Avantasia – The Scarecrow

     For a 50th post, I wondered what band, what album, I should write about. I was surprised when I realized I had not reviewed Kamelot‘s dark masterpiece, The Black Halo, and planned on choosing that record.
     Enter Miss Tiff (mischief), LadyLoveExtraodinaire to yours truly, and a complete Kamelot fanatic, who said, “Do Avantasia, The Scarecrow. You’re always listening to it.”
     Indeed I do listen to The Scarecrow, quite a lot, really. I love the album and how well rounded the listening experience is. Mr. Sammat wrote, what I think, is the best mix of music and songs within his entire musical career.

     For fans of Avantasia‘s first two releases; The Metal Opera Part 1 and The Metal Opera Part 2, The Scarecrow, upon first listen, could be a shock. While some songs retained PowerMetal elements, most did not. In fact, I think the album has more of an American Metal vibe to it without being downright pretentious and patsying for an American audience.
     That Tobias was prompted to make another Avantasia album by friend and drummer for KISS, Eric Singer, who plays throughout the entire album, may be the reason for the style change, but don’t take me wrong, Singer can deliver PowerMetal double bass drum kicks as fast as anyone, it is just that he chooses not to do it all the time. Sometimes it really is only Rock”N’Roll.
Maybe Producer and Guitarist Sascha Paeth twisted the knobs and raised the levels while lowering others and tweeked the sound in final mixing to achieve a less polished, more chunky and gritty sound.
     Whatever the reason for the style change, by the end of first listen, you will know that it works and the music fits well with Tobias‘s retelling of Goethe‘s Faust.

     As with prior releases, Avantasia has a core band; this time made up of Eric Singer (drums) of KISS, Sascha Paeth (Guitar) of Heaven’s Gate, and Tobias Sammat (Vocals & Bass) of Edguy. Not as many as before but there are more guest musicians stepping in to play lead guitar than before.
Kai Hansen (Helloween, Gamma Ray, Unisonic) plays additional guitar.
Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray, Rampage) plays additional guitars
Rudolph Schenker (Scorpions) palys additional guitars
Michael “Miro” Rodenberg (producer and guest musician of many PowerMetal bands) Keyboard & Orchestration.
     While there is less guest vocalists than before.
Bob Catley (Magnum)
Alice Cooper
Oliver Hartmann
(At Vance)
Roy Khan (Kamelot)
Michael Kiske (Helloween, Supa Red, Plave Vendome, Revolution Renaissance, Kiske / Somerville, Unisonic)
Jørn  Lande (Vagabond, Ark, Beyond Twilight, Masterplan, Allen / Lande)
Amanda Somerville (Kiske / Somerville, Trillium, and many guest vocal spots on many PowerMetal releases)

     Although the story of The Scarecrow is nowhere near as epic in material as The Metal Opera releases, it still holds on to the same majesty as its predecessors and much of that has to do with the phenominal prowess of the vocalists and Tobias himself knowing where to place a more PowerMetal sound to the music.

Track Listing for The Scarecrow:
01: Twisted Mind
02: The Scarecrow
03: Shelter From The Rain
04: Carry Me Over
05: What Kind Of Love
06: Another Angel Down
07: The Toy Master
08: Devil In The Belfry
09: Cry Just A Little
10: I Don’t Believe In Your Love
11: Lost In Space

     The Scarecrow is the first of three release that make up The Wicked Trilogy. The other two: Angel Of Babylon and The Wicked Symphony are equally as good as The Scarecrow.
     There were many critiques about this release. Yes, there were some pop elements thrown in; they were not overdone and lent texture to the song and did not become the song.
     Whatever the sound of an Avantasia release is, that it is so completely different than the last story is refreshing and usually occurs in revolving door bands.

Gnosis and life


Avantasia – The Metal Opera Pt. II

     Out of the two Metal Opera releases by Avantasia, Part II starts off strong and continues throughout. I can understand the shakiness of the first album; you’re trying to get a story started and ideas are racing around your head, the excitement of the moment. Whereas Part I was built around story, Part II finds Avantasia more relaxed and knowing which direction they are trying to take this thing musically. In other words, the music becomes a central part to the vocals and lyrics.
     The inlay card of Part I had the story entire (well, almost). It reads like a first draft but again, the lyrics might be what a character is thinking or a part left out in the written story. Part II has no story written out for you. Instead it is just music and lyrics.

