AVANTASIA “Versus” AYREON – Round 2: ‘The Watchmaker’s Dream’

By Carl Begai

I recently attended a listening session for Avantasia’s new album, The Mystery Of Time, at Nuclear Blast headquarters in Donzdorf, Germany for BW&BK. An excerpt from my report is available below. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the strength of the record, which made a much bigger impression on me than Avantasia founder Tobias Sammet’s previous double-album venture, The Wicked Symphony / Angel Of Babylon.

Folks have said vocalist Tobias Sammet (Edguy) and guitarist/producer Sascha Paeth lost the plot last time out in 2010 by releasing a 22 song double album that pounded the listener into submission with too much information. The Mystery Of Time sees the dynamic duo taking a step back and focusing on crafting a ‘simple’ no-nonsense rock opera; 10 songs, two of ’em ballads, two of them hitting the 10+ minute mark, and influences/inspiration worn shamelessly on the Avantasia sleeve. Of all their releases thus far, the new record is by far the most theatrical, a point driven home by opening track ‘Spectres’, the epic ‘Savior In The Clockwork’, and the closing Meat Loaf-esque ‘The Great Mystery’. The use of a flesh and blood orchestra really DOES make a difference against dial-up digital magic, made all the more special because the boys didn’t use it on every single track (which is usually the downfall of productions like this).

Plenty of heavy over-the-top metal moments from Paeth’s treasure trove of riffs, to guitar leads from Bruce Kulick (ex-KISS) on three tracks, and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) trading licks with keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (Rough Silk) on ‘The Watchmaker’s Dream’. Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween) blows the doors off with his circa ’87 performance on ‘Where Clock Hands Freeze’ (speedy and heavy), but the big prize goes to ‘Invoke The Machine’ for it’s blatant tip of the hat to cult fave Danish bashers Pretty Maids featuring PM vocalist Ronnie Atkins in a duet with Tobi. Several journalists at the session agreed the song is the high point of the record.

My complete first impression overview of the album can be found here.

Since the session I caught up with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen – a metal opera veteran in his own right – who has been part of a media-fed rivalry with Sammet (against his will) for the last few years. He offered his thoughts on taking part in ‘The Watchmaker’s Dream’, which features Lucassen shredding up a storm on guitar, not as a guest vocalist as most people assumed he would be. It’s fair to say even the diehard Ayreon fans will be surprised by the fireworks he brings to the party.

“I’m quite proud of it,” Lucassen says of his contribution to the song. “Tobi contacted me a few years ago, when both our Avantasia and Ayreon albums were released simultaneously with even some of the same musicians. Apparently, he said something not so nice about me in an interview, and he mailed me to tell me he didn’t mean it that way. We got talking and we totally clicked! I hated him for getting Alice Cooper and he hated me for getting Bruce Dickinson (laughs). As a joke we released a cover of the Alice Cooper song ‘Elected’ in which we played out our vendetta ‘yelling’ at each other. To repay the favour, I played a solo on his Avantasia project. The track he sent me really inspired me. I’m proud of the solo I did, and proud of being part of this great project. I still hate him, though (laughs).”

Watch for an interview with Sammet about The Mystery Of Time coming to BW&BK soon. The album will be released on March 30th.

Check out Sammet’s and Lucassen’s first collaboration, for a cover of the Alice Cooper classic ‘Elected’, here.