The Metal Opera(AFM - 2001)
This side-project by Tobias Sammet from Edguy made quite a splash amongst power-metal fans due to the fact that it compiled members from many famous power-metal acts to form a super-group and a rich operatic experience, probably inspired by his celebrity experience on Vain Glory Opera. But what some people overlook is that the songwriting is exclusively Sammet's domain, and all of these powerhouse appearances are only that: appearances. Sammet even tags the project with his name in an egotistical move ('Tobias Sammet's Avantasia'), which basically means he is collecting all of these celebrities (who are mostly his seniors) to market his own name. That said, the effect of all of these talents seems to have enriched the sound and Sammet writes slightly better material here than with his cookie-cutter Edguy compositions. It is still unsurprising, polished, somewhat sterile but professionally enjoyable material, with several soaring songs that are above-average for this type of thing. Appearances include Kiske and Grosskopf from Helloween, Hansen and Richter from Gamma Ray, Matos from Angra, Den Adel from Within Temptation, Holzwarth from Rhapsody, Tolkki from Stratovarius, Hartmann from At Vance, and Rob Rock. Although I'm usually wary of operas that tend to sacrifice musical consistency for story, wandering interludes and indulgent performances, this outing doesn't have such flaws, and the short musical interludes actually add to the variety and dynamics. Perhaps this is because Tobias performs most of the vocal duties along with Kiske whose voice matches Sammet's very well, and the rest only have short segments or choir performances. 'The Glory of Rome' stands out in its soaring power, but the rest are all good tracks as well, including a 10-minute closer that is very good, but which doesn't quite have the creativity to make a really good epic of this length. In short, a very solid and recommended power-metal release that is better than Edguy, and which isn't groundbreaking in any way, but provides a very good listen for this kind of thing.
The Metal Opera Part II(AFM - 2002)
A continuation of the first part with both the same story and band members, or performers if you will. But the musical style is much more rock-opera compositions played in power-metal style. The first track is a bloated 14-minute composition that presents all the negative associations I have with operas that I mentioned in the previous review: Indulgent performances, story over music, meandering composition, theatrics, and even a collection of seven vocalists that don't quite work together as a cohesive whole despite some good choir moments. These new Queen-esque choir arrangements and opera-dramatics make other appearances on subsequent tracks as well and sometimes aren't bad, but they do tend to break up the flowing power-metal sound and will only appeal to fans of rock-operas. There is also variety in the sound and much more use of the different vocalists on this release, which is surprising, but lends an inconsistent sound to the album. Not dynamic and rich, mind you, but inconsistent. We have some bland Edguy-esque power-metal anthems, weak and generic rock-opera schmaltzy duets and ballads, a surprisingly heavy 'The Final Sacrifice' that sounds like Iced Earth meets Overkill meets Edguy, and a grand operatic vocal finale. A big step down for me since this is not my kind of music, but fans of rock-opera may want to check this out.
Lost in Space I & II(Nuclear Blast - 2007)
Two EPs released as a CD. A re-awakening of the Avantasia project (which was only supposed to last the double album) many years later, once again with some guest vocalists and musicians (although not as star-studded), except that this feels like a dumping ground for stuff that wasn't even good enough for Edguy, and that's saying a lot considering how dire Edguy releases have become, inundated with generic and commercial heavy-metal and hard-rock. The tracks here vary from cheesy pop-metal to commercial hard-rock, a semi-metallized Abba cover, a bland 70s-sounding rock cover of Lucifer's Friend, weak anthemic power-metal infected by cheesy heavy-metal, a pop cover of Ultravox, and a cheesy rock-opera-ballad cover of Freddie Mercury. If this is what Sammet is about to do to Avantasia, then I want no part of it.
The Scarecrow(Nuclear Blast - 2008)
Yup, it's the Edguy downhill all over again, except this time he is making his guest performers do it as well. Guests include Kiske, Hartmann and Catley again, Lande from Masterplan, Khan and Rodenberg from Kamelot, Paeth from Heaven's Gate, Singer from KISS, Alice Cooper, and Schenker from Scorpions. The music is as varied as its guest performers: From power-metal leftovers infected with various commercial sounds, generic heavy-metal, an 11-minute epic with everything from Celtic Skyclad-esque composition to rock-opera orchestral and quiet beauty, cheesy ballads, a jarring power-duet vocal performance fit for a Celine Dion release, some random rock-opera moments, pop-metal, cheesy heavy metal, and so on. This salad of very varied musical and vocal styles come off as completely chaotic rather than operatic or anything resembling a cohesive album. Granted, this is more interesting than Edguy due to its variety and open-mind, but that doesn't mean the music is better. The approach is similarly lowest-common-denominator attempts at being epic and catchy, without inspiration or uniqueness or true musical creativity. I guess this is where I get off the commercial 'rock-opera' Avantasia train. (I checked out a few subsequent albums and... yup. It's more serious and consistent eventually, but all generic rock-operas).