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Avantasia - "The Scarecrow" (CD)

Avantasia - "The Scarecrow" CD cover image

"The Scarecrow" track listing:

01. Twisted Mind
02. The Scarecrow
03. Shelter From The Rain
04. Carry Me Over
05. What Kind Of Love
06. Another Angel Down
07. The Toy Master
08. Devil In The Belfry
09. Cry Just A Little
10. I Don't Believe In Your Love
11. Lost In Space

Reviewed by on August 26, 2008

"For good or for bad, Avantasia never doubt their own vision."

"The Scarecrow" follows the template for Avantasia's previous and equally extravagant release "Metal Opera." Bandleader and idea man Tobias Sammet (also of German power metallers Edguy) spends a lot of time plotting out epic compositions and working out the high concept parts, then flips through his phone for more guest musicians and vocalists than the album has minutes.

Enough explanation, let's get right to the punchline: if you don't rock out to power metal, you shouldn't bother with this release. If you can't handle Spandex headbands and sparkly guitar solos and a few unforgivably schmaltzy ballads here and there, Avantasia aren't going to be the band that changes your mind. Some of the moments from their new album "The Scarecrow" are worthy of a giggle-fit, and all the musical concepts on display are profoundly dated, but that whole rant misses the point of Avantasia. They're a group that represents their entire dying genre, and they don't aspire to change the world. They just want an epic messy blast of a good time.

Although "The Scarecrow" never strays from power metal's most traditional sounds, Sammet brings in enough striking elements to make each song easily identifiable. Avantasia can tackle all-out war metal and the tenderest ballads with equal fervor, and most of the tunes are powered by striking vocal hooks. Opener "Twisted Mind" stands out as one of the catchiest metal songs I've heard all year. Avantasia's superb clean and bright production emphasizes the layered, soaring harmonies that define power metal songwriting.

Despite everyone's best intentions, though, too much of this album feels like a warmed over Dream Theater that lacks the technical chops. Imagine those perennial prog mavens without the prog, and you've got Avantasia, right down to the puffed chest falsetto keening. The worst offender is "Carry Me Over," which jacks most of its vocal melody from Dream Theater's classic "Pull Me Under."

At his best, Sammet comes up with silly, overwrought masterpieces of focused power metal. But his stock-in-trade is songs, not compositions, and when he tries to stretch his songs into compositions, they can fall apart. Many of these tracks wind down early, running out of excitement and variety. The six minute tunes on display should last about four-and-a-half, and the eleven minute title track could have easily been chopped in half. Just scratch "What Kind Of Love" off your CD with a fork. That saccharine duet with Amanda Somerville evokes the worst of Celine Dion. It's the only track here that's completely unforgivable.

But if you do rock out to power metal, you don't need to bother reading this review. "The Scarecrow" is what you're looking for, and Tobias Sammet does it uncompromisingly well. For good or for bad, Avantasia never doubt their own vision. They never look back or mess around with irony. It's your call whether they follow that vision toward majesty or Camembert.

Highs: Well crafted and catchy vocal hooks that power the songs.

Lows: Unless you're willing to swish your hair, it's all just incredibly cheesy.

Bottom line: Avantasia still carry power metal's torch long after the genre burnt down.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)