "Seduction Of Decay", which is sung by Geoff Tate. This is one of the heaviest tracks on this album and a pounding Progressive Metal tune. This could have been a song from the "Scarecrow" album, because it has this special vibe in it and Tate's vocal performance reminds me a lot at Roy Khan's voice and Kamelot. I know that not everybody loves Geoff Tate, because his recent Operation: Mindcime record was very disappointing, but on this song he sounds great! Like I said I needed a bit time to get into this song, but if you give it the time to grow this one will also blow you away.

Finally we reach the title track and that one comes along with much speed, double-bass and soaring guitars. You know what that means? Sure, this one just can be sung by the mighty Michael Kiske and he really goes to the extreme of his lungs once more. It's a typical Power Metal tune made for Kiske in the vein of "Where Clock Hands Freeze" or "Wastelands". A very thrilling song! Also Jorn Lande has a small part on this one.

The next in line is "Draconian Love", performed by Herbie Langhans. When I heard the first notes I thought this is a HIM tune. Herbie has this Gothic feel in his voice and the song seems to be very dark until the chorus kicks in. This is once more a fist raising anthemic refrain with a melody that will stuck in your head for weeks!

The following "Master Of The Pendulum" starts very slow, but quickly developes into a straight Heavy Metal song that sounds a bit like Nightwish and this is no wonder, because Marco Hietala performes the vocals here. This is another winner with an infectious chorus to die for: full of power, full of melody, but still mysterious.

After all these great rockers you get a little bit time to breath because the first ballad kicks in with the beautiful voice of Sharon den Adel. "Isle Of Evermore" is a very quite song without much instrumentation. It has more electronic elements, but this works quiet well. This track creates such an amazing atmosphere. It conveys perfectly the feeling of loneliness. Listen to it more often, because it gets better with each listen.

After taking a deep breath "Babylon Vampyres" with Robert Mason on vocals kicks in. Another straight-ahead rocker with an anthemic chorus and a huge hookline. At this point of the album I still wonder where Tobias Sammet gets this awesome melodies from. Another rocker that makes you feel so good!

The following "Lucifer" is once more sung by Jorn Lande and this tune is pretty similiar to "Isle Of Evermore", because it lives from its vocal performance and strong atmosphere. It starts very slow and builds up some tension until the heavy guitars kick in. Another grower!

"Unchain The Light" is the next highlight on this album. It's similiar to the title track, which means it's a Power Metal anthem with Michael Kiske on vocals, but this time he is joined by Ronnie Atkins. This mixture works great and I love this track with its pumping chorus. It's also nice to have those very differnt singers on here. The strength of Avantasia was always to put various singers together in one song. This is the only thing that is a bit disappointing on this new album, because most of the songs are sung by one guest vocalist and Tobi. I would have loved to hear more songs with many vocalists involved. But this is nagging of a very high level and I'm really looking forward to the Digipack version of this album. This edition will feature a bonus track called "Wake Up To The Moon", which is performed  by various singers!

But let's get back to the main tracklist. The last song on this album is called "A Restless Heart And Obsidian Skies" and this one builds a nice conclusion to this great record. It is perfectly sung by Bob Catley and feels like "The Story Ain't Over Part II". It's another outstanding, catchy song with so much emotional depth and awesome arrangement.

Speaking about arrangements: every single song is very well crafted and produced by Sasha Paeth. He has the ability to underline Tobias Sammet's rich and ambitious songwriting and to transport it to another level. "Ghostligths" is an album you can listen to a hundred times and you will always discover something new. It gets better with each listen until you really get addicted to it. With over 70 minutes of playtime (without the bonustrack!) you also get much of value for your money.

In 2013 I gave "The Mystery Of Time" my highest score and although "Ghostlights" is a bit different, it is on the same high level, which means I just can give my 10 out of 10 rating once more. Avantasia set the bar so damn high for each new release that will arrive in 2016, so it will be hard for any other band to beat that or at least keeping up to it. "Ghostlights" is another well-crafted Symphonic/Melodic Metal masterpiece everybody was hoping for and in some way it could even surpass my huge expectations. Tobias Sammet showed once more that he is one of the best songwriters we have in Metal right now! A MUST HAVE for each and everyone of you!



01. Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose
02. Let The Storm Descend Upon You
03. The Haunting
04. Secudtion Of Decay
05. Ghostlights
06. Draconian Love
07. Master Of The Pendulum
08. Isle Of Evermore
09. Babylon Vampyres
10. Lucifer
11. Unchain The Light
12. A Restless Heart And Obsidian Skies

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