Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Avantasia - Invoke the Machine



Tobias Sammet has returned to the Avantasia project with the new album “The Mystery of Time – A Rock Epic.” This is the sixth instalment in the Avantasia journey. My first impression of the album is that it is not as glorious as the Scarecrow Trilogy, but what could be really? “The Scarecrow,” “The Wicked Symphony” and “Angel of Babylon” are three of the best albums to come out in the past decade. My only real complaint has to be the absence of Jorn Lande, who was just so powerful and important on so many of the best Avantasia songs up till now. While it is hard to imagine Avantasia without Jorn, variety is a good thing, and Avantasia more so than most musical endeavours is a living thing, over just three projects we have seen Avantasia changing and growing with new voices and talents being added the whole time. The huge assembled cast Tobias Sammet has gathered allows for a lot of flexibility. Further to this point my favorite thing about the newest Avantasia album is the inclusion of two new singers, Mr. Big’s Eric Martin and Pretty Maids’ Ronnie Atkins.

“The Mystery of Time” has yet to be released in the United States or Canada and no date has been set for its eventual release, so I was forced to pick up a copy while in Europe, oh yes I went to Europe specifically to see Avantasia. I think my two favorite songs on the album are “Invoke the Machine” which features Ronnie Atkins and “What’s Left of Me” which features Eric Martin. If I had to pick one of these two tracks to represent the whole album I would have to go with “Invoke the Machine” since it has a little more relation to the album’s overall narrative than “What’s Left of Me.”

Every Avantasia epic has had a story to it. “The Metal Opera” was a grandiose fantasy epic and I’m still trying to figure out all the details, “The Scarecrow” was a mysterious stranger’s voyage through the planes of reality, and now “The Mystery of Time” is a man’s inner conflict between knowledge and faith, or as Tobias puts it;

“So take the time to follow me into a small old English town during the Victorian era and join a young agnostic scientist by the name Aaron Blackwell as he is forced to explore the coherencies of time, God and science; torn between belief in his professional conviction, his spiritual intuition, love and a lodge of scientific occultists.”

A song title/chorus like “Invoke the Machine” suddenly carries a heavier meaning once we are familiar with the overreaching arc of the album’s story. This song, as far as I understand it, is a breaking moment for our protagonist Aaron Blackwell, the mysteries of time are unravelling before him and he is beginning to embrace this brave new world. To invoke the machine for answers is to side with science, which is also interesting because there is something of an emotional plea in this song, something we might typically associate with spiritual intuition. The visions of fantasy are replaced with new dreams inspired by new understanding, to this end, we invoke the machine. I also think it is kind of charming that he refers to a machine to understand time as a god machine.

Of course new found knowledge is something emotional. We often don’t think of it in such a light but there is something very nearly spiritual about science and technology, largely due to the fact there is something very emotional about learning and growing, and changing. The men we once were are not the men we are today and being civilized is the simpleton’s perspective to explain the difference, civilization is forged entirely on trans-generational knowledge, a giant leap in science and technology always changes everything. It’s clever what Tobias is saying in “Invoke the Machine” he is suggesting far more than he is initially leading on.

Anyway Ronnie Atkins rocks the house in this song and it is just a great heavy metal song. “Invoke the Machine” and the rest of the “Mystery of Time” album will always mean a little more to me than just deep introspective thoughts about science and emotion, it will always remind me of my trip to Europe where I beheld the glory of Avantasia in Berlin and Hamburg, where I made dozens of friends from all over the world. I had forgotten what it meant to be happy, truly happy. I have been settling for a second rate excuse for existence until those two wonderful nights in Berlin and Hamburg. Thank you Tobias Sammet for helping me find what I had lost. With my resolve I will remember forever.

Until next month, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

P.S.

