Hells bells. Avaland‘s cover art for their new album Theater of Sorcery almost got the better of me. Because right away, I could not help but be harassed by a psychedelic vision of Avantasia’s Ghostlights.1) And this came about, because – their art indeed resembles what Tobias Hammet’s outfit presented some time ago. In an ominous and geeky kind of way.
But actually, the cover perfectly fits in with the ubiquitous Power Metal theme. But – more importantly – it goes well with Avaland‘s calling that they claim to be metal operas.
A style direction that already makes me cringe before I even listened to the first note of any piece out there. Not because it’s a bad idea, but because true mastery of that kind of thing is few and far between. Such projects are difficult to conceive, and even more complex to arrange and execute.
More often than not, the perpetrators lose themselves in an abject fondue fest. Sugary-sweet and totally overdone bombast that – as I said before – makes me cringe. And usually, they throw the fucking kitchen sink at you in their fervor to show off their wares – and call that thing names like ‘totally epic’. And that often makes matters much worse. In fact, the only two masters of the trade that come to mind immediately are the aforementioned Avantasia (Power Metal) and the prog infused stuff Lucassen’s Ayreon2) throws at us.
So, you’ll understand why I needed some courage to don the headphones and let ‘er rip. Yet right away, Theater of Sorcery hits you with refreshing rock and metal songs that don’t quite exude that awful cheesy stench. Instead, I get a slightly roasted Power Metal concoction. A bit Kamelot-esque at times, but that’s alright. And sometimes, this sounds a little bit like something Arrayan Path should have done. If only they were to construct a more useful record that won’t land them in silly land.
Instead, Adrien G. Gzagg wrote a pretty tight storyline that comes with an army of guest musicians/performers. And as always, once the storyline stands, good arrangement follows. It’s also interesting to note that Gzagg actually took a few clues from bands like Avantasia before starting the Avaland project. Yet, Theater of Sorcery is far away from being a copy of Sammet’s outfit. It looks like the band watched and learned, and then hit the recording studio with their very own ideas.
Already the first two tracks – the remarkable Theater of Sorcery and the excellent Gypsum Flower – deliver a sturdy metal diet that piles hook after hook on top of everything like a drunken fisherman on steroids. And behold, once Storyteller hits yer earphones, you’ll get treated with a true Power Metal war cry. One that sounds a wee bit like Brittney Slayes with some room to improve.3) But hey, we don’t get them too often anymore, right?
Now, let’s break a lance for Avaland.
We can of course disagree on what ‘too much cheese’ actually means. But this band’s idea of epic rather resides in providing a procession of well-written Power Metal songs. As opposed to their brethren in that trade that will often stack the cheese higher than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. With the sole purpose to reap ever moar clicks and listens on streaming services.
And that sturdy delivery didn’t quite surprise us, given the impressive mass of talent Theater of Sorcery includes. The list of guests is so long, it would kill the boundaries of this review to list them here. Yet despite all that, the record remains a no-nonsense version of what a Power Metal concoction usually represents.
And the refreshing and pretty impressive musical prowess the core band pushes at us really got the best of this crew here. The RMR deck crew specifically relished the excellent guitar work that is omnipresent. Down to those somewhat weird, yet excellent licks and solos that suddenly pop up out of nowhere.
And you get it all, from Heavy Metal, discreet injections of some Symphonic Metal, to typical Power Metal concoctions. And all that even includes singalong pieces like Holy Kingdom of Fools and – a ballad. Because – you know – this metal opera thing says they have to.
But joking apart, I’ll Be Ready For Your Love is a worthy slow-motion piece. One that did almost make me lose weight, it’s so sugar-free. If we compare it to others in this business, that is. Even if that particular piece sails a tad too close to sins committed by early Leave’s Eyes and the likes of Sirenia.4)
To conclude, the mighty office suite at RMR was pleasantly surprised by Theater of Sorcery. We kind of expected the ultimate Battle of the Cheesecake, but instead got ourselves a no-nonsense rock piece. A neat selection of tracks that confidently sails on a sturdy storyline, outstanding musical prowess, and – more importantly – some truly well-written content. A production that took its clues from the masters of the trade. But it’s no copy, and we appreciate that.
All of that goodness leads to an enthusiastic debut album that this crew truly relished. Living proof that even a metal opera has no need for overblown theatrics and sickening bombast. A sturdy storyline and a great portion of musical talent are more than enough.
And – finally – to add to Gzagg‘s musings, once this Covid disaster is over, we’ll be happy to send RMR incognito to one of their concerts. I’d like to see that storyline in action. Because – let’s face it – this tale calls for a pretty sumptuous live production, and I reckon it will be good.