As a person, I rather dislike Tobias Sammet. His arrogant manner of speaking in interviews, the way he seems to take it for granted that his recent albums have had more celebrities on them than the Top Gear test circuit, and lately his constant harping on about how these two latest albums might be the last epic masterpieces he gets to do, you know what with the state of the world and illegal downloading and all that, all those sneaky nasty people who are ruining his campaign to become the richest musician in Germany by internet-stealing his songs. Poor guy. All he wants to do is make money and talk about how great he is, and you people are ruining it for him!
I never heard the original two AVANTASIA albums, which are supposedly pretty good, but “The Scarecrow” made a name for itself in 2008 for having a cool title track, some weak-at-the-knees Power Metal, and some really terrible pop songs on it. As above, Sammet and his endangered wallet are back with two new albums. Out of the two I've listened to this rather more extensively, but both share a common issue, which is that they vary and fluctuate in quality.
In terms of hired talent, “The Wicked Symphony” suffers from much the same problem as “The Scarecrow”. This problem being that the album is dominated by Tobias Sammet and to a lesser extent by Jorn Lande, shouldering his way in as soon as the album begins, and Michael Kiske, another arrogant wierdo like Sammet but likewise putting in a fine performance. The real vocal highlight of the title track is Lande's buddy Russell Allen from SYMPHONY X putting in an awesome performance, while Bob Catley, Klaus Meine and Ripper Owens are all on board. Their performances usually do feel like guest spots rather than them being a part of the project or the opera or whatever.
Drums are variously provided by Eric Singer, EDGUY's Felix Bohnke and Alex Holzwarth who was in RHAPSODY. Singer's playing obviously stands out more than the two Power Metal drummers present, and I must say he handles fast drumming really fucking well considering it's never been a big part of his job before. He really adds to “The Wasteland” which is the obligatory euro Power Metal Blind Guardian type workout for this album.
Sammet does not really distinguish himself with creativity. He pretty much cobbles together all his favourite songs, artists and sounds into what basically sounds like his favourite album. “Scales of Justice” for example simply sounds like one of the songs off Jugulator, so instead of an AVANTASIA song with Ripper Owens singing it's AVANTASIA playing a JUDAS PRIEST song...with Ripper Owens singing. This is the problem. AVANTASIA no longer have a distinctive sound, the sound and style changes from one song to the next, one form of emulation giving way to another. “Dying For An Angel” is a basic-as-hell Pop-Metal song with lots of electronic sounds and Klaus Meine singing, sounding about as far away from ““The Wicked Symphony”“ and “Wastelands” as they do from each other. “Black Wings” is an inexplicable slow song with super-distorted groove riffs from Sascha Paeth. It can't be an opera, Metal or not, if the songs have absolutely no natural cohesion with one another! How do you tell a story that way?
There is a bunch of good stuff here though mind. It's been a while since I indulged in any orchestral Metal that wasn't made of THERION, but I must admit that I love the tense, cinematic intro to the album, all romantic and bombastic and stuff, and the whole track is pretty fine epic Heavy Metal. The album is centrepieced with an absolute corker, “Runaway Train”, featuring the best guest spot on here in the form of Bob Catley singing over '70s sounding Symphonic Rock rhythms and punchy piano riffs. Brilliant! AVANTASIA nail it with this one. Following this is “Crestfallen”, a weird gothic type song which I actually find very catchy and enjoyable, all thumping guitars and spiky electronics with a grandiose chorus and unfortunately some silly-sounding yelps from Sammet that are presumably meant as harsh vocals.
As mentioned above AVANTASIA aren't really pushing the envelope in terms of creativity with any of this, and really this is quite an easy album to review. Some of it I like for its references to golden eras of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, the appearance of some great singers and honestly Sammet's own vocal talent. However, there isn't much complexity, so that when tracks like “Scales Of Justice”, “Dying For An Angel”, and pretty much the last four songs on the album fail to deliver at all in terms of catchiness or technicality, all they have to fall back upon is the celebrities singing. Other than the title track, “Runaway Train”, “Crestfallen” and maybe “Wastelands” the album doesn't merit frequent listens, although it works somewhat better than its twin “Angel Of Babylon”, and its predecessor “The Scarecrow”.
(Online January 13, 2012)