Review by David Araneda
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release date: 15th February 2019
01. Ghost In The Moon
02. Book Of Shallows
04. The Raven Child
08. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
10. Requiem For A Dream
12. Heart (Bonus track, only limited edition)
At this point in time AVANTASIA doesn’t need major introductions. This rock and metal opera commanded by mastermind Tobias Sammet has been catching a lot of attention from the metal world for over twenty years now, creating a lot of expectation with each release due to the amount of musicians involved. With time the style of the band has evolved from traditional power metal into something way more miscellaneous. In this occasion we had the joy to analyze “Moonglow”, their eight full-length studio release, which will be soon available via Nuclear Blast. For this new album the main line-up of the band remained unchanged compared to their latest releases, with Sascha Paeth in charge of the strings, Michael Rodenberg aka “Miro” on keyboards and orchestrations, plus Felix Bohnke on drums.
After a short break following AVANTASIA’s “Ghostlights Tour” and EDGUY’s compilation “Monuments”, Sammet faced no contractual obligations for the first time in many years, with complete freedom to plan the future of these two projects. This freedom allowed Tobias to get inspired in a natural way and without time restrains, taking creative breaks in England. This is very relevant when we examine the themes of “Moonglow”, a conceptual album which tells the story of a misfit creature who searches for shelter in the darkness. Both the lyrics and the fabulous cover (a brilliant illustration created by Alexander Jansson) were influenced by Victorian novels written by the likes of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood.
Going straight to the music, the album opens with ‘Ghost in the Moon’, a ten-minute epic track. The soft piano introduction and melodic tone of the song remind us of some of the latest releases from AVANTASIA, with a sound that gets close to the eighties-inspired AOR à la Meat Loaf. Sammet’s self-references to his previous work become evident with phrases such as “mystery of a blood red rose”, which make us feel like we’re inside an Avatasian universe with a life of its own. Toby takes over the main vocals and shines with a dramatic performance. As usual, the vocal arrangements and orchestrations are top-notch, making this track a promising beginning to this musical journey.
Without a break they put all the meat on the grill (as we say in Spanish) with ‘Book of Shallows’, a powerful and straight forward song, with a mind-blowing list of singers. We hear for the first time the unique voice of Hansi Kürsch, together with some old fellows such as Jørn Lande and Ronnie Atkins. But maybe the most unexpected apparition is that of Mille Petrozza, taking AVANTASIA to previously unknown levels of aggressiveness, though keeping its pomposity untouched. ‘Moonglow’ was the second single, making some people doubt about the musical direction of the album due to its Disney Channel-inspired melody and structure. Personally, I like it more with every listen, especially the lovely contribution of Candice Night, who adds a dream-like feeling to the song.
‘The Raven Child’ is one of the highlights of the album, with eleven minutes filled with magic and fantasy that delighted us already last December. From its subtle introduction with medieval atmosphere and the voice of Hansi the Bard, it takes us to ancient times, evolving into segments with higher intensity and the apparition of mastermind Toby and Viking Lande, a true King Midas of rock and roll. I think Jørn could sing reggaeton and make it sound classy, what a voice for the love of Jebus! It is worth mentioning that this song is not exempt of references to earlier AVANTASIA works, and that no one would have been surprised if this track was entitled “The Scarecrow Part II”.
They continue with ‘Stralight’, a mid-tempo track with a sound of traditional heavy/power melodic metal. The Danish gentleman Ronnie Atkins shines once more in an outstanding duet with Sammet. The vocal line is very catchy and the song is full of energy and groove, with lots of positive vibes. Happy Metal at its best. ‘Invincible’ is the compulsory ballad, with the great Geoff Tate stealing the show and claiming back his reputation. The former Queensrÿche front man delivers a performance that justifies why he is considered one of the best voices in rock history. In a short duel full of sentiment with Toby, they build up the tension for the next epic moment of “Moonglow”.
I’m talking about ‘Alchemy’, a song with a more intricate and progressive structure in which Tate delivers once more his immeasurable talent, giving a masterclass in vocal power. The chorus is one of the catchiest and more addictive within the album, together with exquisite orchestral arrangements courtesy of Miro. A killer track, no questions asked. The next in line is ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, perhaps the most interesting song of the album in terms of the amount vocalists involved. In addition to Sammet, Atkins, Tate and Lande we have Eric Martin and Bob Catley, becoming an international dream team of rock and metal. Musically speaking this is a very effective melodic power metal track, one of those that feature plenty of bombastic double bass drum and that fans will always embrace.
With ‘Lavender’ they go back to the AOR sound that Toby usually chooses for Bob Catley’s apparitions. I appreciate the intention to keep the variety in the album but this effort lacks the necessary novelty and freshness to make it a memorable one. But since we’re speaking of memorable, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ is what we were waiting for since the beginning of the album, the starring contribution of Michael Kiske. Michi has been part of the AVANTASIA family since day one and “Moonglow” is no exception, adding his superb vocals, astonishing as usual. The bass arrangements à la Grosskopf give this song a taste of Helloween, while we wait for the upcoming album from the Pumpkins United.
The record closes with ‘Maniac’, a peculiar version of the eighties classic originally by Michael Sembello. In a curious decision, this track is part of the official album and not a bonus one. Despite of the good vocal work by Sammet and Martin, this cover version feels a little out of place, since it sounds more like a wedding band than a metal opera. Anyways, we all know Toby is a guy with a great sense of humor and also a musical chameleon who’s always trying to surprise us with his crazy ideas. The limited edition of the album includes a bonus track called ‘Heart’, which works as a personal tribute from Sammet to the legendary band Journey and his classic vocalist Steve Perry.
In a nutshell, “Moonglow” is a fine piece of work that brings together some of the best voices of nowadays melodic rock and metal. Sammet is without a question a creative genius whose ideas don’t seem to run out or lose its relevance. Even if this album doesn’t bring too many new elements to the table, the amount of references to the world of rock music elevate Toby to the category of the Tarantino of metal, mixing and reusing the right ingredients in the perfect amounts to create a unique and unforgettable music experience. Not every song in this album reaches the mark of masterpiece or instant classic, but there are no bad tracks either. The order of the tracklist makes the record flow naturally and gracefully.
Furthermore, “Moonglow” easily takes a high place in AVANTASIA’s discography, perhaps only behind “The Metal Opera”, “The Scarecrow” and “The Mystery of Time”. We appreciate the variety and energy in the compositions, in addition to the flawless production and beautiful artwork. The presence of singers with such iconic voices such as Hansi and Mille, together with Kiske’s commitments with Helloween, leaves us waiting for the confirmation of the live line-up that will hit the road in March. Regarding the “Moonglow World Tour”, Sammet has promised plenty of surprises and three hours of music, making it one of the most anticipated live shows of the year. ¡Avantasia is back, ladies and gentlemen!
AVANTASIA – “Moonglow” videos