• Uninspired snoozefest with a few sparks of genius - A review of Avantasia's ''Ghostlights''

    Avantasia - Ghostlights (2016)

    After the coherent, majestic and orchestral symphonic power metal effort ''The Mystery of Time'', the conceptual follow-up ''Ghostlights'' is a decline in quality and offers a rather directionless mixture of traditional metal elements, dated rock passages and a few unmotivated electronic elements. Avantasia offers more of the same and presents many tracks that recall numerous songs of the past without breaking new ground. This wouldn't be a problem, if the album was consistent but it has massive ups and downs plus several average tunes that don't leave any impression at all. That would be acceptable if the album sounded at least cohesive but even that isn't the case since the songs only work on their own but not as a unit. The project tries to sound diversified but neglects any serious attempt at an own style. Many songs remember the assimilation compilation which was ''The Wicked Symphony'' where Tobias Sammet basically imitated tracks from his childhood heroes. Despite a powerful production, the material sounds so old-fashioned that this kind of album could have easily been released two decades earlier without sounding interesting by any standard. It's hard to believe that Tobias Sammet is only thirty-eight years old because his mostly vapid retro music of the past years sounds more and more as if he was a closed-minded veteran who was two decades older. I certainly don't need bands to reinvent themselves with each album but an ambitious record which is arrogantly overpraised by its creator with so many diverse guest musicians and vocalists should produce something more than timidly predictable idol worship. This album still has its moments but I'm stating the negative parts so clearly because the mastermind behind this project clearly overestimates himself and needs to come down from his illusive head trip.

    The record doesn't exactly start on a good note. ''Mystery of a Blood Red Rose'' might be a catchy track but it's an obvious Meat Loaf rip-off without having the progressive elegance of the original. This being said, Tobias Sammet doesn't even get remotely close to the impressive vocal skills of the legendary rock singer. The fact that Tobias Sammet tried in vain to represent Germany at the boring, commercial and conservative Eurovision Song Contest with this song shows how much he makes fun of metal culture these days but even this kind of provocation that he seems to find amusing has become redundant. At least, the song tries to worship a different artist than usual in form of Meat Loaf who certainly deserves more attention from younger audiences. The opener isn't the only song that tries to imitate and not to innovate. The standard power metal track featuring Michael Kiske in form of ''Ghostlights'' or the somewhat modern New Age ballad ''Isle of Evermore'' with female vocalist Sharon den Adel also recall numerous songs we have heard before both from the original projects of the guest musicians and from Avantasia. The past versions of these songs were all better executed than the revamped attempts on this output. All these songs on here are average at best. They are not horrible to listen to but they certainly don't leave any deeper impression.

    ''Let the Storm Descend upon You'' offers more of the same, rehashes several previous Avantasia epics and doesn't add anything new to the formula. This would still be another average tune if this was a shorter song but the excessive running time of over twelve minutes unintentionally reveals the blatant lack of ideas. This lackluster track is the biggest deception of this release. 

    There are still a few quite good songs on the album. The slow stomper ''Seduction of Decay'' offers a new musical approach and features surprisingly charismatic and well-executed vocals by Geoff Tate who somewhat redeems himself after a series of bad vocal performances over the past years. This song sounds like one of the few successfully experimental Queensryche tracks from the last decade. The catchy gothic anthem ''Draconian Love'' is also a welcome change of style and features great low yet emotional vocals by Herbie Langhans that recall bands such as HIM, The 69 Eyes or even Type O Negative in the better moments. ''Master of the Pendulum'' is the heaviest song on the album and features powerful riffs somewhere between heavy and power metal with a few modern synth sounds plus an unchained vocal performance by Marco Hietala. This track wouldn't indeed sound out of place on a Tarot record. These songs may also copy the bands of the participating guests but at least they combine traditional metal elements with a modern twist and a powerful production in a coherent way. These songs show new approaches to styles Avantasia hadn't covered before and are ultimately the only outstanding tunes in my book. The record would have needed more songs of this style to leave a deeper impression.

    In the end, the album has one disappointing epic, three great songs and many dull below average songs that lack creativity. The imagery of a ghostlight suits this album very well since it feels devoid of any real emotions as if the project had lost momentum and passed its peak but there are still a few promising sparks of genius here and there which are the reason why I'm still not ready to give up on the project. Still, I probably won't revisit this release anytime soon. This is probably Avantasia's weakest effort so far but still an average output at the end of the day. As it is now, Tobias Sammet's decision to focus on this project, release regular studio albums and play world tours with shows far over three hours and to degrade the former European power metal institution Edguy to an occasional fun project, with long gaps between albums and basically only European shows with disappointing sets below ninety minutes was definitely wrong in my opinion.

    Final verdict: 60%

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