Avantasia - Moonglow - (8.5/10)
Published on February 17, 2019
Even if you are only a casual fan of power metal, you probably know the name Avantasia. If you are a die-hard fan of the genre, you probably know them extremely well and have a very strong opinion on their material. Most fans adore The Metal Opera Parts I and II but have varying opinions on Scarecrow and everything Avantasia has done since as it is much more rock oriented instead of being neoclassical like the first two albums. 2017’s Ghostlights was by far the best thing they have done since the first two albums and now they follow it up with Moonglow, which is the conclusion to Aaron Blackwell’s story. It features the usual cast of characters plus a few new notable names, mainly Mille Petrozza (Kreator) and the power metal God himself, Hansi Kursch. So what does the great Tobias Sammet have in store for his listeners this time around?
The album starts off pretty strong with the almost 10 minute mid-paced rocker “Ghost in the Moon.” Much like its predecessor, “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose,” it starts as a piano ballad with Tobi’s slow lyrics and then turns into a booming rock song. The difference here is that “Ghost in the Moon” is more of an epic that kind of plods along at mid-tempo with solid but unspectacular riffs and average drumming. Tobi’s lyrics are pretty good but the song does not have the same booming effect or the same gravitas as “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose,” which interestingly enough is mentioned a handful times throughout “Ghost in the Moon.” “Book of Shallows” has a killer ¾ tempo main riff and guest vocals by the immortal Hansi Kursch along with Jorn Lande. Then Mille Petrozza’s yelling vocals come in and it feels like something is wrong. He sounds great and even though that part of the song is “thrashy,” it does not quite work. The chorus is fantastic but we should expect nothing less from Tobias. Honestly, the whole first half is pretty strong and “The Raven Child” is an exceptional track due to the stirring folk instrumentation and Hansi’s amazing vocals. It does have pretty good riffs but the folk sections are gorgeous. Oh and the chorus? You already know it totally rules.
Overall, the riffs on here are pretty solid with several standout moments across the album but the lead work overall is a step down from Ghostlights. There are some really heavy riffs on this album and a couple brilliant guitar solos like on “Requiem for a Dream.” As a whole though, the leads feel a bit tempered, which is unusual for Avantasia. Normally, Tobi pulls out all the stops for this project and leaves it all on the table with no mystery as to his goals. This feels like he left some cards in his hand for later or something. The three songs with Geoff Tate have some nice riffing but “Alchemy” feels partly like a rehash of “Seduction of Decay,” a song hardly anyone enjoyed. “Book of Shallows” might actually have the best riffing on the album, which helps because it is a monster track. Even Sascha’s flying solos are pinned back for the most part with a big one coming in “The Raven Child” and another one in “Requiem for a Dream.”
Naturally, the orchestrations on this album are of epic proportions because that is basically what Avantasia is about these days. “Starlight” has a super catchy opening keyboard lick and “The Raven Child” has booming symphonics that almost hold up to tracks like “Spectres” and “Let the Storm Descend Upon You.” The background symphonics in “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” are pretty sweet as well. Felix’s drumming is pretty good and he definitely has his standout moments, like all the variation he puts into “The Raven Child.” This track has some steady beats, great touch cymbal work, heavy beats, a couple cool fills and brilliant folk drumming. You can hear Tobi’s bass on this track too and lest we forget about Nadia’s gorgeous Celtic Harp. Tobi also has a sick little bass solo on “Requiem for a Dream” that is a rarity for Avantasia and thus, very refreshing. He does it twice too!
One thing that has always stood out about Tobias’ songwriting is that he often writes songs in the style of whoever the main guest vocalist is on that track. This is something he did brilliantly on Ghostlights but is far less prevalent on this album. You can tell that “Alchemy” was written for Geoff Tate and that “Requiem for a Dream” was written for Kiske (you can always tell with Kiske though) but that is about it. You could argue that the folk sections of “The Raven Child” were inspired by Blind Guardian and thus Hansi but it is not as painfully obvious. The other thing that has always stood out about Tobias’ songwriting is his ability to choose guest vocalists who will harmonize well with him and with each other. This is most evident on “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” which has a grand total of six different vocalists that miraculously harmonize beautifully.
Overall, this is another very solid album in Avantasia’s brilliant discography. Like every album, it has its strengths and its shortcomings. It seems to conclude Aaron Blackwell’s story nicely despite being the clear weak link of the trilogy. Like all power metal, this album is meant to be played LOUD and will undoubtedly be epic in a live setting. This album does take a little bit of time to grow on you though. It is not the same instant gratification that Ghostlights was but it still has plenty of great tunes with an epic and hilarious but also completely expected conclusion. See, anyone who knows Tobias’ tastes in music well knows that he loves cheesy music, especially 80s pop. The man covered ABBA and now he gives us his take on Michael Sembello’s classic tune, “Maniac.” The funny part is that it is actually pretty good. Firewind’s cover is still better though.