Edguy’s Tobias Sammet is at it again. Avantasia had pretty much been left for dead in the years following the release of The Metal Opera and The Metal Opera Part II, so I was surprised when word broke that he was bringing the project back for a third installment. You might even say I was excited, even if the only Avantasia track I can ever recall from memory is “Final Sacrifice.” That may have caused my vision to skew and gotten my hopes a bit high. Despite a handful of great tracks, The Scarecrow overall falls only slightly to the right of mediocrity.
The Scarecrow deviates a bit from the Avantasia M.O., maintaining the musical aspects of the project but dropping much of the storytelling elements. Sammet describes it as, “. . . a visual album. A mystic fantasy movie for your hearing. It’s melodic and bombastic, it’s Rock and Metal and it’s been played by some of the best musicians in the world.” Those musicians include the core of Sammet on lead vocals/keyboards/bass, producer/journeyman Sascha Paeth on guitars, and drummer Eric Singer. The album features guest appearances by guitarists Michael Schenker (Scorpions) and Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray), and an array of vocalists that includes Roy Khan (Kamelot), Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween), Bob Catley (Magnum), and the one and only Alice Cooper.
The best moments on The Scarecrow fall in the 1-2-3 punch of “Another Angel Down,” “The Toy Master,” and “Devil in the Belfry.” By itself, “The Toy Master” would score about a 3.5/5, but driven by the vocals of Alice Cooper, it’s more like a 4.5/5. It’s a mid-paced track based on a creepy verse and chorus, and it’s almost a shame when Sammet shows up around the halfway point, but his voice is such a contrast to Cooper’s that it adds a nice theatrical element. The other tracks are just good solid power metal with Tobias Sammet sharing vocals duties with Jorn Lande. Their styles are very similar and they complement each other very well here. Also notable is the track “Shelter From the Rain,” featuring Michael Kiske and Bob Catley, which leans towards the progressive end of the power meal spectrum. Lande and Kiske also appear on the epic title track, which is well constructed with a few tempo changes but it begs to be taken over the top and never quite gets there. I’ll toss in one more before shifting gears – “Twisted Mind” has good harmonization and a heavy main riff and a strong outing by Roy Kahn, but like the title track, it could have been more.
The rest of the album is more filler than killer: the orchestrated balled “What Kind of Love” (featuring Kiske and Amanda Sommerville,) the largely acoustic “Cry Just a Little,” and the AOR-ready single “Lost in Space.” I don’t mind this sort of thing if its done in the name of a concept, but since there is no concept here, I do.
My final words on The Scarecrow? It’s a diverse collection of songs, but it never really gels into a cohesive experience. It’s more like flipping TV channels on a good day than watching a movie. I still find myself going back for those three great tracks in the middle, and I’ll listen to the rest of it if need be, but I’m not paying nearly the same amount of attention.