I blame myself really. No, do not try to change my mind. I am here of my own volition. It is not the fact that I am a huge fan of power metal that brought me to Avantasia’s sixth album, The Mystery of Time. It is not even the fact that it is a project pulling together names from Rhapsody, Helloween, Ayreon, Saxon, and Rainbow. I do not really even like concept records that much. No, I am here because I love serialized fantasy and that addiction is best indulged with Avantasia.
Since the late 90’s, power metal vocalist Tobias Sammet has worked to make metal opera. This first came together in the Metal Operas, a series of two records aptly named the Metal Opera Part I and II. They were adventurous, bombastic, and remain in my Dungeons and Dragons campaign playlist to this day. The concept based project continued with The Wicked Trilogy, a series of three albums all casting various power metal musicians in allegorical roles. I did not listen to these and, in fact, shuddered violently just typing that sentence. For good or ill, Sammet and his Avantasia project possesses the motivation of 10 bands and will continue to create vastly dense music until the end of time. Why am I here? Oh for nothing really, just the start of Avantasia’s third album cycle.
The mystery of Time reels back some of the head scratching qualities of The Wicked Trilogy. However, in place of abstract gothic metaphors, Sammet returns to a concrete narrative involving a Victorian watchmaker exploring the relationship between spirituality and time. This strange starting point stands at the border between theology, fantasy, and the mucky arguments that can be derived from teleology and the watchmaker’s theory. Also who are those little creatures on the cover? Are they suppose to be Agnosticism? Hold on, I am not sure this is what I want anymore. Are you sure we can’t just do castles and dragons again?
It is difficult to hold Avantasia to any template of power metal because the project is, for the most part, centered around voices. While there are guitars, keyboards, and drums present on the albums, those things hold support for a multitude of choruses. Even when the voice is reduced to one, two, or 10, the center stage of the album remains centered on the inflections and singing narrative. This is perfectly fine because Avantasia’s strength lies in crafting melodies that are not only memorable but dull the sting of the other qualities we would all like to forget. I was scolded one time by using the term “operatic” to describe power metal because Opera as an artform is far from popular music. The Mystery of Time, in my opinion, maybe closer than most.
The highlights in The Mystery of Time are varied but prominent. Starting with “The Watchmakers Dream,” the choruses and pre choruses are fantastic and give much to hold on to. “When the Clock Hand Freezes” and “Dwellers in a Dream” are textbook examples of how power metal can be effective with just a mid tempo beat and a heaviness close to hard rock. If more songs were like those three I think I would be more supportive of this record. Despite all of my fascination with Avantsia, the band sets up hedges which are near impossible for me to hurdle.
Despite some undeniable moments of greatness, The Mystery of Time has glaring flaws. First and foremost, the 10 minute tracks do not justify their length. These lengthy tracks just give the creator more time to croon and swoon as if 5 minutes was not enough to run through the chorus a seventh time. Additionally, the slower parts on Mystery of Time are near unbearable. The idea of a solo piano and solo ballad should never be considered a suitable bridge for music. I understand that this is a part of the music but songs like “What’s Left of Me” will never arouse anything from me other than violent shudders of disapproval.
The Mystery of Time is not the official start of a series of albums but a new concept which startted with a small tour for Sammet. Because things in the world of Avantasia can not just come in singles, I am expecting at least three more records. Maybe 20. Is Avantasia sometimes needless? Sure. Did we need a power rock musical on the intricacies of God and time? Of course not. Do parts make me smile? Absolutely. Will I be around for the second, third, and fourth installment of this new chapter for Sammet? Goddamn right I will. Have I lost all aesthetic credibility because of my love for story and series? You better believe it.
Album: The Mystery of Time
Released: March 29th, 2013
Label: Nuclear Blast
Score: 5/9 Hammers