When it was announced in 2008 that Avantasia was going to hit the road and bring its majestic metal brilliance to the masses I was overcome with joy. Initially. Then I remembered that I live in the US and was overcome with despondence. Then I brightened up again for surely Tobi would arrange to have these massive shows filmed! Then I despaired when I found out the release would be on indefinite hold while Tobi took care of his duties to Edguy and worked on new Avantasia material.
This vicious cycle finally came to a close this week when Avantasia – The Flying Opera: Around the World in 20 Days arrived at my door! For those not wise to European Power Metal, Avantasia is the brainchild of Edguy frontman Tobias Sammet and features a huge ensemble cast of characters that deliver the most bombastic cuts of music you will ever hear. I previously wrote about Avantasia’s third album, The Scarecrow, in my top 10 feature. These shows were done the summer following the release of that album and feature most of the musicians that appeared on that record.
Avantasia is such a big production that it seemed impossible to take it on the road, and that was the feeling Tobias had as well. Too many pieces, too many schedules to accommodate. But as he elaborates on the included documentary, the promoters behind Germany’s massive Wacken Open Air festival called to make an offer for Avantasia to headline (when Tobi declined, they went to Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden was their second choice!) the festival, and that’s what got the ball rolling. Yes he initially declined, but after talking it over with Avantasia guitarist and super producer Sascha Paeth, Tobi was convinced it could happen and made arrangements to headline the festival’s second night.
Avantasia would end up playing a handful of festivals and some other one-off shows in pretty much all parts of the world except North America. I am not angry by that at all, America doesn’t support metal. It comes with the turf. Our music scene is shit and our culture worships disposable beats and giant egos.
The shows at Wacken and Masters of Rock in the Czech Republic were filmed for a DVD release and this is it. It took forever to get the thing out, nearly three years, but I am happy to report it was worth the wait. It has only been released in Europe thus far, so if you want it you’ll have to go through an import shop (like I did) or through Nuclear Blast’s webstore, but they’ll kill you on shipping. I was able to score a copy of the deluxe edition for 40 bucks. That’s two DVD’s and two CD’s in a fabulous (yes, I said fabulous in a metal DVD review) digi-book style packaging. The digi-books contain numerous photos of the band’s trek around the globe for the tour. It also contains an exhaustive credits section for each performance. Sadly, there are no liner notes from Tobi like the ones included in the gold version of The Metal Opera and special edition of The Wicked Symphony/Angel of Babylon set. Tobi is often a fun read as he’s quite candid and has a good sense of humor so that omission is not only disappointing, it’s actually rather surprising.
The meat of the set is of course the concert footage. The footage features performances from both Wacken and Masters of Rock. Presumably, the editors took the best from each show to put the package together. I also believe Kai Hansen was not on hand for the Wacken performance so that’s another reason to include footage from Masters. The footage from Wacken is noticeably better. The stage is bigger and lighting is much brighter than the comparably dank Masters of Rock stage. It almost looks like there’s a slight fuzz to the picture from the Masters of Rock footage when compared to Wacken. It probably wouldn’t be as noticeable if the show didn’t switch from one to the next on the fly. Thus said, it isn’t horrible but definitely noticeable.
The audio for both is quite excellent, and I suppose that’s the important part. The guitars and bass sections are at the appropriate level and all of the vocalists give excellent performances. It’s hard to say who shines the brightest as there are so many great moments. The ageless Bob Catley is used somewhat sparingly, but he really steals the spotlight for “The Story Ain’t Over.” Jorn Lande is predictably powerful, though he does struggle slightly during the faster parts of “The Scarecrow.” Olli Hartmann is excellent on backing vocals and really nails his leads on “I Don’t Believe in Your Love.” Andre Matos sings his own parts on the songs from The Metal Opera, and also handles all of Michael Kiske’s parts. The exclusion of Kiske is a disappointment, but also expected as that guy never tours (until 2010 when he did do a few shows with Avantasia that I really wish could have been added to this set at the last minute). Kai Hansen puts down the axe to take over Alice Cooper’s role on “The Toy Master” and absolutely nails it. Tobi is his usual self as sort of the ring leader of the whole thing. He’s out there for every song and does a nice job. He does struggle noticeably on “Another Angel Down” but that’s a really difficult song to sing and he doesn’t let it drag him down. I should point out, there is at least one instance where it is obvious Tobi over-dubbed his vocals, and that’s on the high parts during “Farewell” as the audio isn’t perfectly synced with the video. I’m always a little disappointed when a musician feels the need to cover-up the live aspect. The original audio is available on youtube should anyone choose to try and find it, and it wasn’t that bad, his voice gives out on one of the highs not unlike what he experienced during “Another Angel Down.”
