Avantasia is the project of Tobias Sammet, the vocalist of Edguy, who wanted to put together a dramatic and multi-layered metal opus.
The Metal Opera received many accolades and featured members of Angra, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Blind Guardian, At Vance, etc. A pre-debut and European-only EP features an exclusive track and a distinctly pop music-like photograph of Sammet himself on the cover.
The second album features much of the same players, albeit with minor variation. New to the fold are Magnum's Bob Catley, Timo Tolkki of Stratovarius and Eric Singer formerly of Kiss. The second opus was billed as the final release of the project.
The third instalment of the Avantasia saga was announced as The Scarecrow in early 2007 and was being completed by main man Tobias Sammet and producer Sascha Paeth. Eric Singer was again part of the list of collaborators. In advance of The Scarecrow full-length which was due in January of 2008, Avantasia issued two mini-CDs, Lost In Space Part 1 and Lost In Space Part 2. Both releases featured separate songs plus videos, a poster, studio reports, and other materials. Avantasia marked its comeback in 2010 with a new release issued on April 3rd as two separate albums and in a limited deluxe edition entitled The Wicked Symphony and Angel Of Babylon. Avantasia was touring Europe starting with Switzerland and Germany in November and December of 2010. Avantasia released a two-disc DVD/two-disc CD, The Flying Opera - Around The World In 20 Days, in March, 2011 through Nuclear Blast Records. Some of the features were filmed at Wacken Open Air Germany and Masters Of Rock in the Czech Republic.
AVANTASIA - THE METAL OPERA - AFM/CENTURY MEDIA
Edguy vocalist Tobias Sammet's project's first outing doesn't leave much to chance. Based around a storyline of deceit, treachery and religion, The Metal Opera is Sammet's gathering of a who's who of heavy metal vocalists and musicians who have all come together to lend their talents to this high calibre album. With Gamma Ray's Kai Hansen, Stratovarius' Timo Tolkki, Virgin Steele's David DeFeis, Warrior's Rob Rock, etc. behind the microphone and musicians like Gamma Ray's Henjo Richter, Edguy's Jens Ludwig, Helloween's Markus Grosskopf and many others, Avantasia enjoys superb musicianship and strong composition. This being an 'opera', the keyboards and female vocals have to make their obligatory appearance. Having said that the former is really kept in the background and the latter only makes a long enough appearance in the studio to satisfy the guys with her mouth and then is gone again. Thank the metal gods for that. I have no doubt that the fans of Blind Guardian, Edguy and Helloween will want and relish this. If nothing else, the album confirms yet again the big market for metal in Germany and Europe and affirms the backward nature of metal things in Canada. To hear a heavier single-only song try also getting the Europe-only four track MCD. - Ali "The Metallian"
TOBIAS SAMMET'S AVANTASIA - THE METAL OPERA PART.II - AFM/CENTURY MEDIA
The Metal Opera Part II is the continuation of last year's The Metal Opera grand project organized by Edguy's Tobias Sammet which gathered some of the top talent from the metal scene to record and release an artistic metal opera. The album went on to sell well, garner positive reviews and so inevitably the public is being treated to a sequel.
The last of the two part series dedicates too big a segment of the album to slower passages. Any more and the project could have been renamed Soft Rock Opera. The music, on this installment, is less intricate and perhaps consequently less interesting. The focus, of course, is very much on the vocals. Here the listener is treated to the talents of, among others Sammet, former Helloween man Michael Kiske, Gamma Ray's main man Kai Hansen, Brazil's Andre Matos and England's Bob Catley. It is quite an ensemble and one can only imagine the egos, demands, contractual impediments and other miscellaneous difficulties that Sammet has had to overcome to get this project off the ground - not once, but twice! Sammet must be a man with a thick skin.
The major aria here is the album opener The Seven Angels which lasts over fourteen minutes. In what is possibly a function of the performers' schedules, most vocals are performed individually as opposed to in chorus. A truly outstanding and aggressive delivery can be heard on Neverland. The screams are breathtaking. The female vocals are limited to the corner of the album called Onto The Unknown. In further positive news, the use of keyboards and other offenses to the gods of metal is largely suppressed throughout the album.
The Metal Opera is pompous and pretentious. That though simply goes with the territory. It is not as bad as it sounds and the listener may find enough talent, name-vocals and coordination here to make the trip worthwhile. Look for the bonus tracks Chalice Of Agony (edit version) and Avantasia (single version) tagged to the end of the album.
AVANTASIA – THE SCARECROW – NUCLEAR BLAST
It ends up that The Scarecrow, Avantasia’s third album, is a great release – no matter how much I did not wish to like it. In order to group what is good about Tobias Sammet’s latest vanity fare let us get the negatives out of the way. For it is not that the album is a bed of roses and flawless, but that the good parts are done so well that they tip the balance towards a recommendation for the album as a whole.
