Avantasia – A Paranormal Evening With The Moonflower Society Review

Though it was originally formed as a side-project of Edguy’s vocalist Tobias Sammett, Avantasia has since surpassed Edguy’s reach and popularity. Although the project was initially intended only as a vessel for the two-part Metal Opera concept album, over the past two decades it has taken on a (larger than) life of its own. It is also perhaps unsurprising that as Edguy’s Euro power metal origins took a turn for zanier, harder rocking pastures (circa Hellfire Club or Rocket Ride), Avantasia has steadily increased the symphonic bombast of its theatrical, power-adjacent heavy metal. On album number nine, the (let’s be honest) extremely-on-brand-titled A Paranormal Evening with the Moonflower Society, Sammet continues the incredible upswing that Avantasia has been on since The Mystery of Time, while also – brace yourselves – highlighting a semblance of restraint.

If you’ve heard any of the band’s previous music, one of the last words you might think to associate with a new Avantasia album is “restraint.” And of course, it’s not as though you might mistake this album for the second coming of Motörhead. Yet throughout A Paranormal Evening, Sammet, Sascha Paeth (guitar wizard and all-around musical utility knife), and their typically stacked roster of collaborators have pulled back ever-so-slightly from some of their most extravagant tendencies. The songs are a little shorter, Paeth’s guitar riffs are often crunchier and more upfront, and the whole package just has a little more punch than usual. Adding these aspects to the fact that this is the band’s shortest album to date (at a still-plenty-deep 53 minutes) means that A Paranormal Evening is one of Avantasia’s most streamlined albums.

If you’re looking for that gut-punch directness, though, album opener “Welcome to the Shadows” is a bit of a misdirect. It opens in moody synth-pop territory, and although it gets cooking with a chorus that exudes classically twisty show-tune flair, the song almost undercuts itself with frequent returns to the more sedate – albeit effectively mood-setting – verses. If the opener is a slightly soft sell, the five-song sequence that follows – from “The Wicked Rule the Night” through “I Tame the Storm” – is simply incredible, and might just be the finest 20+ minute-stretch Avantasia has ever done.

Avantasia’s albums have always been packed with the largest number of guest musicians this side of Ayreon, and A Paranormal Evening continues that trend. “The Wicked Rule the Night,” which features the stellar banshee pipes of Primal Fear’s Ralf Scheepers, is a highlight that barrels from speed metal grit to powerful trad crunch. A lengthy guitar solo towards the end whittles back into an eerie harpsichord-backed bridge that ramps to a big crescendo, which then rockets back into one last go at the double bass-undergirded chorus. Floor Jansen’s (Nightwish, ex-After Forever) voice is used to great effect on “Kill the Pain Away,” where she doubles Sammet on a hugely powerful chorus, but she’s even better on the tremendous “Misplaced Among the Angels.” The latter is a tried and true power ballad that flirts with the Lita Ford/Ozzy duet “Close My Eyes Forever,” and also features some of the album’s keenest lyrics: “Save me – I’m in need of you / When real life bleeds through / The frail veneer of reason.” Paeth’s beautifully restrained midsong solo has a slight “Sweet Child O’ Mine” flavor which matches the searing emotion of the song.

“I Tame the Storm at Night” gallops out of the gate with a power metal flourish that melds with one of the album’s heaviest stretches of riffing, and across its less than 4-minute runtime, it provides a masterclass in compact, emotive, instrumentally dense and yet powerfully focused songwriting. Paeth’s guitars are often at the forefront, but they also stay quietly busy in the background with scrapes and little tangents, while the wonderfully simply chorus – ratched up in intensity by longtime Avantasia guest Jørn Lande – is cleverly backed by choral effects and chimes.

Perhaps Avantasia’s greatest feat across their career to date has been to split the difference between symphonic metal and power metal. This means that they should appeal equally to fans of Stratovarius, Blind Guardian, or Angra as to fans of Epica, Nightwish, or Kamelot. These are relatively small hairs to split in the pantheon of All Heavy Metal Styles, but Avantasia crosses the most pedantic genre-aisles with ease. On “The Inmost Light,” for example, Avantasia comes perhaps as close to the style of The Metal Opera as they have since 2002, with a classic power metal bounce and an utterly uplifting chorus. Helloween’s Michael Kiske provides backing vocal support, and if you were asking yourself, “Does the song do a key change right at the end for the last run through the chorus,” then friend, I think you and I both know the answer.

As the album works through the back half, it offers variations on most of these excellent themes. The (sort of) title track “The Moonflower Society” is another heavily synthed piece with a forceful, staccato chorus, but the midsection is a fascinating digression into tumbling orchestration – what sounds like glockenspiel, strings, and brass – that blends seamlessly with Sammet’s seemingly effortless command of dramatic songwriting (a telegraphed bridge here, an elongated measure there, a theatrical line-reading everywhere). “Paper Plane” is the album’s lesser ballad, and while “Scars” benefits from Geoff Tate’s unimpeachable voice, the song itself mostly fades into the background. “Rhyme and Reason” has one of the album’s most fiery openings – a multi-tracked guitar attack – and eventually settles into a compellingly odd rhythm that feels a little like a sped-up, loungy crooner swing. (For example, imagine reciting an Emily Dickinson poem along with the verse.)

The ten-minute closer “Arabesque” is the nearest the album gets to some of the truly extravagant, nearly progressive epics on previous Avantasia albums, but even so, it keeps itself mostly reined in. The bagpipes in the opening are reminiscent of Blind Guardian’s Somewhere Far Beyond, but the song pulls an interesting move in quickly switching from melodies out of a Celtic folk tune into heavier riffing and percussion that trades on Eastern scales and rhythms. Jørn returns on this song for some hugely soulful accompaniment (including a chanting section of a sitar-like melody after the first full chorus). Even when they hit a bit of the epic Jim Steinman/Elton John stride around the 6:30 mark (huge, flashy vocals backed by big, chunking piano octaves), the whole vibe is… well, pleasantly mellow. The bagpipes come back in to follow Paeth’s transparently excellent guitar, but the real show – as always with this band – is the grand build and break, the song that bursts free because it cannot be contained. This is thrilling, technicolor, empowering music that I hope you seek out, because if there is one thing I suspect most of us do not embrace as much as we should, it is joyful exuberance. If you need more proof, consider that the last words on this unrepentantly un-shy album – wailed in triplicate by Sammet, Kiske, and Lande – are “Right on.”

Isn’t that a hell of a sentiment? Right on? Hell yes, right on.

Posted by Dan Obstkrieg

Happily committed to the foolish pursuit of words about sounds. Not actually a dinosaur.

  1. Pre good but over produced much like night at the opera from blind guardian I ac lil the new strata various better but that’s just my opinion


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