Avantasia – Angel Of Babylon
I remember switching discs, high on The Wicked Symphony and wondering how Angel Of Babylon was ever going to top it. Simple answer: it wasn’t. The last act in the “Wicked Trilogy” is stunted and feels like Sammet desperately tried to fill another album to sell more box sets or something, especially evidenced in the second half. Some of the material here deserves to be heard, but might have snuck onto a slightly longer The Wicked Symphony instead of its own separate and ultimately unfulfilling record.
The supersized “Stargazers” starts off promising enough, building on a serene intro with the one-two-three punch of Sammet, Jorn Lande and Russell Allen. While this worked very well for its counterpart “The Wicked Symphony”, the cherry on top is missing, because the chorus is not nearly as engaging (and actually rather stale), even with Michael Kiske and Oliver Hartmann on vocal duty. A dark and ominous outro provides an interesting contrast, but in the end “Stargazers” runs for too long with too few ideas.
I don’t know if I’m just sick, but I read a lot of double entendres in the title track (“Venus guiding to the back door of love” and “The snake in the backyard of heaven” are among the most eyebrow-raising lines), and with Sammet you just never know. Let’s just pretend it’s a nice upbeat power metal track about the garden of Eden, okay? Lots of melodies crammed into this one and it’s a refreshing change of pace for the whole Avantasia-project. Sure it shares some DNA with say “Devil In The Belfry”, but it’s somehow breezier, a fact to which Stratovarius’ Jens Johansson’s keyboard solo only contributes. Lighter than air and still hard to shake off, this is one of the better cuts on offer.
Angsty Sammet is back with the mid-tempo rocker “Your Love Is Evil”, which could be a bitter sequel to Edguy’s “Fucking With Fire” from Rocket Ride. The driving chorus makes this one with another great phrase in “You are the rain, I’m the parade.” Remember how “The Toy Master” from The Scarecrow was crafted as a vehicle for Alice Cooper? Well this time Jon Oliva of Savatage fame gets a suitable song in “Death Is Just A Feeling”. Eerie carnivalesque verses not unlike Jon Oliva’s Pain’s Festival lead to a very catchy chorus, and the whole song is drenched in delicious morbidity. And again it would have been better if Sammet kept himself out of this one, because Oliva nails it with his typical theatrical snarl.
So far for the good news. The following few songs can be easily summarized with what’s wrong with them. “Rat Race” sounds like nothing more than a leftover b-side from Edguy (just like “Crazy Eyes” on Lost In Space (Part 1)). The verses are ok, but the refrain is derivative and dull. Why Sammet picked this track to let his guitar hero, Kiss’ Bruce Kulick, provide a guest solo, I don’t know, but luckily Kulick gets another shot in “Journey To Arcadia”. With “Down In The Dark”, Jorn Lande tries to repeat the success of “Forever Is A Long Time”, but with lesser success. It’s not a bad song per se, but it doesn’t really grab your attention and you forget it about it quickly afterwards.
“Blowing Out The Flame” is not the worst ballad I’ve heard from Sammet (that award goes to Edguy’s “Standing In The Rain”), but it hardly lifts the quality of the record. The trend of tunes that shouldn’t be here reaches a high point in the Sascha Paeth-penned “Symphony Of Life”. Its electronic vibe echoes Luca Turilli’s Dreamquest and maybe Paeth can try his hand at an album full of this stuff sometime. It has, however, no business being here, no matter how good Cloudy Yang’s vocals are. Use her in a real Avantasia song, not in something so distracting it drags the whole release down. “Alone I Remember” is an average, Whitesnake-like tune (or so people tell me), and apart from the cheeky one-liner “They got me by the fuse, smiling with a match”, it doesn’t have a lot of meat on its bones.
We remember the excellent “Promised Land” from Lost In Space (Part 2), and the only difference here is that Michael Kiske was left out, which really makes it a worse version than the original. An utterly pointless addition. So far Angel Of Bablyon has squandered the potential built up during the first four songs on sub-par place-fillers, and that’s why closer “Journey To Arcadia” feels completely out of place. It has no mentionable build-up and can’t save the day all on its own, but it’s a wonderfully epic track in every right. Less ballad-centric than “Runaway Train”, it features Bob Catley in another key role, and in the absence of Jorn Lande, Russell Allen lifts the bridge into the stratosphere. If Sammet had swapped “Crestfallen” for “Angel Of Babylon” and “The Edge” for “Journey To Arcadia” The Wicked Symphony could have been unstoppably brilliant.
Yet that will always be a dream or a playlist, and sadly here ends the disappointing finale of what could have been an excellent trilogy, if a third album was released a few years later instead of simultaneously. Angel Of Babylon is a glorified bonus disc instead of a worthy entry in a triptych, and it doesn’t have enough intrinsic artistic value to justify the commercial motivations behind it. Avantasia seems to be shelved for now, but if Sammet ever digs into it again (which seems inevitable), I’d recommend more humility and vision. When he’s on fire, he’s on fire, and it’s painful to see him fizzle. Edguy’s Age Of The Joker proved there is enough creativity left in him and perhaps one day it can be turned to another splendid Avantasia album. The project deserves better than the dead end note that is Angel Of Babylon.
Arno Callens’ Rating: 3 out of 5