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.
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