Tobi Sammet’s Avantasia cavalcade in a live setting. When Sentinel Daily C-in-C Scott Adams told me he’d take a review of this I must admit I felt a bit daunted. How to encapsulate in mere words the sheer visceral excitement of seeing the Avantasia concept albums – every one of them a classic, to my mind – in the flesh? I’d have a go, I said, but don’t hold out much hope for anything beyond hysterical gibbering (no difference to normal then – Ed)…
By the time the band come on in pitch darkness, I’m reaching breaking point with excitement, even if the crowd, as a whole, seems remarkably calm. When they open with the Wagner-meets-Meat Loaf pomp overload of Mystery of a Blood Red Rose, however, everyone goes mental which is comforting as it means I don’t draw attention to myself. Here’s Tobi, like an elfin combination of Magnum’s Bob Catley and Night Ranger frontman Jack Blades leading from the front, gargantuan pipes backed up by his faithful retainers Herbie Langhans (Seventh Avenue) and Amanda Somerville. It’s a great opening, despite a few sound glitches.
By the time Jørn Lande stalks onstage during The Scarecrow everything sounds great, although Lande himself seems a bit subdued. Bob Catley (here in the flesh purely so I can continue my comparison between him and Sammet) is up next for a run through The Story Ain’t Over from the Lost in Space album, and unfortunately it doesn’t sound good. The man has obviously earned his place in our hearts through his performances on some classic hard rock albums, but tonight it seems almost cruel to make him sing a song he clearly can’t manage anymore.
I’m feeling a bit miffed at this point, but a truly hair-raising rendition of Dying for an Angel, featuring Mr Big’s Eric Martin smashes any feelings of woe that I’m experiencing at this point. Martin eats the song alive, hamming it up with Sammet as the pair trade vocal lines and scarf tips, and one of the Wacken 2017 moments for me is created by these two on stage.
Martin remains onstage for a grinding Twisted Mind, one of the highlights from the Scarecrow album, and he’s so good that Roy Khan, who sang the song on the album, isn’t missed at all.
Langhans steps out from backing vox duties to take lead on Reach Out for the Light, and then Somerville follows him into the spotlight for Farewell. Both are good, but diffuse the momentum a little.
That’s not such a big problem as you might think as, despite the grandiose nature of Avantasia, Sammet is quite happy to stop proceedings to chat – at length – amiably with the audience. At one point he holds an amusing shouting contest between German and non-German speakers – we win – but his good humour and humility shines through whenever he stops singing and starts talking. In German or English.
This is no more evident than when he welcomes Geoff Tate on stage, clearly very happy to be in the presence of the Queensrÿche singer, a man who, in his opinion, has influenced ‘every Euro power metal singer on the fucking planet’. Tate is similarly gracious, explaining that Avantasia has been ‘in his heart’ for a long time before giving a good account of himself on the band’s theme tune, at the end of which Sammet ululates ‘he’s not a hologram – he’s Geoff fucking Tate!’.
Shelter from the Rain sees Langhans and Catley return, Catley surprisingly handling the much heavier song far better than his earlier effort. He stays to be joined by Sammet and Lande on a slightly ramshackle Runaway Train; Lande this time gives an impassioned performance, perhaps driven on by the presence onstage of a God like Catley. The diminutive Brummie in turn ups his game, giving his best performance of the evening,
Lande stays onstage to lead the band through a scintillating Promised Land, with guitarists Oliver Hartmann and Sascha Paeth chugging away like demons in the background. Paeth in particular plays heroically all night, though Hartmann is clearly no slouch either. Promised Land is one of the definite highlights of the set.
Sammet then spends some time telling us about the special qualities of Lande, who tries several times to get the next song going before giving up and letting Sammet rile the Kreator fans waiting for their favourites to start up on the other stage. Almost inevitably another contest breaks out between the two sets of fans before an intense rendition of Let the Storm Descend on You sweeps everyone up and spits them out in its wake.
Lost in Space is great, and Somerville hits all the noes, but it’s a bit lightweight when put up against a closing brace of Sign of the Cross and The Seven Angels, which close out proceedings in frankly ridiculous, and very metal, fashion.
A few glitches, then – unavoidable in the festival arena, surely, but when Avantasia hit the heights there are few acts on the planet to touch them. And there were more than enough of those moments tonight to make this a very worthwhile experience indeed.