Avantasia - Ghostlights - (8.5/10)
Published on January 28, 2016
Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia project is plagued by a ghost. A ghost that bears the name The Metal Opera. Back in 2001 it was the godfather of most of the multi-singer extravaganzas romping through the metal scene these days and by many is regarded as one of the best of its kind ever. The second part rode on its coattails, maintaining the same direction, but then Avantasia got sucked into the Sammet-gone-rock vortex and saw good parts of the metal influence taken away for a more modern and more rock oriented approach. It took them until 2014’s The Mystery of Time to somewhat find their stride again and make it all work as a whole, so Ghostlights, the overall seventh album of the project, would be some sort of a gateway into where the whole thing would be headed.
And who had hoped for a glorious return to the power metal opera of old, should bury these hopes, but Sammet is continuing down the same path as on The Mystery of Time, with a wide mix between some power metal and all the way to melodic rock, but with a renewed focus that makes it feel more substantial than The Scarecrow and the Angel of Babylon/The Wicked Symphony duology. Once more equipped with a boatload of guest vocalists, Sammet’s seventh effort features the talents of Jørn Lande, Bob Catley, Ronnie Atkins, Herbie Langhans, Robert Mason, Michael Kiske, Geoff Tate, Dee Snider, Marco Hietala and Sharon den Adel, so another great line-up that promises great things.
Opener “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose”, as an interesting side note, also entered Avantasia into the Eurovision Song Contest (one of the world’s longest running music contests, which Finnish Lordi had won in 2006), and is heavily inspired by Meat Loaf in his glory days, with the rock vibe and piano pieces, which is probably going to send many fans of the older Avantasia material into convulsions and is pretty standard fare for the newer direction. But 12-minute epos “Let the Storm Descend upon You” (with Ronnie Atkins, Robert Mason and Jørn Lande) takes on a slightly more dramatic and widescreen approach, which benefits from the additional vocal characters and also shows more tension, more dynamics and variety, showing that this formula can still work well, whereas the Dee Snider-supported “The Haunting” is an excellent realization of the lyrics, having this darker, more haunting atmosphere.
What remains clear throughout is that the power metal days seem to be pretty much mostly history with the rock opera concept having taken firm hold. That being said, there is a fair bit of variety lurking within the depths of Ghostlights, the oriental scales of “Seduction of Decay” (which shows Geoff Tate with a stronger performance than in any of his own projects of the past few years), the title track, which is the one lone power metal flag being waved here (with Kiske supporting Sammett and it sounds great to see Kiske go for his former trademark highs), “Draconian Love” explores the uber-catchy gothic rock/gothic metal that Type O Negative, HIM and the likes had explored many years ago and injects it into the Avantasia context, “Master of the Pendulum” also induces more dynamics and energy (as does “Babylon Vampyres”, which has some of the best guitar wizardry of the album courtesy of Bruce Kulick and Oliver Hartmann), whereas “Isle of Evermore” is an atmospheric and calm yet at the same time powerful ballad, where Sammet and Sharon den Adel have plenty of space to shine. The main issue with Ghostlights is its playing time of over 70 minutes again, a bit of extra fat could have been trimmed to make the listening experience a little more compact, but the album never goes into a true nose dive..
Reviewing an Avantasia album without touching many songs is almost impossible due to the variety of singers, which also contributes to the fact that a lot of the tracks have differing characters. If one can detach oneself from measuring Ghostlights against the first two all out symphonic power metal operas, then it quickly becomes clear that Avantasia have managed to detach themselves from being just a different incarnation of the original band Edguy (regardless that said band hasn’t sounded like itself for many years by now) and have transcended the regular genre borders and have seriously branched out. What also becomes clear is that Ghostlights has turned out to be a strong album that lives off the variety of both vocalists and styles covered without becoming disjointed. Some will decry it as an AOR-influenced washed up version of what it once stood for, but if taken for what it is, Ghostlights is an excellent and varied album that should cater to a fairly wide variety of fans without all too openly competing for them.