Avantasia - Moonglow

Genre: Power Metal, Rock/Metal, Symphonic Metal

Avantasia’s eighth full length album is about as far as you can come from the first two, universally hailed, metal operas. The stylistic shift has been slow over the years, but ultimately, aside from some elements, mainman Tobias Sammet (Edguy) has shed most of the metal from his project and ultimately ended up with something you could call a symphonic rock opera. Sammet also calls Moonglow 'the most embellished album' he's ever done. A feat I'm unsure whether it’s something to be proud of. Most of his albums (while also sporting a stinker or two) have been built on stellar songwriting, and in the case of his very best ones, heaps of playfulness and energy. It is a cohesive album, and aside from a few moments the songwriting is at least up to par with what Sammet is capable of. The pacing on the other hand is wobbly, as is the utilization of some the elements that could have been better. Moonglow is decidedly harder to get into than its predecessor. It really helps very little that the opening track is almost ten minutes long, and only gets dragged down for several minutes in the middle.

Avantasia - Moonglow

The array of guest vocalists has always been the most interesting part leading up to an Avantasia release. Here, most are mainstays or returning customers, only three are new in the Avantasia family; Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night), Mille Petrozza (Kreator) and the bard himself, Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian). Unfortunately, how the guests are used here is a complete mess. Two of the songs, Book of Shallows and Piper at the Gates of Dawn, are littered with too many guests while other songs have too few or the wrong one. Geoff Tate (ex- Queensrÿche) doesn’t suck on this album, but his voice is fairly similar to Sammet’s, making Alchemy a hard reach. Meanwhile, Eric Martin (Mr. Big) who usually goes so well with Sammet’s songwriting only gets a few lines of Piper at the Gates of Dawn, as well as a useless cover of Maniac (original by Michael Sembello). Used to be, Sammet let everyone of his guests have their own moment to shine, while blending their best moments for bigger things. Not to compare them overmuch, but Ghostlights did this to perfection. The best used guests are undoubtedly Hansi Kürsch and as ever Jørn Lande (Jorn), making magic in The Raven Child which reminds of a more vibrant The Scarecrow from the album of the same name.

It's also a fairly different album, with Sammet exploring new nooks and crannies of his ol' thinker, resulting in interesting takes on the narrative and songwriting. There's no anthemical power metal hymn, but you’ll find a hard edged power metal track toward the end, in Requiem For A Dream. It’s the fan service, because Sammet needs Kiske to his thing. I miss that blast of color, that drawing emotive twist and to be quite honest, the glorious feel of previous albums. As with the previous releases, Moonglow is packed with the different styles for which latter day Avantasia has become known, though metal has been toned down. Not as bombastic or power metal-y as its predecessor or as steeped in dark mystic riffing as The Mystery of Time (2013), it has its fair share of diversity, from the bombastic symphonic rock of the opener to the glowing power metal sprinkled with symphonic touches of Requiem For a Dream or the latter day Edguy feel of Alchemy.

Of course, I have to mention album highlight The Raven Child as well, being one of the most ambitious tracks on here, and one to show what really could have been. While hearkening back to the success of the title track off The Scarecrow (2008) it brings a Blind Guardian feel (duh) and some folksy vibes in the melodies, while the evolution of the song brings it to fleshy power metal towards the end - a song that will stand among Sammet’s opuses. The musicianship also lacks the luster it’s been known for. Guitarist slash producer Sasha Paeth and Oliver Hartmann both have some great moments, but nothing like they’re both capable of. Several of the would be lead harmonies are fairly forgettable at times. Their standout moments would also be the folksier parts of The Raven Child or the melodic Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Moonglow isn’t quite up to par with the last few Avantasia albums, but all in all is a worthy addition to the catalogue, if not outstanding.

 

Standout tracks: Book of Shallows, The Raven Child, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Requiem For a Dream

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Avantasia - Moonglow

Beast In Black - From Hell With Love

Genre: Power Metal

Remember a couple years ago? Anton Kabanen split with Battle Beast and to prove he absolutely wasn't even a tiny bit bitter he named his new band Beast In Black. Thankfully, it might be said, the new outfit did try for some different approaches to the sound; poppy inflections, over the top synth presence and schlager inspired ridiculousness (that shit's really big around the nordic countries). And still, the metal that was promised was also delivered in a few obliterating tracks that blew all resistence. Debut album Berserker (2017) did plenty of things right, and it was foreseen that they should only go up from there. Enter album number two, From Hell With Love, and all that balance is seems instantly gone. Many of the metallic elements have been downsized or outright removed, only retaining the skeleton; flashy rhythm section with the blaring drums and a sometimes nasty sounding guitar tone that when you actually listen to it doesn't offer much more than to plod along.

Beast In Black - From Hell With Love

It seems that Beast In Black failed to understand that the glittery garments they embraced did so well only because they were kept in balance by the metallic surroundings and tight songwriting. The song structures are also devolved into the basics, with nothing much interesting on display for the standardized three to four minute tracks. Before, they would go with some lengthy middle parts and bridges to build up the climax, whereas now it’s more like a schlagerized Sabaton, songwriting wise. Granted, the melodics are all big and flashy and poppy, the choruses catchy as they can be, but there is little depth or range to it all. Take opening track, Cry Out for a Hero; you can get why they would open with it, short, to the point and well executed for what it is, but even then it’s already boring by the second time the chorus comes on. Then the token guitar solo and the bridge that just repeats what was already dull. In the same vein, sometimes poppier, sometimes with a bigger emphasis on the guitars, the album drags on for eleven new songs and two cover songs. (Granted, the cover of Motörhead classic Killed by Death is pretty sweet in its new sounding surroundings, but still.)

By far the best thing about the band is vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos (ex- Wardrum), who has great range and diversity, as well as a masterful technique. Again, he only gets to show off very little of it here, staying with the high shrieks rather being allowed to delve into his highly effective and oftentimes emotionally striking mid range (listen to Major Denial for example). Not even the useless ballad Oceandeep changes that. As for good sides, there are a few; Heart of Steel standing out the most. The verses are complete 80’s rhythm down to the socks, but here it sounds somehow true to the style, and even though it’s basically in many respects very similar to the rest of the album, the melodies and the chorus, even Papadopoulos’ vocals just sound that much better. Repentless is also decent, but other than that the sameness just keeps going for about 50 minutes, complete with filler and the aforementioned cover songs. In all though, the album is just a complete step back from all the charm the debut showcased.

 

Standout tracks: Repentless, Heart of Steel

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Beast In Black - Sweet True Lies