Thursday, March 13, 2008

Review: Avantasia, "The Scarecrow"

Epic albums with big-name guest stars are an iffy proposition. The expectations those all-star lineups create can be a bit of a letdown. That was the case for me with the latest effort from Ayreon, which I found a bit boring. On this record, though, the guest stars get bits that better reflect their own musical styles, and the result is more along the lines of what you might expect.

The side project of Edguy’s Tobias Sammet, Avantasia appeared on the scene in 2000. Sammet released two ambitious records, "The Metal Opera Part I" in 2001 and "The Metal Opera Part II" in 2002, then faded into the background until last year, when new EPs popped up in advance of this record.

The guest lineup is short, but impressive. Former Kiss drummer Eric Singer provides the backbone for the record. Alice Cooper, Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske, Amanda Somerville and Roy Kahn are among the guest vocalists. Rudolf Schenker lends some guitar work to help out producer/guitarist Sascha Paeth.

"The Scarecrow" starts with a bang. The huge, slightly exotic riff of “Twisted Mind” grabs you immediately and stays with you. It sets the standard for what will come later on this record, namely big, memorable melodies. The obligatory “epic” 11-minute title track follows. I normally find those songs more than a little self-indulgent, but “The Scarecrow” is the exception. The song flows well without a lot of filler material to stretch it out.

Things take a dip from there, as Sammet explores a more typical power metal sound with “Shelter from the Rain.” Then things get really odd. “Carry Me Over” sounds like a 1980s electronic pop song, and Somerville delivers an over-the-top pop diva performance on “What Kind of Love.” It made me wonder if I had warped into some kind of bizarro world after the incredible power of the first two numbers.

When the Iron Maiden-flavored opening licks of “Another Angel Down” kick in, they’re very welcome. It brings some sanity back to the world. Lande delivers an incredible vocal performance on the song, as usual, and it gets the record back on track. What’s most welcome on this record, though, is Alice Cooper’s guest performance on “The Toy Master.” Make no mistake, this isn’t an Avantasia song. Who wrote it is beside the point — this is an Alice Cooper song. The twisted number sounds like it came straight from Cooper’s “The Last Temptation,” and is far and away Alice’s best song since the “Brutal Planet” record. It clears out the cobwebs left by that little sidetrip into ’80s pop.

The final portion of the record is a mixed bag. “Devil in the Belfry” is the best of the bunch, a quite enjoyable speed/power metal number. “Cry Just a Little” is a skippable ballad that also has a lot of 1980s overtones, as does the more rocking “I Don’t Believe in Your Love” which reminds me a bit of the Scorpions. (Not sure from the album notes what songs Schenker plays on, but I’d guess this is one.) The final track, “Lost in Space,” is, not surprisingly, a spacy mid-tempo number with a little progressive influence. It’s one of the middle-of-the-road numbers here. Not as good as the first two tracks or the Cooper song, but the best of the ’80s-influenced half of the record.

"The Scarecrow" plays on the same kinds of influences that you hear in Sammet’s regular band, Edguy, but takes them in slightly different directions. It’s a very varied record covering a lot of styles, and while it occasionally misses the mark, it delivers more than its share of exciting and memorable music. It’s a great record that you’ll be humming long after listening to it.

Get "The Scarecrow."

No comments:

Post a Comment