     Part II begins with the nearly fifteen minute long epic, The Seven Angels. If one needed to be introduced to Avantasia and/or Tobias Sammat, this is the song to do it with in my opinion. It has a bit of everything in it. Choir vocals, majestic symphonic sounds, booming drums, shredding guitar leads, melodic guitar leads (Timmo Tolki is off the fuckin’ chain), ambiant whispers, a piano solo (a bridge actually), eight seperate lead vocalists, and one hell of a catchy chorus.
     Like The Seven Angel’s, the music continues in a more PowerMetal vein with only three slower songs (Tobias seems to like to temper the PowerMetal with PowerBallads. He does this in Edguy‘s releases too).
     Tobias is joined on a couple songs by fellow Edguydian (I think I just made up a word!) Jens Ludwig, whose guitar lead on The Final Sacrifice is dirty and powerful and fits nicely with David Defeis‘ very Metal vocal delivery.

     The lineup is close to the same as on The Metal Opera Pt. I with a few exceptions:
Eric Singer – (Kiss, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper) drums on Into The Unknown
Tobias Sammat – (Edguy) Bass on Into The Unknown
Jens Ludwig (Edguy) Guitars on The Final Sacrifice and Memory
Timo Tolkki (ex-Stratovarius, ex-Revolution Renaissance, Symfonia) lead guitar on The seven Angels (2nd lead break) and Into The Unknown 
Michael Kiske – (ex-Helloween, ex-Place Vendome, Unisonic
) is no longer known only as “Ernie” but uses his real name.

Track listing for The Metal Opera Pt. II:
01: The Seven Angels
02: No Return
03: The Looking Glass
04: In Quest For
05: The Final Sacrifice
06: Neverland
07: Anywhere
08: Chalice Of Agony
09: Memory
10: Into The Unknown

     Together the albums make up an epic, fantastical story that mixes fantasy with reality. Avantasia has released three albums since The Metal Opera‘s and all are great, but, vision-wise, the original releases are nothing short of musical magic.
     There have been two small tours by the band The Scarecrow World Tour (The Scarecrow trilogy) in 2008 and The Metal Opera Comes To Town Tour 2010, however, none of the releases have been done in their entirety.

     Right after this release, Edguy released Hellfire Club. The opening song on Hellfire Club, titled Mysteria, has lyrics that are reminiscent of Avantasia‘s Metal Opera storyline. The song has always seemed to me to have been written for Avantasia but some of the lyrics got in the way.

Avantasia – The Metal Opera

     Edguy vocalist, Tobias Sammet, had an idea back in 1999, a concept album but under a different band name, with different musicians than those in Edguy, and a who’s who of PowerMetal vocalists singing different roles within the story – A Metal Opera.
     On the finished album the line up is this:
Tobias Sammet (Edguy) – Vocals, Piano, Keyboards & Orchestration
Michael “Ernie” Kiske (Helloween, Place Vendome) – Vocals
Kai Hansen (Helloween, Gamma Ray) – Vocals
David DeFeis (Virgin Steele) – Vocals
Andre Matos (Viper, Angra, Shaaman) – Vocals
Oliver Hatmann (At Vance) – Vocals
Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) – Vocals
Rob Rock (Warrior, Driver, Axel Rudi Pell, Impellitteri, Angelica) – Vocals
Ralf Zdiarstek – Vocals
Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius, Revolution Renaissance) – Vocals
Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray) – Guitars
Markus GrossKopf (Helloween) – Bass
Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody Of Fire, Angra) – Drums
Frank Tischer – Piano
Norman Meiritz – Acoustic Guitar
Jens Ludwig (Edguy) – Additional Lead Guitars

     Sixteen players in total, a heaping shitload of talent, and a story about faith, belief, love, loyalty, untruths, lies, gnosis, magic, adventure, friendship, imagination, fantasy, desperation, selflessness, good and evil… but you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story. It is long, and, the music that goes with it might be parts missing from the written story, thoughts in situations, and there is a second part, another CD that came out a year later.

     The very idea of bringing together the kind of vocal talent this album has on it, and having them all sing on one album is ambitious. Michael Kiske is known as Ernie in the credits because he, at the time, was still in a self-induced sabbatical from all things metal, but Avantasia brought him out since he did agree to perform on this album, even under an assumed name. And he performs on the second release too, but using his real name.

