Release: February 15, 2019
''Would you follow me into a world
Where reason doesn't pertain?''
Avantasia ages like fine wine and seems to get better and better with each new album. Having just released their eighth masterpiece in the form of “Moonglow”, Tobias Sammet’s fascinating rock opera project is on a roll and firing on all cylinders. With enticing titles and a host of impressive vocal guests (some of them new to Avantasia), “Moonglow” promises a lot, but does it also deliver?
Incorporating may different musical elements, big choirs, intense atmospheric backdrops, extremely hooky vocal melodies and choruses, and, of course, many incredible vocal performances, “Moonglow” is at the same time very dreamlike and beautiful, but also quite heavy and aggressive. It’s the perfect balance between dark & gloomy and light & breezy, actually falling somewhere between these extremes, at times gloomy in a particular Tim Burton style, at other times quite breezy with a bit of a Disney vibe, most of the time downright enchanting.
Ghost in the Moon
Book of shallows
The raven child
The piper at the gates of dawn
Requiem for a dream
Heart [Bonus track]
The music goes hand in hand perfectly with the incredibly captivating artwork that accompanies the album, and really makes you feel like you are in a fairytale world. Commenting in his new opus, mastermind Tobias Sammet said:
“I believe it's the most adorned and detailed album we've ever produced. Not over ambitious, but there is a lot of love for detail in there. Avantasia is the ultimate playground for a musician's wildest fantasies to come true: Celtic elements, world music elements, big choirs, atmospheric stuff, amazing guest vocal performances and of course all that wrapped up in what I consider to be the typical Avantasia sound.”
And in between the two singles released to promote this material, we get these two main aspects as the lengthy “The raven child” is twisted, dark and pretty dramatic, with some folky undertones, as Tobias Sammet, Hansi Kürsch and Jørn Lande play off of each other superbly in a wonderful narrative, while “Moonglow”, featuring the lovely Candice Night (of Blackmore’s Night fame), delivers all the magic and beauty one expects from Avantasia (much to the same effect of “Isle of Evermore” on 2016’s “Ghostlights”). Ebbing and flowing smoothly in between slower paced songs, like opener “Ghost in the Moon” or “Lavender”, and full blown power metal bombast as “Book of shallows” or “Alchemy” with some moments of respite like the ballad “Invincible” or the aforementioned “Moonglow”, this album delivers in spades. I have to admit it took me a few solid listens to it, to begin to understand it, as it’s very dense and intricate, but also to fully appreciate all its flourishes and details. It’s the type of album that doesn’t reveal all its secrets at once.
With the help of seasoned musicians from the power metal scene, grandiosity and epicness is more than assured all the way through. I have already mentioned three amazing vocalists, talking a bit about the singles, but honestly that is only the tip of the musical iceberg. The second track, “Book of Shallows” is where it’s all at, as Mille Petrozza (Kreator) joins forces with Hansi, Jørn, Tobias, and Ronnie Atkins (from Pretty Maids), for the ultimate epic power metal extravaganza, and incredible display of virtuosity. Mille’s aggressive delivery is in stark contrast with the rest and as such adds so much dramatism and edge to the story, thus making “Book of shallows” one of Avantasia’s heaviest song to date (if not the heaviest). And, after such a hefty track, we have the beautiful and breezy duet between Tobias and Candice, “Moonglow”, as track three, with its dreamlike atmosphere and delightful piano lines.
I just love these types of juxtapositions, and the album is full of them, as after the 11-minute epic “The raven child” we have the almost 4-minute up-tempo “Starlight” where Ronnie Atkins’s velvety smooth vocals really shine. Geoff Tate takes the spotlight for a very tight performance on both the power ballad “Invincible” as well as the symphonic infused “Alchemy”, which somehow remind me of two other Avantasia songs. Lyrically “Invincible” references “Mystery of a blood red rose” (through the lyric “Throw yourself into the waves”, and a bit in the vocal melodies, while “Ghost in the Moon” makes a direct reference to the song), and musically “Alchemy” has some traces of “Twisted minds” (from “The Scarecrow”), as far as the chugging guitars in the background go, and I can’t help but wonder whether Tobias is running low on ideas and needs to recycle some older stuff. Or maybe it’s a way of tying different stories together. And honestly within these tracks is where the album seems to drop in quality and drag a bit more than usual.
Nonetheless, “The piper at the gates of dawn” is another full blown Euro-power metal madness, as the core cast of Avantasia is joined by Eric Martin (Mr. Big) and Bob Catley (Magnum) who deliver all the goods and leave you wanting more. And for the most part the slow-paced semi-ballad “Lavender” covers those needs, while Michael Kiske makes a wonderful duet partner for Tobias in the up-tempo and energetic “Requiem for a dream”, which for me is the end of the album as I don’t see the lyrical or stylistical role of a cover song, much more if that cover song is Michael Sembello’s “Maniac” (from the movie “Flashdance”). But that may just be me.
Bottom line: “Moonglow” truly delivers all you would expect from an Avantasia release – over the top performances, theatrics, bombast, cinematic moments, and cheesy yet extremely hooky melodies. I don’t know how he does it, but Tobias Sammet always delivers what he promises to deliver, and in a very ostentatious matter at that. Definite highlights: “Book of shallows”, “Moonglow”, and “The piper at the gates of dawn”.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Tobias Sammet – lead vocals, additional keyboard, bass guitar
Sascha Paeth – guitar, bass guitar
Michael Rodenberg – keyboard, piano, orchestration
Felix Bohnke – drums
Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids)
Jørn Lande (Jorn)
Eric Martin (Mr. Big)
Geoff Tate (Operation: Mindcrime)
Michael Kiske (Helloween)
Bob Catley (Magnum)
Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night)
Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian)
Mille Petrozza (Kreator)