WORDS: Jack Fermor-Worrell
Now seventeen years into their existence, Tobias Sammet’s symphonic metal supergroup AVANTASIA are back to finish off a trilogy they began in 2013, with their newest album Ghostlights. At this point, fans of AVANTASIA will pretty much know what to expect from the album. Opener Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose is a bombastic, over-the-top ballad that, strangely enough, smacks of classic MEAT LOAF material in its sheer fun and ridiculousness. It’s also the sole track to not feature a guest vocalist – giving Sammet the chance to flex his own considerable vocal muscle.
Things then take a turn towards the over-the-top as PRETTY MAIDS frontman Ronnie Atkins, Robert Mason of WARRANT and Jørn Lande join forces for Let The Storm Descent Upon You – a twelve-minute track so expansive in its scope, that it almost feels deserving of being part of a film score. Most bands would arguably hold off on such an expansive song until the end of a record, but AVANTASIA have never been a band that could be described as subtle.
The Haunting sees TWISTED SISTER vocalist Dee Snider take the microphone for a mournful power-ballad that really couldn’t sound any more 80’s if it tried. With beautifully melodic guitars and a powerful drum-beat, it’s easily one of the record’s most affecting songs – and for the most part, a stark contrast to the rest of the material on Ghostlights.
Surprisingly enough, there might be such a thing as an AVANTASIA track being too cheesy though – as evidenced by the Geoff Tate-led Seduction of Decay. Lumbering and sprinkled with far more orchestral moments than necessary, the track falls mostly flat simply due to Tate’s performance sounding remarkably underwhelming.
Title-track Ghostlights brings back frequent AVANTASIA collaborator (and former HELLOWEEN member) Michael Kiske for a rousing power-metal stomp that definitely harks back to the vocalist’s former band, whilst simultaneously going somewhere completely different.
Draconian Love gives SINBREED vocalist Herbie Langhans a moment in the spotlight, and the frontman delivers in the best way possible. Gloriously cheesy and effortlessly big, the song more or less provides a snapshot of what modern power-metal should sound like – festival-ready and packing one hell of a punch.
Containing perhaps the best chorus on the album though is Master of The Pendulum, which enlists NIGHTWISH bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala for a number so relentlessly upbeat, it puts most of the rest of Ghostlights to shame. Despite the cacophony of noise behind him, Hietala’s voice remains front and centre in the mix for the whole track, and his performance makes the track a true highlight.
Isle Of Evermore, meanwhile, sees Sammet duetting with Sharon Den Adel for another ballad that definitely has its moments, but does sadly drag in places. Adel’s performance is definitely the high point of the track though – the WITHIN TEMPTATION chanteuse lending her powerful tones to an emotive soundscape of melodic balladry capable of evoking emotion in even the hardest of metalheads.
The Robert Mason-led track Babylon Vampires simply takes the standard power-metal format, ramps everything up past 11 and throws on a ridiculous amount of choir-type vocals for the chorus. With some similarities to IRON MAIDEN in places, it’s a track that definitely deserves praise for its catchiness, although it does perhaps go on for a couple of minutes longer than necessary.
One of the slower tracks on Ghostlights, Lucifer begins as a piano-ballad that sees Lande and Sammet dishing our beautifully-performed harmonies, before everything goes inevitably mental for the last minute or so – and former KISS axeman Bruce Kulick unleashes a spiralling torrent of guitar solos that bring the track to a powerful conclusion.
Unchain The Light, meanwhile, is a briskly-paced number that could really be attributed to almost any power-metal act of the last few years, so closely does it stick to the conventions of the genre. Piling Sammet, Atkins and Kiske all into a single track certainly gives the song bombast and power, but the result is something that feels far too over the top, and indeed, lacking in any kind of uniqueness.
Closing off the album is A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies, led by MAGNUM vocalist Bob Catley. Stylistically, it feels quite similar to classic rock acts like JOURNEY at their most stadium-oriented, with huge choruses and wall-of-sound guitars. Kulick gives one of his best guitar performances of the album here, his melodic solos joining with Sascha Paeth’s driving rhythm guitar to create a truly sublime tone that can only really be described as epic.
Really, Ghostlights is an album that requires listening to in full in order to get an idea of how Tobias Sammet constructs such a musical vision. Despite having some weaker moments, it undoubtedly is the best AVANTASIA record in a long time (possibly ever) and the plethora of new guest vocalists almost all impress on their respective tracks. Fans of the genre may be able to look past the album’s faults, but there’s definitely something here for everyone to enjoy.
Ghostlights is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.