Track listing for The Metal Opera:
01: Prelude
02: Reach Out For The Light
03: Serpents In Paradise
04: Malleus Maleficarum
05: Breaking Away
06: Farewell
07: The Glory Of Rome
08: In Nomine Patris
09: Avantasia
10: Inside
11: Sign Of The Cross
12: The Tower

     The music is many forms of Metal and while the playing does stand out it is the collective vocals that drive the album. In truth, Tobias Sammet, while outshined by names bigger than he is, does different vocal styles than just the normal singing you might expect him to do, as he does in Edguy, and you do/will take notice of his vocals when he explores with them.

Helloween – Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part. 1

     The latter part of the 1980’s was a good time for Metal music. Bands that were radio friendly were losing public interest after the phenomenon that was the original Guns n’ Roses stomped its way up the charts with music that was anything but safe. Among the new bands was a then little known Deutch (German) band that reminded people of Iron Maiden.

     Helloween, for as good as they were and are, never seemed to get the respect of MetalHeads until many years later. When it came to Metal from Europe the ThrashMetal bands took all the love along with the Scorpions. I tried in vain to get friends to listen to Helloween‘s Keeper Of The Seven Keys, I even explained it as the solo from Iron Maiden‘s The Duellists but played much faster.
     One of the main reasons they could not get into Helloween, and the reason they still give for not liking many of the bands I listen to today, is the operatic quality to the vocals and the overtly technical playing.
     For all there technical expertise, Helloween’s music was not lacking in emotion and it is still Metal. What they were really trying to say was it was not rock n’ roll enough for them, but that is because they never got past the first song and listened to the album in its entirety.
     I like rock, why wouldn’t I? Metal has it’s roots in many forms of music and one of them is rock. But Europe has a proud, and rightly so, tradition of making some of the best and well thought out music. Just look at the past… Beethoven, Mozart, Bach – the Baroque and Classical periods, the invention of instruments to play music on. 
     Helloween‘s leadwork was and is based more on theory while the rhythm is more groove based, and though many of the bands do write music based on rock or incorporate it into their sound, what can be said is, no matter the influence, see them perform live and they fuckin’ rock!

     Keeper Of The Seven Key‘s is a masterpiece of Metal. There was no PowerMetal at the time. Kai Hansen and Michael Weikath’s guitar sound together was unique and the trade off leads and harmonizing leads melded each players own personal technique together without clashing. That Helloween liked to have double bass kick when it came to drums is a relevent factor in considering their music an early form of PowerMetal as they weren’t heavier than other Metal bands and certainly much less so than the Thrash bands.
     For any patron of PowerMetal to know is Kai Hansen and vocalist Michael Kiske are considered legends in the genre. As of late, both have resurfaced playing parts in many Avantasia releases, forming new bands of their own and (excitement!) they are playing together in Unisonic.

 For any fan of PowerMetal or Metal, Helloween: Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1, is a classic album that cannot be ignored.
      The production is analog so the sound is a bit dated from production but the music is still relevant today as any Iron maiden release is.

Michael Kiske, Tobias Sammat, Kai Hansen performing as Avantasia.

Track listing for Keeper Of The Seven Key’s Part 1:
01: Initiation
02: I’m Alive
03: A Little Time
04: Twilight Of The Gods
05: A Tale That Wasn’t Right
06: Future World
07: Halloween
08: Follow The Sign
Bonus tracks on re-release in 2010
01: Victim Of Fate
02: Starlight (remix)
03: A Little Time (alt. version)
04: Halloween (edit)

     Melody, rhythm, harmony, and texture – Helloween is all these. That this release and the subsequent Keeper Part 2 have been major influences in many European Symphonic and Power Metal bands cannot be denied. Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, DragonForce, Blind Guardian, Rhapsody Of Fire, Firewind… Helloween’s influence on their music and playing can be heard on any of their releases.

     At one point a rumor circulated around the Metal community that Michael Kiske was supposed to be the replacement vocalist in Iron Maiden after Bruce Dickinson left for a solo career. Instead, Maiden chose Blayze Bailey. Not knocking Maiden or Blayze (Okay, I am knocking them) but I think Michael Kiske would have been a better choice and who knows, the two albums released with Blayze, X Factor and Virtual XI, might have been accepted by fans.