Avantasia – The Mystery of Time

Avantasia-The-Mystery-Of-TimeAvantasia

The Mystery of Time

01. Spectres
02. The Watchmaker’s Dream
03. Black Orchid
04. Where Clock Hands Freeze
05. Sleepwalking
06. Savior in the Clockwork
07. Invoke the Machine
08. What’s Left of Me
09. Dweller in a Dream
10. The Mystery of Time

[04/30/13]
[Nuclear Blast]

Over the years since its initial inception in 2000, Tobias Sammet‘s Avantasia has moved out of the realm of a simple side-project, and many would regard it as his main musical focus to date. With a new album being released every two years, the rate of output has far exceeded that of his original band, Edguy. And as focus shifts, so does quality. While Edguy and Avantasia have both been highly enjoyable and exceptional projects from the get-go, the latter has increasingly grown in scope and grandeur(eh, kind of), while the former has become little more than a passing whim, with the majority of Sammet’s inspired ideas going towards Avantasia. This fact has irked many an Edguy fan, but for those simply looking for high caliber power metal releases, the sentimental attachment for Edguy can easily be forgotten in lieu of the sheer force that is Avantasia.

Like Edguy before it, Avantasia’s trajectory as a musical project has veered more and more away from its overly symphonic power  metal roots, and more into the domain of hard rock. Many a reviewer has ruminated on why that is, but let’s just chalk it up to a change in personal preference. With Avantasia’s newest effort, The Mystery of Time, the amount of hard rock influences has increased a fair amount; a fact that was fairly easy to foresee. Though, this isn’t to the determent of the music, as the hard rock elements are weaved effortlessly and appropriately into the power metal aspects, which are still the dominant focus of the music

Tracks like ‘Invoke the Machine’ and ‘Dweller in a Dream‘ are the epitome of modern day Avantasia; showing off the slick and bombastic pomp of hard rock riffs mixed with wonderfully frantic keys and overtones of symphonic elements, such as rich sections of orchestral strings, and a heavy focus on the dual nature of the vocals; one being strikingly macho and the other being more elegant and for lack of a better word, feminine. This dichotomy within the song is a perfect representation of the record as a whole, cohesive entity, as some tracks border more on the side of power metal, while others verge into the hard rock territory. While this may seem like an incongruity, more often than not, the eventual outcome works surprisingly well.

With a tighter focus on the blending of elements comes a tighter album as whole. With the first five Avantasia, there was always a disparity of quality from one song to the next, with the albums as a whole being really impressive, while the individual songs suffered. This problem is mostly averted with The Mystery of Time, as each song is all at once a tiny piece of a greater whole, as well as its own insular being. The songs are primarily driven by the always outstanding vocal performance of Tobias Sammet, and on The Mystery of Time he really shines on tracks like the mid-paced rock track ‘Black Orchid’ and the pop ballad ‘Sleepwalking’, as well as the more grandiose affairs like ‘Spectres’. The Mystery of Time also boasts some of the tightest guitar work in the history of Avantasia, with wonderful work coming from Bruce Kulick, and Oliver Hartmann. Though, once again, the bass work really suffers, and there’s not a single memorable moment from Tobias Sammet’s bass duties, but that’s more endemic of the sub-genre as a whole rather than an isolated problem within Avantasia’s framework

Despite Sammet’s powerful vocal display, it needs to be said that the guest performances are far less exciting and memorable than any other Avantasia album to date. What makes a project like this so exciting should be the large list of notable names contributing, as well as a few unknowns peppered throughout in order to counter balance the “stars” as well as show off the caliber of the developing artists. In the past, the Avantasia albums (like the Ayreon albums they so wish to mimic) did this to an amazing effect, with established vocalists like Jorn Lande, and lesser know talents like Cloudy Yang stealing the show away from the project’s frontman. However, the element of surprise and wonderment at the guests is almost entirely gone from this album, as pretty much every guest singer and musician has appeared on at least one other Avantasia, and the ones who haven’t are used so sparingly that it’s hard to be all that excited about them anyway.

While the album is highly enjoyable, there are a few other problems therein. For starters, the longer more “grandiose” tracks like the eponymous album closer, ‘The Mystery of Time’, and ‘Savior in the Clockwork’ lack the fluidity that they should have, and often feel very choppy, not to mention far too long, but the problem of length could have been solved by more effectively blending the various movements within those songs. Sadly, that’s not the case. As these two tracks both stretch beyond the ten minute mark, effectively making up a good third of the album, this isn’t a little problem, and on repeated listens it can become quite grating. The other big problem I had with this record is the same problem I had with the last Edguy record, that being the production of Sascha Paeth. He’s not a bad producer by any stretch of the imagination, but as he has worked on nearly every Tobias Sammet release since 2005, his style and creativity with these projects seems to have run a bit dry, and the production work not only feels stale, but incredibly predictable and safe.

With all that said, The Mystery of Time is a remarkably entertaining record from the mind of  a songwriter and composer that just keeps getting better. While it’s hardly cool to listen to power metal at the moment (haters gonna hate), Avantasia is definitely a project that deserves more attention than it is currently getting. The Mystery of Time, with all it’s flair and pretentious pomp is an incredibly fluid, catchy, and just fun record.

Avantasia – The Mystery of Time gets…

3.5/5

– EC