Tobias Sammet has, in many ways, become a trend setter and also a trend follower at the same time, as strange as that may sound. If going by the abject goofiness that typified EDGUY’s “Rocket Ride” and a good amount of “Hellfire Club”, he could be held culpable for both the lackluster AOR oriented albums put out of late by a handful of other acts, as well as the pseudo-tough guy grooving and limp guitar sound that was normally reserved to scene rejects like SYMPHORCE. But through it all, our favorite German buffoon/attention whore has managed to keep enough of both of his projects’ earlier sounds to remind us that he could do better, he simply chooses not to. With the release of AVANTASIA’s 3 years in the making double feature, Toby has articulated to us all through the fine art of musical self-parody that he is not only hell bent on continuing the mediocrity of “The Scarecrow”, but that he is going to dig his heels even further into the sand of the Rock radio wastelands.
Standing at the helm of this sad 2-parter is “The Wicked Symphony”, which is among the more ironic titles to an album that has been put out to date in relation to what it carries. In contrast to “Angel Of Babylon”, this is a far less consistent album that relies much more heavily on guest vocal and guitar slots than consistent songwriting. Schizophrenic doesn’t even begin to cover the relationship that the vocal slots have with the music going on around them; coming to a head not too long after the things actually gets going. Combining a guitar sound that can be described as toothless, having more in common with a 3rd rate Alternative/Grunge album, with the vocal prowess of such masters as Michael Kiske, Jørn Lande, Tim Owens, or even Tobias himself for that matter. It’s all but the equivalent of getting Bruce Dickinson to sing on the latest PEARL JAM release.
In the same fashion as the other 2 releases under the AVANTASIA moniker of late, much of the better content is dispersed all over the place, although the opening title song seems to be a predictable common thread. “The Wicked Symphony” has a fair share of decent sections, not the least of which being the slots where Jørn and Russell take the microphone and the somewhat interesting chorus section. Unfortunately the inferior guitar sound sticks out like a sore thumb as what sounds like an AMON AMARTH riff played at half-tempo comes off as utterly flat and almost annoying. “Wastelands” suffers from a similar affliction, being a rather solidly constructed melodic speeder with Kiske at the helm putting out another fit of brilliance on par with “Stargazers” off the other album, but coming off as lacking any real strength due to the lackluster production. Riff work on this album is largely kept at a minimum, perhaps in part because of the desire to give the singers the spotlight, but probably more likely because the bland style of Rock being employed here calls for a guitar tone that doesn’t particularly agree with real Metal riffing.
As this unfortunately pile of shallow Pop/Rock drags on, things get notably shorter and more radio friendly, barring the overlong vocal trio version of a MEATLOAF rip off “Runaway Train” and the somewhat decent but plain sounding duet with Andre Matos “Blizzard On A Broken Mirror”. Of these remaining songs, “Dying For An Angel” gets a bit of a bump from a powerful vocal job by Klaus Meine, who is all but covering up for the fact that he’s singing to a song that is far more poppy and simple than the most stripped down Top 40 stuff heard on “Crazy World”. The most bizarre moment is Ripper’s guest slot on “Scales Of Justice” which is just all over the place stylistically and attempts to merge a really poorly produced version of a PRIMAL FEAR song with a light rocking, almost U2 sounding interlude, all the while Owens is busting out his Halford wails at full intensity. The only thing I can think of that would be stranger would be hearing Owens take this approach to singing a comical Mozart Opera.
No one should be caught condoning this sort of indiscriminate mainstream pandering. This literally sounds like an EDGUY album crossed with 20 different pop acts, all of them utterly incompatible with the Power Metal template that Toby is still drawing from despite his assertions in interviews to the contrary. Don’t buy this, unless you fancy yourself picking up an expensive beer coaster with art work that resembles a bad Halloween theme. People like to joke that Germans have no sense of humor, but I would argue that in Tobias’ case the exact opposite is true. However, his brand of jesting is probably not going to hit the funny bones of people who actually enjoy listening to Metal music, not even in the cases of people who get their jollies listening to DETHKLOK.
(Online January 13, 2012)