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!

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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.

Edguy – Rocket Ride

     Rocket Ride is a good example of a band having fun with music and damn what anyone but them think. There are two songs that delve back into their PowerMetal past but aside from that this album is straight out rock and hard rock.
     Edguy has never been a band that bent to what fans wanted. The have always put out releases and hoped you liked them as much as they did. If not, oh well, maybe next time. Rocket Ride is this sort of album tenfold.
     There are ultra-cheesy lyrics that are not meant to be taken seriously, some of the goofiest voice effects used in Metal, keyboard sounds that were new to the ears in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and one of the sappiest ballad’s ever written. But, it sounded fresh to the ears because no-one was doing music like this anymore. Some fans detested the album and some loved the daringness of it. Whatever the case is, it is still well written music fined tuned with the ears of a band that can write and compose as good as, and better than, most.

     Edguy has always struck me as a band that would have been huge had they been around in the 1980’s. There music, while even when trying for a darker sound, is fairly upbeat. Like fellow German rockers, Scorpions, Edguy has an Americanized sound. Even their earlier PowerMetal releases had this element underlying within the music.
     Their are PowerMetal fans who like nothing but PowerMetal. Any straying from the distinct sound is reason enough to ex-communicate themselves from the band and decry them as sellouts – but true Edguy fans know that Edguy are not sellouts. Hell, they didn’t even buy in. What they are is a group of guys who like their music to be fun and they want you to have fun listening to it. Then again, Within Temptation has dramatically changed their sound too and people are loving it. So why not give Edguy credit for having the cajones to alienate their fans rather than making Mandrake part II.

     As far as Rocket Ride is concerned… Yeah, it’s ultra cheesy at times and there is nothing, musically, new being done here either, but give it a chance to grow on you. If anything, put it on at a party and just let go and have a damn good time.

Track listing for Rocket Ride:
01: Sacrifice
02: Rocket Ride
03: Wasted Time
04: Matrix
05: Return To The Tribe
06: The Asylum
07: Save Me
08: Catch Of The Century
09: Out Of Vogue
10: Superheroes
11: Trinidad
12: Fucking With Fire (Hair Force One)
13: Land Of The Miracle (Live in Brazil)*

* limited edition bonus track on all releases

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.

Edguy – Hellfire Club

Hellfire Club is the beginning of Edguy’s turn from the PowerMetal realm to a more hard rock/pop metal sound. Upon hearing the album’s opening song you would not believe this, but please, continue listening…

Hellfire Club is not a bad album, it is, actually, a very consistant album. 
   Tobias Sammat, vocals and chief songwriter of the band had just come from writing and recording three PowerMetal albums back to back: 2001’s Edguy: Mandrake and his side project Avantasia: The Metal Opera and 2002’s Avantasia: The Metal Opera Part II. Plus, before all this, the band re-recorded their first album (demo) Savage Poetry (retitled: The Savage Poetry) in 2000 and did summer festival shows in support of it.
   Hellfire Club was released in 2004 and, if you haven’t guessed already, was written right after Tobias’s four albums in three years, PowerMetal extravaganza or purging, if you will. The direction could not be anything but different from what everyone expected Edguy to do.

Although not too different, there was still the double bass kicking and mini-epic songs on the album, many of the shorter duration songs were metal in sound yet contained a more accessible, sometimes pop-metal tinged sound. The lyrics, however, became more terse which clashed nicely with the 80’s metal sound. When they lyrics weren’t to-the-point they were humor laden raunch – Another homage to the 1980’s metal sound. I should mention the ballad, Forever, straight out sappy lyrics; 80’s all the way.

Track Listing:
01: Mysteria
02: The Piper Never Dies
03: We Don’t Need A Hero
04: Down To The Devil
05: King Of Fools
06: Forever
07: Under The Moon
08: Lavatory Love Machine
09: Rise Of The Morning Glory
10: Lucifer In Love
11: Navigator
12: The Spirit Will Remain
13: Children Of Steel
14: Mysteria (w/ Mille Pettrozza from Kreator)

Love ’em or hate ’em, Edguy is a band that knows how to put a song together and can play many different styles of music. They do not change with what is popular at the moment. They do not bow down before critics and write their music with hopes their fans will like it, if the fans do not – six in one hand, half-a-dozen in the other.