For the band, it’s Paeth and Hartmann that shine the most as the lead axe-men. Paeth is an excellent guitar player and anybody that’s listened to the Avantasia albums he’s played on is well aware of that fact. Hartmann, on the other hand, is a nice surprise on lead as before this (as Tobi points out) most of us only knew of him as a vocalist. He rips it up here and both guys add some nice touches to dress-up the old songs with out seeming showy.
The set-list is quite good though likely the thing fans will most obsess over. It’s definitely Scarecrow heavy but most of the old classics are included. Considering, aside from a couple one-offs, that none of these had been played live before nothing actually feels old. Some will likely lament the fact that The Metal Opera Part II is under represented in the set-list, and they’ll be right. Only one song is played in full, “No Return,” while the chorus to “The Seven Angels” is sung medley style to close out the show. It’s hard to figure where another track from that album would fit though. I suppose “Chalice of Agony” could have been included at the expense of another fast song. “Anywhere” is a great power ballad, but would seem redundant after the inclusion of “Farewell” and “Inside.” For the 2010 tour Tobi did dust-off “In Quest For,” but at the expense of the superior “The Story Ain’t Over” so maybe he did the right thing this time out.
As far as the best performance goes, it’s really hard to pick. “Promised Land” is excellent and “The Scarecrow” has that big, epic feel it kind of lacked in the studio. I already mentioned Mr. Catley’s fantastic performance on “The Story Ain’t Over,” and I really enjoy “Farewell.” The closer is great too, a medley of “Sign of the Cross” with everyone on stage that goes into “The Seven Angels.” Bottom-line, there is no bad performance. I think fans will be very pleased in that regard.
Disc 2 contains a documentary of the tour. It runs around an hour and it’s mostly Tobi talking about the experience and serves as a brief history of the whole Avantasia project. It’s informative, but a bit underwhelming. There’s no interviews with the other people involved and doesn’t really do a good job of making the viewer understand what it was like to be on tour with the band. It’s one of those things most will watch once and then put it aside. The special features just include the three Avantasia music videos: “Lost in Space,” “Carry Me Over,” and “Dying for an Angel.” As I mentioned before, some clips from last year’s tour would have made for great special features, or the footage that wasn’t used for disc 1 so that fans would have the entire Wacken and Masters of Rock footage.
The second digi-book contains another photo-booklet and two CD’s of the performance. It’s just the audio from the DVD’s but it’s still pretty fantastic. It’s crystal clear, just like the DVD, and makes for a nice companion piece. I’ve been listening to it non-stop all week and I’m the type of person who gets bored with live albums real fast. I believe there’s a standard edition of the The Flying Opera that is just the DVD, but if you’re interested in this do yourself a favor and just get the combo pack. You get the snazzy packaging and two CD’s. Of course, I’m an Avantasia fanatic so take that for what it’s worth.
Ultimately, if you’re an Avantasia fan you should definitely get your hands on this collection. Especially if you’re like me and had no shot of seeing the actual show as this is likely as close as you’ll get. Yes it is disappointing that it took so long to get the thing released, and once done, a tour featuring Kiske had passed us by and they skimped on the extras. As they say, beggars can’t be choosers. This has just vaulted to the top of my favorite concert DVD’s list over the likes of Maiden, Opeth, Kamelot, and assorted others, where it likely will remain for a long time to come.
The full setlist:
- Twisted Mind
- The Scarecrow
- Another Angel Down
- Prelude/Reach Out for the Light
- No Return
- The Story Ain’t Over
- Shelter From the Rain
- Lost in Space
- I Don’t Believe In Your Love
- Serpents in Paradise
- Promised Land
- The Toy Master
- The Sign of the Cross/The Seven Angels (Medley)