Avantasia – The Metal Opera Pt. II
The sequel is an often tried, but not always successful formula in the (power) metal landscape. As they were conceived as one album, Helloween’s Keepers and Avantasia’s The Metal Opera Pt. II don’t count. Parallels like Gamma Ray’s follow-up to Land Of The Free or Labyrinth’s successor to Return To Heaven Denied are irrelevant, so one might wonder why I even brought them up. Little repetitive notes about this one: I’m once again ignoring the story, Sammet and his superhero team of musicians are once again tighter than the period of time between an announcement of Timo Tolkki (ex-Stratovarius) to quit music and his subsequent return to metal. Speaking of Tolkki – before anyone starts to think I’m making gratuitous fun of him – he and Jens Ludwig (Edguy) lend a hand to Henjo Richter’s (Gamma Ray) lead guitars, something fans of this kind of trivia might get a kick out of.
While there is not as great a rift in quality between both parts of the metal opera as there is between The Wicked Symphony and Angel Of Babylon, any album following a classic as The Metal Opera is going to suffer in comparison. Perhaps Sammet realized this as well, so he stuck the best tune right at the front. “The Seven Angels” is a mammoth of an epic, climbing to the heights of “Sign Of The Cross” and in serious competition for highlight of the diptych. It starts almost ceremoniously before unleashing its demons with an all-vocal attack by Oliver Hartmann (ex-Axel Rudi Pell), Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic), Rob Rock, David DeFeis (Virgin Steele) and Sammet himself. Never mind the colossal chorus of angelic might or the track’s closing movement where the Fellowship of Andre Matos the Elf (ex-Angra, ex-Shaman), Kai Hansen the Dwarf (Gamma Ray, Unisonic) and Tobias Sammet the Man shows up again for a gripping apotheosis with some excellent vocal-layering. Once you’ve heard this song, you’re sure nothing can ever top it and therein lies my biggest complaint with this record. It reaches such levels of awesomeness so early that everything else feels like a steady slope back down the mountain.
Yet Sammet assures the trip is worth it with a couple of power metal firecrackers (but alas, one too many ballads as well). “No Return” harkens back to the speed and intensity of “Reach Out For The Light”, featuring another Queen-ish instance in the pre-chorus with Kiske and Matos once more in a prominent position. They might as well be Sammet’s butlers at this point. The plodding “The Looking Glass” introduces the only new guest vocalist in the form of Magnum’s Bob Catley. His voice is splendidly lent to a joyous celebration of the thirst for knowledge, in the grand fashion of the German hard rock formation Catley hails from. With “In Quest For”, we hit the first of three ballads, and its catchy melody and subtle work by Catley makes it a winner, but then I have always been a sucker for Sammet’s handkerchief-moments.
There’s no one like DeFeis to get things kicking and screaming again and “The Final Sacrifice” is the single most furious song of the duology, a word I made up. “Get ready for the brimstone!”, yells the Virgin Steele frontman, and you’d better damn well be. Blistering as Sammet’s stuff rarely does, this is a welcome boot in the nuts after some quieter material. “Neverland” is a gleeful power metal tune in the best Teutonic tradition with the brand of refrains that you don’t want to be humming all day, but will be anyways. If the album could lose one ballad, it’s “Anywhere”, since it rarely goes where its title suggests, and is among the sappiest things Sammet has ever put to compact disc. Also, it has some unintentionally (?) sexually ambiguous and therefore hilarious lyrics. With “Chalice Of Agony”, the Fellowship is in full force again, and this could be the counterpart to The Metal Opera’s “Avantasia”, with its welcoming words to the world of wonder and general upbeat spirit. It also contains the death of a character, which makes it a little bit sad as well. “Memory” is a straightforward, enjoyable rocker designed around the voice of Ralf Zdiarstek and a slamming chorus. With “Into The Unknown” the saga comes to an atmospheric close and Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) reappears to provide it with a seraphic touch.
Somehow I think restructuring this album with “The Seven Angels” as the climax might serve the rest of the songs better, but I’m not Tobias Sammet (my hair looks better), and this is what we have to deal with. As it stands, The Metal Opera Pt. II is a much better companion to its predecessor than certain parts of The Wicked Trilogy would be to theirs. It’s also a testament to Sammet’s pure power metal phase, as he would start to move on to different things with Edguy’s Hellfire Club, ultimately culminating in Avantasia’s The Scarecrow. We would see a new breed of Avantasia there, and I will guide you through its peaks and valleys with equal gusto and barely noticeable wit. Above all, this album is a sensational slab of power metal at its best, and a decent one at its worst. It will always rest in the shadow of former glory, hence the dip in rating, yet it still towers neck-and-shoulders above Angel Of Babylon, and that’s something, right?
Arno Callens’ Rating: 4.25 out of 5