Avantasia – The Mystery Of Time
The Mystery Of Time
Reviewed by Arno Callens
By now we all have pretty much made up our minds about Tobias Sammet. Some may think he’s a self-important douche while some may consider him to be a genius. I am in no particular camp. Yes, “Sleepwalking” was a scandalously commercial ploy to get some radio play, but in the context of the album, the song works as a breather between two mammoth epics, so let’s not dismiss it outright. Before I delve into The Mystery Of Time, I’d just like to point out that after nine albums with Edguy, this is his sixth with Avantasia. For any musician and songwriter to be this relevant and remarkable at such an advanced stage of his career, well, that can only be applauded.
Because The Mystery Of Time is bloody good. After a rare misfire on the excellent The Wicked Symphony and it’s doffed up B-side Angel Of Babylon, Sammet hit back hard with Edguy’s Age Of The Joker, and it seems that none of that momentum has since been lost. As soon as you are dropped into the subtle symphony of “Spectres” (courtesy of a real orchestra), you know you are in pompous territory, with an incredibly hooky chorus right around the corner. And you would not be disappointed. Somewhere in the Sammet mansion (shaped like either a jester or his own face…possibly both?) is a treasury of sublime melodicism, and for every “Spectres”, we can forgive the occasional echo of the past (the title of “Savior In The Clockwork” can be easily replaced in mid-refrain by “Devil In The Belfry”).
Most of us have grown accustomed to Sammet’s mix of Helloween-inspired power metal and classic hard rock (there may still be a few lone criers yearning for “Theater Of Salvation II: This Time It’s Theatrical”), and the latter surely stands victorious here. Procuring the talents of such dusted legends such as Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Rainbow), Biff Byford (Saxon), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) and Eric Martin (Mr. Big); with Jorn Lande and Russell Allen departing, the modern power metal singers have left the building. All due respect for the former guests, but they aren’t missed in the slightest. Turner easily draws you into “The Watchmaker’s Dream”, Byford adds appropriate aplomb to the massive “Black Orchid”, Atkins croons and snarls at his best to “Invoke The Machine”, and Martin headlines the intimate power ballad “What’s Left Of Me” with gravitas and grace. Of course, regulars Michael Kiske and Bob Catley show up, and the former deserves standout praise for his wonderfully moving performance on odd-power-metal-throwback-out “When Clock Hands Freeze”. Yet let’s not forget the man himself, who just keeps growing as a vocalist and may just have recorded his most versatile performance yet.
One slight oddity about this album lies in the relative un-epicness of the epics. Don’t get me wrong, both “Savior In The Clockwork” and “The Mystery Of Time” never outstay their welcome, but contrary to earlier Sammet ventures, (title track on “The Wicked Symphony” and “Stargazers” from “Angel Of Babylon” come to mind) no energy is lost between the spaces, and song length does not equal superior quality. It speaks for the consistency of the album, and is perhaps unparalleled in Sammet’s discography. You won’t be caught referring to the tunes as “the one with Biff”, or “the one with Martin”, as the guests were never better integrated into the whole. About their characters I’m a little more confused, as per usual, the story is more oblique philosophising than straightforward storytelling.
I frowned when Sammet first announced that he was resurrecting Avantasia for The Scarecrow, but I was rewarded with an amazing album. I raised an eyebrow about the double act of The Wicked Symphony/Angel Of Babylon, but left at least partially astounded. When The Mystery Of Time first hit the press, I didn’t blink, because at this point I believe Tobias Sammet wastes very little time on nothing. Despite the occasional eye-roll-inducing attitude, he remains an artist I will never lose respect for. So what if he walks besides his shoes every now and then? He’s earned it. The Mystery Of Time proves that, and I’m sure the sequel will too.
4.25 // 5