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


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.

Kiske / Somerville

Michael Kiske is a legend within the Metal music realm. The once lead vocalist for the classic line-up of PowerMetal pioneers, Helloween, Michael did four studio albums with them before he was let go. Two of the albums, Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I & II, are considered classic recordings in the PowerMetal Genre.

Amanda Somerville became known in Metal music by working with vocalists as a coach and stepping in to to sing in different capacities. She has toured with Epica when Simone Simons was unable to perform. Sang on Edguy and Avantasia albums, as well as the band Kamelot‘s last few releases. I first heard of Amanda when talking with Mark Jansen of Epica when they opened for Kamelot on The Black Halo Tour.

Michael Kiske and Amanda Somerville had both made guest appearences on Avantasia releases but the chance of them doing an album together… I had not heard of Frontiers Records until this albums release but that the president of the company likes to pair up known exceptional vocalists is not lost on me anymore.
     The album is Metal and hard rock; never too much of either one, with a back up band made up by Mat Sinner, Sander Gommans, Magnus Karlsson, Jimmy KresicMartin Schmidt, and Ramy Ali. Yes, for those who know a lot about European Metal, this is a sort of supergroup. I say sort of because the players shine on instrument parts but step back and let the vocalists do what they were brought together to do.

Some will like this album and some will balk at its musical choices. It is not PM nor a full-fledged metal album. What it is is a spotlight for two known vocalists, period. Personally, I was happier than a sissy in prison when I first heard about the joining and am wholly satisfied with it. Plus, Mat Sinner, I listened to Sinner until the early 1990’s Grunge/music-to-slit-your-wrists-to movement made me turn my back on music until I discovered Edguy and Nightwish and Raphsody and…

Track listing for Kiske/Somerville:
01: Nothing Left To Say
02: Silence
03: If I Had A Wish
04: Arise
05: End Of The Road
06: Don’t Walk Away
07: A Thousand Suns
08: Rain
09: One Night Burning
10: Devil In her Heart
11: Second Chance
12: Set A Fire

The CD is packaged with a DVD that has the two videos: Silence and If I Had A Wish, and a documentary on the making of the videos that Amanda Somerville had filmed.

Michael Kiske formed Unisonic, a metal band that is to release their debut album this year. Ex-Helloween guitarist Kai Hansen is also in the band – can’t wait.

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