The Scarecrow by Avantasia
Release date : January 2008
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
Avantasia can trace its very roots back to the period when Blind Guardian frontman Hansi Kürsch cut guest vocals in support of Edguy's third album, entitled Vain Glory Opera (1998), the respective tracks being “Out of Control” and the title song. Edguy vocalist Tobias Sammet was impressed by Kürsch's delivering the vocal lines Sammet himself had penned, and so held thoughts of penning Rock opera within a gigantic framework. Sammet aimed to tap the services of premier musicians, but more specifically those who he felt had influenced him, those he looked up to, those he could learn from, and those he had shared several glasses of wine with on tour. While plugging Edguy's fourth full length Theater of Salvation during 1999's spring via a European tour, Sammet began to pen ideas to eventually foster the project. Initially conceived as an Edguy release, Sammet opted to separate the project from his main concern, and assumed a key position as the brainchild behind the ambitious project. Nonetheless, Edguy's Jens Ludwig contributed additional lead guitar to two songs.
Provisionally titled Avantasia, the moniker eventually became the side project's name. The Metal Opera witnessed initial release during November 2000 via AFM Records, whereas Century Media issued the album in North America during July 2001. Besides Ludwig, The Metal Opera featured the following musicians; Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray) on guitars, Markus Grosskopf (Helloween) on bass, and Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody) on drums, plus vocalists Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray), Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius), David Defeis (Virgin Steele), Rob Rock (Warrior), Andre Matos (Shaman/ex-Angra) and Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation). Critically praised, reviewers avidly stated that Avantasia were potential heirs to Helloween's Keeper of the Seven Keys throne. Metal Opera Part II was also envisioned, and arrived via AFM Records in August 2001, and was quickly followed by a North American release in. October 2001 via Century Media. Boasting a similar lineup to its predecessor, The Metal Opera Part II boasted the following lineup; Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween), Kai Hansen, André Matos, Henjo Richter, Markus Grosskopf, Alex Holzwarth, David DeFeis, Sharon Den Adel, Timo Tolkki, Bob Catley (Magnum), and Eric Singer (Kiss). Sammet failed to exploit the momentous tide however, and left Avantasia's initial promise gradually dissipate until now.
In December 2006, it was announced that Sammet had commenced work on Avantasia's third full length. By the following month, it was revealed that Eric Singer recorded the drum parts in Hamburg at Vox Klangstudio, the same venue where drums were laid down for Edguy's 2004 album Hellfire Club. Two EPs in the guise of Lost in Space Part I and Lost in Space Part I preceded the album's issue by two months, materialising in November 2007. Despite sharing identical title tracks, the EPs collectively boasted wholly exclusive songs, not to mention videos, a poster, studio reports, a “making-of”, a slideshow, and much enhanced bonus material. Both respectively entered the Swedish chart at positions three and four, the Norwegian chart at four, the Austrian chart at number forty-eight, and the French chart at sixty-six. Also, the EPs notched position nine on the German Media Control chart - the highest single chart entry in Nuclear Blast Records' history thus far.
Named The Scarecrow, the album's concept didn't comprise a sequel to its two predecessors. Rhythm guitar was handled by Sascha Paeth, as was production. Meanwhile, Sammet personally occupied bass. A phenomenal list of guest musicians graced the album, in particular; Alice Cooper, Roy Khan (Kamelot), Jørn Lande (ex-Masterplan), Michael Kiske, Bob Catley, Henjo Richter, Kai Hansen, Amanda Somerville, Oliver Hartmann (ex-At Vance), and Rudolf Schenker (Scorpions). In actual honesty, that list could likely form the review's conclusion. Brimfully abundant with both Rock and Metal's premier artists, only a moronic simpleton could gravely harm the album. That moronic simpleton fails to pay an unwelcome visit, and so The Scarecrow proves utterly exceptional. To be harshly truthful, The Metal Opera albums failed to cultivate a positive impression amongst this reviewer. A gross contrast when critiqued against this album, those full length cuts proved both disjointed and over-indulgent. While not wholly unfamiliar, The Scarecrow starkly contrasts in comparison to Edguy's latter day material. The Scarecrow can be described as a heavyweight Hard Rock affair, and treads its toes upon Metal's domain within specific moments. Distinctly song oriented, the record lends both the compositions and the guest musicians an opportunity to radiantly sparkle, a wondrous chance notoriously absent amongst Avantasia's two preceding works. The inclusion of singers that possess mighty chords shapes the numbers with an underlying consistency, yet still paints those songs via individual strokes. As an immediate consequence, the inauguration of each and every fresh journey cannot help but arrest your focus.
As you likely figured, the album features numerous highlights. Midway into the album, a trio of songs comprise its genuine treasures. Modestly yet surely, the soaring ballad “What Kind of Love” (warmly enhanced courtesy of Amanda Somerville's gorgeous voice) overwhelms the listener. Meanwhile, “Another Angel Down” lifts the ambience towards a more frantic pace. Closely mirroring Edguy's chosen approach, the track reiterates the paramount detail that that specific group's mastermind firmly handles the reins. Owning lyrics mouthed by none other than Shock Rock's Grand Guignol Alice Cooper, “The Toy Master” marks the trio's conclusion. Appropriately sinister, the song is largely reminiscent of 1994's The Last Temptation, a criminally underrated concept piece. Overtly melodic elements engulf the title cut, not to mention traditional Celtic influences. Jogging at a moderate pace, the rocking “Lost In Space” holds an amiable demeanour towards radio.
In the very least, The Scarecrow denotes a charming surprise to this listener's ears. By penning this full length, Tobias Sammet stringently clutches further towards a reputation as being amongst Hard Rock and Metal's more important 21st century musicians. Avantasia casts a differing light upon the man's songwriting prowess, and supplies ample testimonials in verifying that Sammet's talents aren't limited to a mere lone strength. If you heartily dream of Edguy's next album with keen anticipation, then Avantasia's 2008 opus may pacify that impatient hunger. An album it isn't recommended to lightly judge, multiple contrasting gems await.