Avantasia

The Wicked Symphony/Angel of Babylon

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Two discs of relentless power metal are an overkill for most listeners, even style fans, but Tobias Sammet deserves credit for never letting the quality dip throughout the whole 119 combined minutes of Wicked Symphony/Angel of Babylon. His first musical outlet, Edguy, initially suffered from an almost puppy-dog-ish excitement about the galloping riffs and soaring vocals -- though understandable, given that most members were barely out of their teens when their debut came out. But Sammet was 32 at the time of Symphony/Angel's release, and his moods and songwriting chops have matured accordingly, and enjoyably. The music on Wicked Symphony, the darker installment in the set, would actually fit a playlist of any stoner rock fan -- it's not stoner per se, the inspiration coming rather from Accept or primeval Helloween, but it's the same type of powerful, no-frills riff-o-rama, set apart only by its love of lyrical clich├ęs and kitschy fantastic imagery (well, maybe just its own kind of kitschy fantastic imagery). Angel of Babylon, the brighter disc of the lot, sports a good deal of elevated synth-backed choruses reminiscent of Europe and like-minded hair metal acts of the '80s -- it's no attempt to write the new "Final Countdown," but you can tell the song played in the back of Sammet's mind in the studio. The differences are barely audible, though, and the important thing is, in any case, that while the set is not catchy in the Lady Gaga sense, it includes some two dozen prime quality hard rock tracks that any band plying distorted guitar wares would not be ashamed to have in its catalog. Nothing new, of course, and still plenty of pomp here; besides, the slew of guest vocalists, ranging from Michael Kiske to Jon Oliva, only boosts the impression of a two-disc power metal sampler. But that's also the whole point -- the guys are great singers, the music is plain good, and so it's a real treat as long as you don't care about originality.

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