The Scarecrow, not unexpectedly, has its share of cheesy slow songs, folksy elements, power ballads and, worst of all, a Celine Dion sound-alike on the song What Kind Of Love which in itself is enough to send any metal fan hurtling to the vomit bag. The abundance of keyboards and one particular bad case of intrusive electronica clearly damage the album’s potential.
Battling the repulsive away, Sammet’s new conceptual outing that does not stand still. Offering a bombastic sound production and clear audio dynamics the album has good to great hard rock, heavy metal and Germanic power metal. Twisted Mind sounds like Kamelot which is discernible before one knows it features a Kamelot member. The title track’s second half is an exercise in Dio-like riffing and vocal roars from the Sacred Heart era. The 11-minute song begins more slowly, and with folk melodies, than the heavier second part but soon soars to aforementioned comparison. The song’s controlled lead guitar and progressive chords are fully credible. Shelter From The Rain is the band’s contribution to the Gamma Ray/Freedom Call school of Teutonic metal. The song interestingly features Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen who both are formerly of Helloween. The Winger-type ballad is next and is called Carry Me Over. It is one of the cheesier moments previously mentioned, although compared to What Kind Of Love this completely rocks. The female vocals on What Kind… make one want to kill. The tacky duet on this song screams “program the CD to skip me next time.” Another Angel Down picks up the pace and is a good song, but is outgunned by the next song, which is called The Toy Master. This song may begin with a Persian melody a la the soundtrack to the game Prince Of Persia, but soon evolves into a blazing power/speed metal bruiser with more impressive guitar riffs and solos than anything in the last little while. Tobias has Alice Cooper on vocals here who no doubt was wishing he had recorded this song for one of his own albums. The music itself could have come from a King Diamond or Savatage album. Another good song comes between The Toy Master and a commercial poppy song called Cry Just A Little. I Don’t Believe in Your Love features good old Rudolph of Scorpions which brings the needle to the closing cut, Lost In Space. This is a nice catchy ditty, which is simultaneously the album’s single for a good reason.
There clearly are several very impressive songs on this album undoubtedly abetted by the presence of world-class hard rock musicians like Tobias Sammet himself. Whether there will be more Avantasia albums is unclear, although past evidence as well as the main man himself remind us on the album’s opener Twisted Mind “there’s no way out.” – Ali “The Metallian”
AVANTASIA - LOST IN SPACE PARTS 1 AND 2 – NUCLEAR BLAST
Avantasia's Lost In Space Parts 1 And 2 is actually a compilation of two different EPs, but they're being released as an album and that's what I'm reviewing. Just a heads up.
I pride myself on not being the sort of metalhead who only enjoys metal that's brutal and angry, like the kind of metalhead who says that all symphonic power metal sucks and is cheesy, then goes and listens to Deicide. I really do pride myself there. So, I was giving Lost In Space Parts 1 And 2 a fair shot. Especially because I knew next to nothing about it. I didn't know that it was the new project of Tobias Sammet, the singer for Edguy (whom I like), or that it featured ABBA covers. All I knew was that it was two EPs and it was symphonic power metal. So, I came in with open ears. Then Lost In Space came in.
Put quite blatantly, the problem with Lost In Space Parts 1 And 2 is that in between good material, it features mind-blowingly retarded decisions. A good song or good moment is uniformly followed by something that just makes you wonder what the hell Tobias was thinking. For instance, look at the opening of the album. The title track comes first, and it's genuinely good. It's catchy, it's well written, it's smart, and it's memorable. Sammet, who has quite a set of pipes, sings it very well. Top of the line stuff, really. And then the next song comes in, and it's Lay All Your Love On Me by ABBA. Outside of a guitar intro that's promising, the song is just not good. It isn't cool, it isn't metal, and it's not awesome. You gotta wonder, what was going on there?
It's like that through the whole album. Ride The Sky and Promised Land are both very good, two good songs in a row. Then they follow that up with Dancing With Tears In My Eyes and Scary Eyes, which are just...well, not good. Lame. Dancing With Tears In My Eyes is promising for like fifteen seconds, but it really just goes downhill fast, and it doesn't get better (except in a nice guitar solo). The whole thing is wildly inconsistent.
And it's very badly sequenced, or paced, or whatever. Listening to it straight through feels like whiplash. It moves from good, heavier stuff (Another Angel Down) to weird-ass stuff like This Story Ain't Over, then it moves to punkier stuff like Ride The Sky. It ends on an inconsistent note, with the not particularly good In My Defense, then two more versions of Lost In Space. The problem is that they are EPs. On EPs, you can do covers, you can do stuff like this, you don't really have to work on pacing it and it can still be really good. But these two things just slapped together don't work.