I actually met Eric Martin in the back alley after the Hamburg show and it was crazy nice, and for that reason I feel I should mention his contribution to "The Mystery of Time."  Here is the splendid ballad "What's Left of Me."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Airborne Toxic Event - Welcome to your Wedding Day



The Airborne Toxic Event is an indie rock band out of California. Founding member Mikel Jollett is a writer by trade, which, to say the least is a difficult profession to get into; so him starting a rock band as a side project was a daring move. However it appears things have worked out for Jollett, The Airborne Toxic Event debut album did well enough to justify a career in music and their second album “All at Once” is very good. A new single is out now “Timeless” and while it is far from inspiring it is exactly good enough to keep the momentum alive.

I first noticed The Airborne Toxic Event through their radio tracks “Sometime around Midnight” and “All I ever Wanted” both songs are quite good and very emotional. Also both songs have the words of a very young man experiencing things for the very first time, the simple explanation to this might be that a very young man has written these lyrics, however knowing that lyricist Jollett is a writer first I had a moment of wonder as to why he used such a point blank approach. The more sophisticated a writer the more frequently they try to avoid saying exactly what they mean, not the case here. It could be The Airborne Toxic Event is a band that is all about show casing base emotion, and this is done effectively with examples just mentioned. There is method to this approach even though it can come across as immature at times, but it is not as if every Toxic Airborne Event song is the same.

I picked up “All at Once” in the winter of 2012; it had two songs I knew and liked on it “All I ever Wanted” and “Numb” so I took a chance. The best thing that can happen when you buy a CD only knowing a few songs is discovering that you like at least one song much more than any of the songs you were previously familiar with, which is exactly what happened to me with “All at Once.” There are two songs that flow together on the disc “The Kids are Ready to Die” and “Welcome to your Wedding Day” and this two song set is the best part of the entire album, which is saying a lot since “Numb” is a really good song. “The Kids are Ready to Die” with long echoing bass chords accompanied by a quiet acoustic guitar and gloomy grey words is the perfect way to build up to the faster heavier “Welcome to your Wedding Day.” And the chorus line really sinks in before the song’s end;

“The kids are lined up on the wall, and they’re ready to die”

“Welcome to your Wedding Day” almost plays like a marching song, at least the drum line does, but feels like something else altogether when the lead guitar shakes things up. But what makes this song so great is Jollett’s voice, he really has passion for what he is saying in this song, and the lyrics are just so rich;

“And you know it’s begun,
From the crack of the guns,
And the screams from the mouths of babes,
And we pray, as we’re watching the charade.
Welcome to your wedding day.”

As fantastic as a chorus as this is, what is he saying? Honestly, I am not entirely certain, both songs are in obvious protest against something but the specifics are not very clear. During a live performance while introducing “Welcome to your Wedding Day” Jollett said;

“This song is anit-Bush not anti America.”

Okay well that makes some sense at least we now know who The Airborne Toxic Event are protesting against. Granted Bush is an easy target, because he was really bad at his job and we all know it. Still the details are still rather unclear, what exactly about Bush has set Jollet off? I am sure it would all make perfect sense if Jollet explained point blank, like he has in some of his other songs however I am glad he has not. The deep yet ambiguous lyrics in this song allows room for interpretation and projection, and a song like this, a protest song, is something we all can relate to. Everyone wants to change the world in one way or another, and many of us are very passionate about it, by leaving things open, or unclear, Jollet has allowed us to project our desires for change onto this song.

Also a great line;

“We don’t negotiate with terror,
We only watch them beg.”

I am not sure whether the above line is meant to be admired because it is so bad ass or despised because it is meant to be interrupted as terrible, probably the later, but it is a bad ass thing to say nonetheless.

“All at Once” was the great surprise album for me last year. I did not expect it to be great, and yeah, it sort of is, and since it unlikely to ever get any radio play I highly recommend you heed my advice and listen to “Welcome to your Wedding Day.”

Until I get back from Europe, keep on rocking in the free world.

- Colin Kelly

P.S.

You really should listen to "The Kids are ready to Die" before "Welcome to your Wedding Day," they belong together.