Three hours, no support, THIRTEEN musicians on stage (Nine of whom are vocalists) AND it’s their first ever headline show in the UK. This all sounds like a recipe for disaster but Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet has already overcome countless other obstacles in order to make his “Metal Opera” project Avantasia a success. Besides, his love of all things English is well-known (he even wrote a song about it on Edguy’s last album), so the sold-out crowd at the Forum are no doubt confident that the international line-up Sammet’s assembled will be able to deliver the goods.
Entering to Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (the famous music from 2001: A Space Odyssey) and with a stage layout containing raised platforms depicting a gothic graveyard, it doesn’t take long for Avantasia to make an impression and grab the audience’s attention. Even though there are many things that could go wrong with such an ambitious production, the mood throughout the show is reasonably relaxed, like an intimate gathering of close friends. Tobias Sammet is a consummate entertainer and Master of Ceremonies, with plenty of banter between himself, the crowd and his fellow singers. In addition to regular collaborators Amanda Somerville and Oliver Hartmann, and new addition Herbie Langhans, on additional vocals throughout the show, a succession of guest vocalists are introduced, each contributing to a handful of songs: Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Unisonic), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids, Nordic Union), Bob Catley (Magnum), Jørn Lande (ex-Masterplan) and Eric Martin (Mr. Big). Each guest star adds their own unique component, and the effect is that the evening becomes like a Metal version of the Royal Variety Performance. As with that event though, not every joke or story properly hits the mark tonight; some between-song chats go on a bit, and Eric Martin in particular is nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is. This is a small concern though, and hardly detracts from the music.
One thing that Tobias Sammet and Avantasia should certainly be commended for is that they’ve made good use of the 3 hour running time here. Despite the epic nature of the music (several songs are 10+ minutes), this is not a Prog Rock gig where half the time is taken up by tedious drum solos and mind-numbingly boring jams. Tonight, more time = more songs; 24 in total. New album Ghostlights has been generally well-received and so choosing to play 7 songs from it proves to be a sensible decision; Lucifer and Let the Storm Descend Upon You, both featuring the iron-lunged Jørn Lande, go down particularly well.
However, as with pretty much any other gig by any Metal band ever, there are certain people here tonight who just want to hear “the old stuff”. Avantasia’s first two albums, The Metal Opera, Parts 1 & 2, definitely feature a more traditional strain of Symphonic Power Metal than all their subsequent albums, but anyone who came here hoping the band would play lots of earlier songs is bound to be somewhat disappointed. To be honest, while I think Tobias Sammet is justified in having confidence in his more recent material, I think shuffling the setlist a bit would have been a good idea. Nine of the first ten songs are from Ghostlights and its immediate predecessor The Mystery of Time, with most of the older songs crammed in together near the end of the show. Front-ending your setlist with lots of recent material is the sort of thing that makes a lot of long-term fans restless and impatient but hey, you can’t please everyone (and there’s surely no perfect way to coordinate all the different singers!)
Minor quibbles about the setlist and between-song banter aside, Avantasia’s performance tonight cannot really be faulted. Kudos to the band for sustaining a tight, energetic show for three hours, and every singer delivers to the best of their abilities. Avantasia’s future is always uncertain due to the project’s logistical complexity but Tobias Sammet assures the crowd that, if they tour again, there will certainly be a return to the UK. I can’t imagine many people here tonight wouldn’t want to return for that.
Setlist (with singers in brackets)
- Mystery of a Blood Red Rose (Sammet)
- Ghostlights (Sammet, Kiske)
- Invoke the Machine (Sammet, Atkins)
- Unchain the Light (Sammet, Atkins, Kiske)
- A Restless Heart and Obsidian Skies (Sammet, Catley)
- The Great Mystery (Sammet, Catley)
- The Scarecrow (Sammet, Lande)
- Lucifer (Sammet, Lande)
- The Watchmakers’ Dream (Sammet, Hartmann)
- What’s Left of Me (Sammet, Martin)
- The Wicked Symphony (Hartmann, Lande, Somerville, Langhans, Kiske)
- Draconian Love (Sammet, Langhans)
- Farewell (Sammet, Somerville, Kiske)
- Stargazers (Kiske, Lande, Atkins, Hartmann)
- Shelter from the Rain (Sammet, Kiske, Catley)
- The Story Ain’t Over (Sammet, Catley)
- Let the Storm Descend Upon You (Sammet, Lande, Atkins)
- Promised Land (Sammet, Lande)
- Prelude/Reach Out for the Light (Sammet, Kiske)
- Avantasia (Sammet, Kiske)
- Twisted Mind (Martin, Atkins)
- Dying for an Angel (Sammet, Martin)
- Lost in Space (Sammet, Somerville)
- Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels (All)