19 August 2008

Avantasia - The Metal Opera, Pt. I (2001)

The Metal Opera was the first proper effort of Tobias Sammet and his many guest musicians under the moniker of Avantasia. Whereas the supergroup's most recent effort saw Sammet and company pursuing a more mainstream rock sound, The Metal Opera--as the name suggests--is straightforward, uncompromising cavalcade of Power Metal. The album is operatic in function as well as form--it follows the story of Gabriel, a novice of the Dominican Order in 1602. Gabriel's stepsister falls into the clutches of the inquisition and is charged for witchcraft. At the same time, Gabriel is tapped by a mysterious fellow named Vandroiy to save Avantasia, a mystical dimension "beyond human imagination." Adventure ensues.

There are some truly great songs on The Metal Opera, but there are also some that are less interesting. After a short instrumental into, the album launches into "Reach out for the Light", an effective first track which serves both as exposition for the story and, with its anthemic verses and chorus, to grab the listener's attention. "Serpents in Paradise" slows down the tempo a little bit, but keeps the energy high. "Malleus Maleficarum" is the first of the instrumental interludes--it does feature some dialogue, but no actual vocals--and as such, it slows down the pace of album noticeably. The energy returns with "Breaking Away", which is similar in tempo to its predecessors, though the song itself is a bit shorter.

This brings us to "Farewell", which--in terms of the track order--is the first real standout track on The Metal Opera. It is something of a folksy power ballad, with the anthemic melodies of the latter and the time signature of a Viennese Waltz. The chorus is particularly catchy, and I often catch myself singing along to it. The next song, "Glory of Rome", is another standout track. It's the fastest most thrashy song on the album.

"In Nomine Patris" (another somewhat forgettable instrumental) is next, followed by "Avantasia". This latter is one of the two best tracks on the album. Though it is another anthemic mid-tempo rocker, the song is brimming with energy and enthusiasm--quite appropriate, given that the song is synonymous with the band. It is bookended by "A New Dimension", the third of the interludes. "Inside", another power ballad, is next, though it is unfortunately less than inspiring.

"The Sign of the Cross", however, is next, and it is perhaps the best song on the album. It is fairly traditional Heavy Metal, suggesting equal parts Judas Priest and Manowar. The chorus is no less infectious than that of "Farewell" or "Avantasia". The guitar work, courtesy of Jens Ludwig of Edguy, is also stellar. Finally, "The Tower", perhaps the most operatic (not to mention the longest) of the songs, closes out the album in suitably epic fashion.

By and Large, The Metal Opera is a solid effort, and an effective realization of Tobias Sammet's ambitious vision. The standout tracks are fantastic, and the middle-of-the-road songs are still pretty good. The only real flaw comes in the form of the interludes, which feel a little unnecessary--the album would feel no less complete without them, if not more complete. I've already mouthed my respect for Tobias Sammet as a songwriter, but it's worth reiterating that sentiment. Had he been born a century earlier, I'm fairly certain his music would be performed in Viennese opera houses.

Aside from the music, The Metal Opera is also interesting on a thematic level. One of the underlying themes on the album is the criticism of the Church for claiming to be the only medium through which one is able to reach truth and knowledge (this in addition to the usual metal themes of individual heroism). I've been listening to this album (and it's sequel, for that matter) almost every day for three months, and thus I have to give it my strongest recommendation.

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