In the large pool of bands that emerged from Germany over the last few decades, none have been able to become the musical embodiment of the word ‘epic.’ That is, until, Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia. The Edguy mastermind has built himself a reputation for being a brilliant musician, but nothing released under either project has ever come close to Ghostlights, Avantasia’s latest release out on Nuclear Blast on January 29, 2016.
Listening to Ghostlights feels like listening to the soundtrack of a Tony Award-winning musical. Every track paints a vivid picture and, with the stellar lineup making up the cast of Ghostlights, this musical could not be better. From the first notes of the first track, to the fade out at the end of “A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies,” Avantasia guarantees three things: Tobias Sammet’s momentous voice will give you shivers, Sascha Paeth’s guitar performance will leave you breathless, and Michael Rodenberg’s majestic orchestrations throughout the album will make you weak at the knees. His prowess as a world class keyboardist prevent the instrument from being relegated to being used only for the sake of quirky supportive melodies, choosing instead to add depth, soul, and value to songs like “Let The Storm Descend Upon You.”
The album starts with “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose,” a song that made me double-check whether I had accidentally played the last song first. It is piano heavy, mixed with some strident guitar and makes the best use of a choir; it is worthy of the best musical’s finale, but only marks the beginning for Avantasia. The first half of the album is excellent and boasts guests with impressive pedigrees such as Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, Jorn Lande from Jorn, Ronnie Atkins from Pretty Maids, Geoff Tate formally from Queensrÿche, and Michael Kiske from Unisonic. Most of the tracks also follow the established winning formula of fast-paced power metal with light arrangements, and, though the whole album is excellent, it took until a bit past the halfway mark for me to fall madly in love with Ghostlights.
Every musical and rock opera needs a good antagonist, and Tobias Sammet, with his perfectly heroic voice, is just not it. However, the balance between good and evil that Ghostlights needed is provided by the addition of Nightwish’s Marco Hietala, the man with the ultimate villain voice (as demonstrated in Ayreon’s The Theory of Everything where he played The Rival). The fast and nearly-thrashy song is followed by the foggy and eerie duet, “Isle of Evermore.” It brings the hauntingly beautiful voice of Sharon den Adel from Within Temptation into the album.
The songs on the second half of the album contain a healthy mix of ballad and heavy metal, sometimes even mixing both in the same song which is the case in the wickedly good track, “Lucifer.” “Babylon Vampyres,” however, ended up my being favourite piece overall. With its lengthy technical and intricate guitar intro, it is impossible to resist its undeniable appeal.
“A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies” brings the album to a close nicely. It breaks the news that it’s the last song to the listener gently. It ends with a soft fade-out of the chorus repeating on and on and that echoed in my head long after the album was over.
Ghostlights has everything: staggering melodies, powerful lyrics, mighty vocals, and splendid displays of talents from all the musicians involved. It is flawless and a veritable tour de force that has earned its place at the top of Avantasia’s exemplary discography. Now, I am forced to ask the same question I asked when I finished listening to The Mystery of Time; how will Avantasia outdo themselves?
Written by Kai Robidas
*edited by Danielle Kenedy