Avantasia: Ghostlights (Nuclear Blast)
When Tobias Sammet first released his debut 'Metal Opera' in 2001, many I'm sure thought something as overblown and epic in scale would not last longer than one record, especially because Sammet has his 'day job' in being the frontman of heavy metallers Edguy. However over the course of six albums the project has continued to go from strength to strength combining great music, theatrical, conceptual themes and many guest vocalists featuring on the records to tell the story properly (take note Dream Theater). The project really hit it's stride on the Wicked Symphony trilogy which really showed what Mr Sammet could do when he wanted to express himself musically. The Wicked Symphony was also a bit of finality for Avantasia as it was the last part of the project that could be considered wholly metal, from The Mystery Of Time (the start of a new story) Avantasia has focused more on the hard rock aspects of music than the metal part (maybe due to Sammet's other band handling heavy metal better than most).
This progression continues on Ghostlights which is the second part of the Mystery Of Time story arc and sees Sammet channeling his inner Jim Steinman on album opener Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose which is one of two songs that features just Sammet's vocals, the other is Babylon Vampyres, whereas Babylon Vampyres is a Edguy song at it's heart Mystery Of A... is backed by the multi layered backing choirs, from Cloudy Yang and Miro, pounding pianos and so much baroque styling Meat Loaf himself couldn't have sung it better. It's a superb album opener however it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the concept but will go down a storm when the band audition to be Germany's entrant into Eurovision this year (yes really). The musical team stays the same with Sammet on bass and keys, Sascha Paeth on guitars, keys and bass, his partner in crime Miro on keys and orchestrations, Edguy sticksman Felix Bohnke on drums and Oliver Hartmann and Bruce Kulick on additional lead guitars. With this much talent on display it's no wonder the instrumentation on this record is amazing bolstered by Sammet, Paeth and Miro's production and mastering which makes every sound boom with the required bombast.
From track two we pick up the story of the Watchmaker with Pretty Maids' Ronnie Atkins, Masterplan's Jorn Lande and Robert Mason supplying vocals with Sammet (the album's main character), Lande once again shows off his superior pipes on this 12 minute tour-de-force of a song with sublime guitar playing from Hartmann, Miro's impressive orchestrations all contributing to the epic song that leaves you gasping for breath at it's conclusion. As this is only the second track it's hard to see how they will improve upon it but as Dee Snider takes up the creepy baton left to him by Alice Cooper and Jon Oliva on previous releases, you see that there is no lack of ambition of musical dexterity on this record. Sammet seems to have got an all star cast once again for this record with Geoff Tate on the symphonic Seduction Of Decay, Michael Kiske who proceeds to blow everyone out of the water on the two tracks he's a part of, especially the rampaging title track that is classic Helloween. Beyond The Bridge's Herbie Langhans contributes his baritone to the Gothic metal of Draconian Love which could be a Type O Negative track.
As the album progresses we get Nightwish's Marco Hietala to add his unique pipes on the thunderous Master Of The Pendulum which is melodic heavy metal at it's best with Felix drumming for his life. After this rapid track we get a massive throwback to the 'Metal Opera' days with Within Temptation's Sharon Den Adel on the slower, beautiful electronic synth driven Isle Of Evermore and lastly we get the cameo from Magnum's Bob Catley (who has been on every Avantasia album since Metal Opera II) on the final track. Ghostlights is still Avantasia, it's the most over the top album you will hear this year, it always errs on the side of ridiculousness but manages to keep everything together for it's 12 tracks (13 on the special edition) avoiding the cheese where possible while also being the most accessible album the project have released, hopefully opening them up to new audiences. I have no doubt that their show in London will be spectacular as this sort of music begs to be performed live, but on record Avantasia have once again constructed a cinematic album that ticks all the right boxes for fans of melodic, symphonic, metallic rock music! 9/10