The release of a new Avantasia album is a lot like the stages of grief; it's a process. There's an announcement; you know an album is on the way. You're given a name and artwork. Now you can see that it is, in fact, real. The list of guest appearances begins to take shape. This is the most agonizing step. They come slowly, one at a time, teasing and tantalizing with their possible contributions. Maybe a snippet surfaces, or even a full song. What would seem like a way to hold your appetite at bay is exactly the opposite, a scant morsel that feeds into your anticipation. Finally, it happens. You've made it through the journey, trying to balance hope and expectation. And then you hear it. Ghostlights has, by and large, adhered to this time honored and, frankly, well-oiled formula that Tobias Sammet has followed for countless years. He's mastered, among other things, the slow musical burn. But it's only maintained it's power of you for one reason: he delivers, each and every time.
Sammet is a consummate performer, something he brings from the stage to the studio, perhaps better than any other frontman in melodic metal. It's that energy that makes an Avantasia album tick, and this one is no different. While as a standalone track, Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose seemed too poppy for it's own good, it serves as a icebreaker for an album that wastes little time in the build-up phase. So much of the album's success can be credited to pacing, and the constant forward motion. Even when things slow down for the inevitable ballad, it isn't at the cost of momentum. It's what makes an album that stands well over the 40 minute mark, and shrinks it down into something that feels significantly shorter. With guitar leads from Bruce Kulick, Oliver Hartmann, and Sascha Paeth, Ghostlights also boasts the normal variety in sound and tone. Like the vocalists that garner much of the spotlight, they rbing their own unique style to each track.
And speaking of the singers, the list of co-stars and contributors was hit and miss for some, but until you've heard their little piece of the record, it's increasingly hard to pass judgment. That said, there are clear winners. The ensemble piece that is Let The Storm Descend Upon You is one of the more finely tuned tracks Sammet has put out in his last few efforts. It works on a number of levels, thriving in the grand, joint chorus segments. The trio of Jorn Lande, Ronnie Atkins, and Robert Mason are the perfect complement, just different enough to stand out without throwing off the not-so-delicate balance. It's the common bond between the best collaborations on the album, whether it be a duet with Sharon den Adel (which replicates the success of a previous piece with Amanda Somerville), or the high speed Master of The Pendulum with Marco Hietala; there is a comfort there that shines through. But the biggest surprise comes in the form of The Haunting, an unlikely pairing of Sammet with Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider. It brings to mind the Alice Cooper-led song The Toy Master from The Scarecrow album, hinging on a level of darkness on an album rife with lighthearted anthems.
Each and every pairing on the album is like catching the proverbial lightning in a bottle; if given a hundred more chances together, there is never a guarantee that any of them would match or exceed what they've captured here. If you take a minute to expand that in your head, it speaks volumes for the production that goes into making any and all of the Avantasia albums to date. Remove Geoff Tate and input Fabio Leone. is the track better, worse, or the same? Out with den Adel, in with Charlotte Wessels. Now what? All capable and talented vocalists in their own right, but the precision of the choice cannot be ignored.
It almost feels like the discussion of any Avantasia record is the same; Sammet's strengths are highlighted, any shortcomings are masked or hidden completely, and the end result is generally the same. Your patience and dedication is rewarded with another stellar foray into metal collaboration. This time around, though, it deviates from that norm. This isn't the same metal opera largely made famous by this project; it's grown progressively more dynamic, straying away from the formula of the early records, and ignoring the perceived boundaries once in play. It isn't a complete 180° turn, of course. Sammet and company have perfected a style that has rarely, if ever, been duplicated by anyone else, and there is no reason to jump ship now. Whether that speaks to a growing number of fans and listeners, though, has yet to be determined. In the end, Ghostlights is the album you hoped for when you saw the original announcement. It's the album you wanted when you saw the guestlist. And it'll hold you over until the next time you restart the cycle.