|Review: Avantasia - The Scarecrow|
Label: Nuclear Blast
Year released: 2008
Genre: Melodic Heavy Metal
Review online: February 12, 2008
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
Rated 3.76/5 (75.17%) (29 Votes)
It's been a long wait, but it's finally here. This is Tobias Sammet's new Avantasia album, and I had been eagerly anticipating it, perhaps more than anything that's come out lately. The anticipation was too much for me, so in the end I decided to download it, consequences be damned, and let it sink in over a period of time while I waited for the copy I ordered from Amazon to arrive. Now that I have had almost a month to sit on this one, what's the verdict? It might not be perfect (the amalgamation of musical genres here is done well, but I don't think Sammet has perfected it just yet), but it is an excellent album, and a gigantic step in a new direction that will only prove beneficial to Mr. Sammet in his ongoing artistic quests, the opening of a door to a whole world of possibilities.
The Scarecrow is not an album that adheres to one specific genre of music. It has several elements of Tobias's familiar Power Metal learnings, but it's also much, much more than that, a versatile, flexible melting pot of musical finesse that in the end comes off as a natural progression of his songwriting skills accumulated over the last 15 years or so. I'm having fits trying to describe this music, as no two songs on this album sound alike. He mentioned that in an interview before the Lost in Space EPs came out, and he was telling the truth - we have speedy Metal cookers with big, singalong choruses, slower, pounding, grooving numbers that will make your head bang, and fluffy, light balladry that is sure to tug at your heartstrings even just a bit - and everything in between. This album never repeats itself, never grows stagnant or stale, and never wears out its welcome, with each song bringing something new and exciting to the table. There are an assortment of guests on display here, as on the first Metal Opera albums, but this time we aren't just restricted to vocalists from the Power Metal genre - we have Bob Catley's light, soothing croon, Alice Cooper's grating monotonal drawl and Amanda Somerville's angelic, soaring voice, with the esteemed Rudolph Schenker adding a few delightfully classic guitar solos alongside Sammet's usual picks of Kai Hansen and Henjo Richter. The classic/80s hard rock element is more present here than ever, and yet it never sounds overbearing or lame, and the music here never becomes anything but inspiring.
Picking a standout track on this one is tough, because every song stands out in one way or another, as none of them sound alike. Different songs will strike you as great on different days, depending on your mood. The opening "Twisted Mind" is a malicious, grooving piece that, while having a chorus reminiscent of Edguy's "Sacrifice," is musically completely original for Sammet, sounding nothing like anything he's done before. The choir chanting section in the middle is done especially well, conveying a bleak, hopeless feel that nobody who ever heard Edguy thought Tobias was capable of, and Roy Khan does an admirable job on guest vocals. The title track might just be the best song Tobias has ever penned, kicking off with a fresh, stirring Celtic melody and blossoming into a smashing clash of rattling, bone-shaking riffs, sophisticated orchestrations, and a vocal performance for the ages. People are saying that this isn't as good as its "younger brother" in "The Seven Angels," but those people don't know what they're talking about. The songwriting here is just top notch all the way through, with songs like "Shelter from the Rain" and "Another Angel Down" having highly original song structures and complex verse/chorus arrangements that I honestly never expected, and with even the more simplistic songs woven wonderfully into the beautiful tapestry of musical accomplishment that is The Scarecrow. I could go on for another two paragraphs about every song here, but nobody can deny the majesty of songs like the electrifying stomp of "Another Angel Down," the grinding "The Toy Master," the Power Metal hero bravery of "Devil in the Belfry" with its huge choirs and throat-ripping lead work, or the touching balladry of "Cry Just a Little," which positively shimmers with a light, glittery radiance. Rest assured, there is something to enjoy with every song on this album.
The Scarecrow is a fresh, exhilarating smash in the face when the Power Metal genre badly needs one, and it also steps out of those boundaries several times, crossing over into the hard rock and pop fields quite frequently, and even including some slight Celtic influences that I do hope he expands upon in future efforts. Mr. Sammet has grown more and more with each consecutive release since his inception, and this is an incredible leap forward in both instrumental mastery and songwriting talent. Well done, Tobias, and here's to many more years of even better albums. Highly, highly recommended to anyone with a taste for broader spectrums of music. You won't regret it.
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