Some concept albums work better without the concept. Avantasia, the first of a two-part metal opera written by Tobias Sammet, lead singer for Germany's power metalheads Edguy, is one such album. The stunning 13-track record suffers a bit from the convoluted and overlong fantasy story line (poorly written in broken English) about deceit, treachery, religion, imprisonment and witchcraft. I realize that the intent of an opera is to tell a story, but this story is better left untold. Just let these songs – among the best I've heard this year – stand on their own.
With contributing singers ranging from Sammet, Kai Hansen (Gamma Ray) and Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius) to David DeFeis (Virgin Steele) and Rob Rock (Warrior), Avantasia is loaded with tracks that are remarkable not only for their vocal performances, but for their consistency. With the exception of perhaps the bombastic and cloying "The Glory of Rome," these songs singe your ears with melodic riffs, hooks and choruses atypical of today's power-metal scene. The first three major vocal tracks -- "Reach Out for the Light," "Serpents in Paradise" and "Breaking Away" – electrify with their confidence and set the pace for the rest of Avantasia. What's more, the musicianship of guitarists Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray) and Jens Ludwig (Edguy), bass player Markus Grosskopf (Helloween) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody) is impeccable.
This is over-the-top stuff, to be sure, but this is also clearly the work of a metal genius who not only knows how to craft songs around specific voices, but also how to make them riveting and memorable. If Sammet had ditched the silly story, Avantasia would be among my contenders for one of the top 10 albums of the year.