There's good material here. Now in the iTunes generation, this album does better. If you like symphonic power metal, download the title track, Another Angel Down (best song here), Ride The Sky and Promised Land and you're fine. Maybe get Scary Eyes, but that's about it. The good stuff here is very good - for instance, Ride The Sky has a ’70s vibe and some sweet organ trills, and it's great. Dancing With Tears In My Eyes has an awesome guitar solo. It's all very well sung; Tobias Sammet is legitimately a good singer. But a few good songs do not an album make.
I bet that Avantasia can make, and maybe even has made, really good stuff. The band has the skill and the smarts to, and I hear The Metal Opera was actually quite good. These two EPs are simply not worth the work Tobias put into it or your money however. No thanks. – Max V.
Tobias Sammet, the singer behind Avantasia, is a humourous man. The musician responsible for the opera/metal project recently called on Metallian Towers to promote the release of The Metal Opera Pt. II album, but he was not beyond a little friendly banter or even buffoonery here and there. Ali "The Metallian" converses with Sammet and brings you the result below - 01.10.2002
'I am not the only one who is always late,' reflects the vocalist upon turning up some ten minutes late for our appointment. '(Gamma Ray and Avantasia guitarist) Henjo Richter is always late too!'
Not very German of them, is it? Regardless, time is of essence here with The Metallian having many court-related and regal duties yet before him for the day and so we march forward. The obvious question would obviously be regarding the Avantasia moniker. 'The name comes from the combination of two words,'remembers Sammet 'which are Avalon - the spiritual and non-materialistic world of the King Arthur saga - and Fantasia which is an _expression for fantasy. The name was born when I was describing a world which is spiritual and non-materialistic in my story. The story is divided into two worlds. Literally speaking one is the materialistic world we are living in and the other is a parallel world, which we can't see, that exists in the story of the world called Avantasia.'
Given this response Sammet might be politically-oriented and active in the physical world. 'I think living in a democracy everybody should be at least a bit political, 'comments Sammet. 'We should, at least, be aware that it's a gift to have a democracy. In a democracy the masses are controlling things which can be a good thing and can be a bad thing. I try to do my best. I vote, but I think I am not over-political. I try to kick myself to be interested in politics because at least then one has the feeling of having the option of exerting a little control over what's going on.'
Speaking of which Germany recently concluded a national election where the Social Democratic incumbent Schroeder triumphed over the Christian Conservative Stoiber. 'I actually did not vote this time, 'notes the German. 'Still, I wish them all the best to do the best they can. If they manage to do that, then congratulations. I will vote in four years time. (Having said that) there were a couple of things which were stupid in my opinion. A few things were done just for the campaign. One of the points is the American policy against Iraq. It's nice to say things one believes in, but we (Germans) listen to UN resolutions. We follow UN resolutions. What they did in the campaign was stupid though. Who expects German soldiers to go to Iraq? Nobody. But people don't understand that. We have one tank type and facilities for support purposes, but we don't have a real working military. Then people on the street were saying, 'we don't want to go to war.' That was all a bit weird. Politics is sometimes a stupid game. It's like football for some people. Politicians will say anything that will give them votes. Each party does the same thing.'
Furthermore and on the subject of knowledge Sammet believes that, 'Most people in Germany are not interested in anything else but themselves. That's also typically American.'
Sammet is also tentative on whether the Avantasia metal/opera concept was inspired by Vain Glory Opera, the album by his other band Edguy. 'That was not the connection, not really,' affirms my interviewee. 'It was born at the same time. Vain Glory Opera was just a title that sounded good to me. That album is also not an opera. At that time a number of guest musicians, like Blind Guardian singer Hansi Kursch, were working with us and I was blown away by the results of the collaboration. I was blown away by the fact that they were singing the vocal lines and singing the music that we wrote. That was a great experience and then the dream was born to do an opera or to do a concept album that would be called an opera. It would have been stupid to call it Avantasia: The Metal Concept Album. So, there was really no connection between that album and Avantasia. I just like to talk in big words and use metaphors and that's the way I write the lyrics.'
Hence the Avantasia saga was born. He takes up the story behind the concept. 'The protagonist is in the spiritual world and has prevented this world from being locked away forever. He realizes that being in this process of mental evolution makes him more and more interested in finding his personal way to answers and to get closer to the light.
