29th, January, 2016 – Nuclear Blast Records
01. Mystery of a Blood Red Rose
02. Let the Storm Descend upon You
03. The Haunting
04. Seduction of Decay
06. Draconian Love
07. Master of the Pendulum
08. Isle of Evermore
09. Babylon Vampyres
11. Unchain the Light
12. A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies
Avantasia, the German metal outfit and brainchild of one Tobias Sammet, has been bringing all the good children elaborate rock opera-styled power metal for sixteen years now, including some truly incredible albums in The Metal Opera parts 1 and 2 and the pretty nifty Wicked Symphony Trilogy. Tobias is known for getting guest musicians to work with him, filling out the various character parts on his albums with some big name singers including Jorn Lande, Russell Allen, Alice Cooper, Kai Hansen, and Michael Kiske.
Some critics consider Sammet’s later output to be lacking compared to his earlier work, while others prefer the later albums, but there are a few that just love it all regardless. Ghostlights is the newest album from the man, and only time will tell which crowd this pleases.
Avantasia’s biggest trademark has always been the ability to bring a sense of uplifting purpose to their songs. Power metal is no stranger to the feel-good factor, but Avantasia have a much more pervasive sense of personal accomplishment than the “sword and steel for glory” ideas that permeate most others, and Ghostlights allows for variation from that formula: “The Haunting” drips with a moodier atmosphere, and even when Sammet delivers lines in the major key, the music stays crawling and minor, making for a really nice contrast.
The biggest issue perhaps facing some of Avantasia’s more recent work is that Tobias got bogged down in creating huge orchestral scapes for the songs. This was especially true for previous album The Mystery of Time, and Ghostlights corrects course by stripping most of that away and having much simpler arrangements.
Another problem that plagues some Avantasia albums - The Scarecrow in particular – is that they’re full of ballads that really bog down the tempo. Ghostlights avoids this temptation for the first few songs, before throwing the snoozy “Isle of Evermore” at the listener. “Lucifer” also falls into this category at first as well, but then becomes a regular power metal anthem about halfway through – but even so, it’s a song that just feels unnecessary.
Sammet’s writing has sometimes lacked on the heavier side of the genre. While his focus on crafting rock opera parts works to his advantage most of the time, it is nice to have something that one could feasibly mosh to. Pleasingly then, “Let The Storm Descend Upon You” works some of that in, as does “Seduction of Decay” – slamming some slow, heavy, powerful riffs down the listener’s throat while guest singer Geoff Tate puts on a surprisingly good performance.
The guest musicians are always a nice part of Avantasia albums. Jorn Lande and Oliver Hartmann are veterans by this point, and Michael Kiske has contributed a few times, but then there’s lovely performances from Nightwish’s Marco Heitala, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, and the aforementioned Geoff Tate. Ronnie Atkins, the new singer for legendary rock band Rainbow, also clocks in a pretty cool performance.
Undoubtedly the album’s biggest flaw is its thirteen-track, 70-minute run-time: it’s just too long. A few songs could really have been edited out to keep the length down, and while there’s probably a story here that would be altered if those tracks were cut, it isn’t hard to imagine it being re-written a bit to allow for that. While tracks like “Mystery of the Blood Red Rose“, “Ghostlights” and “Unchain the Light” aren’t bad songs per se, they also feel like just standard Avantasia fair and they kill the album’s momentum, and could be taken out to allow the songs like “Let the Storm Descend Upon You”, “Master of the Pendulum” and “The Haunting” to better shine.
Ghostlights is mostly what you might expect from Avantasia. The first half has some pretty interesting songs that feel like they diverge from the regular Avantasia formula, but the second falls back into the tried and true. A couple of unimaginative songs scattered here and their drag down the overall experience, which is a shame because the better moments are really quite good.
So all in all, Ghostlights is a pretty standard Avantasia album. Some fans will like it, some won’t, and Tobias Sammet will keep on doing things.