“It’s so fucking cold here tonight,” Tobias Sammet remarked at the audience, a towel wrapped closely around his neck, rubbing his hands in an attempt to warm them. “When we booked this show we were expecting it would be Summer. Some guys in the band were sick, but we decided not to cancel and play for you. So let’s warm ourselves with some Rock ‘n’ Roll!” During the three hours the band played, neither the rain, wind or chilling air managed to drown the audience’s enthusiasm. After all, it’s not every day that you get to see a group as ambitious as AVANTASIA.
There’s no doubt that clear skies and warmer weather would have helped completely fill the already packed Barba Negra Track open-air club. On the day of the concert, the Facebook event was filled with posts by people looking to sell their ticket to the point where I feared it might actually get canceled. Still, despite the open-air event under the looming clouds, fans welcomed each track with absolute commitment, rain or not.
Every time this colossal metal super-group wraps up another tour, each bigger than the one before, maestro Sammet warns that it might be their last (at least in a while). After they wrapped up their “Ghostlights” tour with a headlining performance at Wacken Open Air, there was likely no one who took that warning seriously.
Coincidentally, it very easily might have been the last we’ve seen of Avantasia for a while. At the verge of a burnout after nearly three decades of constant composing, promoting and touring, Sammet himself nearly closed another huge chapter in Avantasia’s history. “I don’t want to become a part of a treadmill. Because in the music business after a while nobody really understands what the artist really wants to do. People take everything for granted,” he revealed in our interview just months before this tour would start.
But with a new album in “Moonglow”, this project’s eighth so far, Sammet found new strength and inspiration to take the A-team back on the stage and on yet another trip around the globe. Their show in Budapest, Hungary follows the first, vastly successful leg of the tour that has taken the band throughout most of Europe.
Sammet did not seem tired at all. Even if he was he hid it incredibly well behind his stellar performance, easily best in years. He hit the high notes in throat-rending tracks such as “Reach Out For The Light” and the opener “Ghost In The Moon” with incredible precision and ease. Couple that with his restless stage presence, and you’ll see why many compare him to the great Bruce Dickinson. His singing was so on-point that I almost didn’t feel his longtime screaming partner Michael Kiske was missing from the roster.
The Helloween alumnus was the only guest star vocalist missing compared to the band’s previous run. Knowing the immense size of Kiske’s shoes left to be filled, Sammet recruited the man who inspired Kiske himself, former Queensrÿche frontman Geoff Tate. As if he didn’t care about the cold weather, Tate marched out on the stage wearing nothing but a vest, bursting right into the powerful “Alchemy”. I wasn’t sure if the rest of the band was admiring his voice or his total disregard of the freezing temperature at that point.
The eccentric vocalist has seen a lot of press in the last decade, some good and some bad, but if there’s one thing you cannot pin on him is that he cannot sing. Tate proved to be more than able to vocally excel at tracks such as “Invincible” and fan-favorite “Twisted Mind” and the band’s eponymous track in Kiske’s place.
The rest of the stellar cast was more than familiar to the Hungarian audience, who had the chance to see the band a little over three years ago. The returning members in Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Jorn Lande, Bob Catley (Magnum) and Eric Martin (Mr. Big) all got their chance to shine.
The same was also true for backing vocalists Herbie Langhans and Adrienne Cowan, the latter replacing longtime singer Amanda Somerville. Cowan, in particular, proved to be a worthy addition to the band, with her voice ranging from rending growls in “Book Of Shallows” to an angelic voice needed to sing a power ballad as celestial as “Farewell”, adding more to the already colorful vocal tapestry of the band.
With years spent in this band, all the guest vocalists felt at home on the stage, often taking Sammet’s place introducing some of the songs and keeping the audience engaged. For one, Eric Martin is one of the most positive, entertaining and radiant singers on the team and the chemistry he has with every member and guest of the band is a pleasure to witness. “There’s no one else who could sing this song,” Sammet jokingly introduced the Mr. Big frontman right before launching into the cover of 80’s hit “Maniac”. Sammet’s spot-on dancing moves and the energy of a whirligig got the entire audience dancing to the tune. At a metal show, nonetheless. The dancing continued throughout “Dying For An Angel” as well, also one of the personal highlights of the show.
Of all the stars, Jorn Lande traditionally received the loudest ovations that barely matched his thundering voice in tracks like “The Raven Child” or “The Scarecrow”, now a staple of the band’s show. Ronnie Atkins, now for the third time on tour with the band was more of a host than a guest, joining Tobias on a couple of new tracks such as “Starlight” and “Book Of Shallows”. Same can be said for Bob Catley, who helped Sammet breathe new life into “Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose”.
Throughout the show, the metal opera showcased the diversity of Sammet’s creativity, with bombastic, classic power metal tracks paired with symphonic heavy-weights like “Let The Storm Descend Upon You” and heart-warming, piano-driven “Lucifer” and “Invincible”. And while the guest vocalists usually get the most recognition, the experienced team behind the instruments deserves the highest praise for their trained-to-perfection performance. Everything was so perfect that you’d be led to believe the band was using backing tracks, yet every tone was played, every note sung, every snare and cymbal struck so perfectly, backing tracks are completely redundant.
Backed by 12 musicians together on the stage, Sammet bid farewell to the audience with a medley of “Sign Of The Cross” and “The Seven Angels,” but not before introducing each and every member on the stage. An all too familiar bittersweet feeling struck me as I was leaving the venue, happy to have witnessed yet another chapter in the band’s glorious history and once again wondering whether it would be the last. Judging from the viral joy the band and its mastermind Tobias Sammet shared this night, I hardly doubt we’ve seen the last of this truly unique supergroup.
Written by Jovan Ristić and Marijana Nikolić