'While the first part was more of a criminal story, the second part if more of a philosophical story - with fantasy elements of course. The songs themselves could stand on their own as well. You can listen to them on their own. The songs ask philosophical questions and telling stories that I felt I am going through. For example, the guy comes and realizes that the more he knows, the more he knows that he doesn't know anything. That's in the song The Looking Glass. The second part is, therefore, looser and in it the protagonist decides to go to Rome and free his former mentor Jakob the monk. He also finishes several missions in Avantasia before returning to the normal world. Some people have told me that the story is too brief and many things are happening without being connected to each other, but I tried to keep it as brief as possible because many were complaining that while the first part was interesting it had too much written in English which they didn't want to read in a language they are not familiar with.
'Not too many people can speak proper English in Germany or wherever. I mean maybe they can in the United States, maybe not even there (laughs)... well knowing that you are in Canada I can say that. They are going to kill me because I have to do some interviews for the United States as well, but you know what I mean? I just tried to keep it as brief as possible and go through the story merely mentioning the basic pillars.'
One would be curious to know whether the lyrics or the music were written first. 'I usually feel more like a musician than an author, 'explains the singer. 'I am quite interested in writing things and reading things. I am interested in sitting at home nights with a candle reading a book, but the music usually comes first and when I have a melody on my mind. With Avantasia it was a bit hand in hand. I wrote some music without caring for the music, or caring little for the story, and sometimes the opposite. Then when I combined the two, when they were colliding, I changed some things and underlined certain parts of the story with new musical elements. Then you have a song where you realize that the melody is shining and optimistic and you have to use it for a moment in the story where some person is going through something positive for instance. So they go hand in hand, but usually I try to put as much as possible into the music first and then build the lyrics around it. It's the same way with Edguy.'
Seeing that Avantasia is a project involving many different musicians, one could legitimately wonder whether the recordings were conducted simultaneously at one studio or if the final product is the result of different musicians mailing in their work for final mixing. 'It was a bit of everything,'he recalls. 'Some people were sending in tapes who got tapes from me with guide-vocals on them and then they would record in their own environment. That was the case with musicians such as Virgin Steele's David DeFeis, Former Kiss musician Eric Singer and Gamma Ray's Kai Hansen. Other musicians were there recording with us. All the basics were done by Alex Holzwarth on drums, Markus Grosskopf of Helloween on bass, Henjo Richter of Gamma Ray on guitar and me. We were kind of a band at that time and rehearsing together, hanging out together and having a few beers together - and a few more sometimes (laughs)! We were together at the same studio. Then others like Magnum man Bob Catley would come into the studio.'
It is easy to wonder whether or not there were a few musicians that Sammet would have liked to include, but who were indisposed. He confirms in his usually animated way that this indeed was the case 'Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely,'confirms the man in his manner. 'In the beginning we tried to get Eric Adams the singer of Manowar and Ronnie James Dio. For some reason it didn't work out. They couldn't participate or they weren't informed of my request - I don't know!'
Given the number of people involved and the logistics behind such a project, many might be considering Sammet a very organized person. One can only imagine how many contractual discussions he has endured. Well perhaps not. He knowingly laughs before answering 'That's an interesting question. Usually one shouldn't talk about deals and negotiations, but I can say that everyone is quite happy with it and I can tell you that I am not half as organized as many might believe. If you see how my work place looks like, then you will know what I mean. As for royalties, there were points given, some fees were paid and we even exchanged appearances with some people. It's like if they appear here, I will later sing on their album and so forth!'
Fans wonder whether Avantasia will see a third installment. The answer is tentative. 'To tell you the truth I would have to say that I don't think so. It would be a bigger statement to say categorically never ever, but this is the same thing people always say and then they have to excuse themselves after two years!
'I don't expect it. I am quite busy with Edguy and we have quite a few things to do there. Edguy is getting bigger and bigger and having a lot of success and so I don't want to concentrate on too many things at the same time. Furthermore the story is over and I don't think something like this will happen in the next ten years. Still, you never know. If I wake up one morning and say 'shit everything is bullshit, my fridge is empty and so I have to do Avantasia Part III (laughs)' then... no no no. It wouldn't be the fridge; it would be a creative reason. Then I would do it. To be honest with you, I wouldn't do it for an empty fridge. I wouldn't do anything for an empty fridge but work a normal job and not scratch the reputation of Avantasia which is accepted by the fans and the heavy metal world as something quite special. I am quite proud and thankful. I shouldn't destroy the reputation and rip it off a few years later.'
As for Sammet assembling another project with a new moniker, 'I don't plan it. There are so many records coming out. Whatever you do then you should think twice about it. You should ask yourself if it needs to be done. The record stores are over-packed. There is no point in doing things that you do with half of your heart. I feel quite happy with Edguy and I don't need to do anything else.'
Tobias Sammet's Avantasia The Metal Opera and The Metal Opera Pt. II have been released by AFM Records in Europe and licensed by Century Media for North America. Both albums are available now.