I bet you were one of those cool kids, weren’t you? One whose parents brought them up on “cool” bands like The Beatles, The Stones and The Who. That’s okay, no need to be embarrassed, cool guy! But spare a thought for those of us who were raised by musical lunatics. Those of us who were raised to believe that the pinnacle of musical achievement was Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell (it is). The point of this, is that whilst I may love a lot of reflective, understated music as the art that it is; I will never truly be free from my love of massive choruses, fantasy imagery, and sheer showmanship. And my word, that’s definitely where Avantasia come in.
Avantasia is the passion project of Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet; an experiment in calling in some of metal’s best vocalists in order to create a metal opera of incredible scale and ambition. The mechanics of pulling it off are mind-blowing, and undoubtedly exhausting – Sammet regularly swears that he’s done with Avantasia after each album. Fortunately for us, he simply can’t seem to stay away, instead opting to return with arguably the strongest Avantasia album yet.
The array of talent on Ghostlights is staggering; you have frequent Sammet collaborator and ex-Helloween frontman Michael Kiske, Nightwish’s Marco Hietala, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider and ex-Masterplan singer Jorn Lande to name just a few, and not one of them slouches on Ghostlights. That’s not to sell Sammet himself short, his vocals on Ghostlights as strong as they were on the first Avantasia album well over a decade ago. Album highlights include Dee Snider brooding and stomping like he never would in Twisted Sister on ‘The Haunting’, Hietala being used to perfect effect on possibly the heaviest song Avantasia have ever made in ‘Master Of The Pendulum’, and the sprawling four-way vocal acrobatics on the mammoth ‘Let The Storm Descend Upon You’. Lande in particular shines here, the only appropriate simile seeming to be that he sounds like David Coverdale with habaneros in his underwear. In a good way, obviously.
So no, there’s not much here for fans of three-chord punk bands, shoegaze or thrashy hardcore. If you’ve no time for the KISS’ and Def Leppards of the world, then Ghostlights simply won’t land with you. What there is instead, is a wall of majestic, orchestral, rock opera noise that you can’t help but gesticulate to with aplomb (google it, it’s not as dirty as it sounds). This is an album without peer, sounding like nobody else but Tobias Sammet, whilst still having clear roots in classic heavy metal and opera. Much of this credit must go to producer and lead guitarist Sascha Paeth, whose resumé also includes bands such as Rhapsody Of Fire, Kamelot and Epica. Paeth clearly has a knack for clean-sounding production, as every backing vocal and orchestral sweep is utilised to full effect to create an awe-inspiring package.
Ghostlights might very well be the best work of Sammet’s entire career, and easily the finest Avantasia release since The Scarecrow. It’s orchestral power metal, so you may think you have a good idea of what to expect; and that’s actually pretty fair. But if you’re too dismissive, you’ll miss an album of incredible musicianship, otherworldly ambition, and hooks that will stay with you for days. Is it too early to call album of the year?