Fifteen years ago, Edguy frontman, Tobias Sammet tapped into his alter ego to create the symphonic power metal project, Avantasia. Over the course of a decade-and-a-half his initial concept, which began with the albums The Metal Opera I & II, has grown into a massive series of operatic heavy rock records featuring some of metal’s most notable talents. On January 29, the next chapter in the Avantasia journey, Ghostlights, will be released.
Sammet wrote the album’s first single, “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose”, which he hails as “the perfect overture to the 70-minute journey which the full album is going to be,” with the idea that Meat Loaf might sing on the song. The track plays beautiful homage to the layered vocals and dramatic twists that Jim Steinman used to make Meat Loaf a household name. Unfortunately, as Sammet admits, sometimes the best laid plans fall through, so Tobi sings the track himself, to fantastic effect.
This week, AXS caught up with the band’s enigmatic and entertaining mastermind to chat about Avantasia and Ghostlights. Sammet talks about some of the singers; like Dee Snider, Geoff Tate, Robert Mason, and Marco Hietala, who appear for the first time on an Avantasia record. He also offers and his own thoughts about the history of the band.
Ghostlights is the bookend to 2013’s highly-acclaimed album, The Mystery of Time. We asked Sammet where he is taking the listener on the journey with Ghostlights. In typical Tobi style, his answer was intriguing and informative:
“Well, as fans know, The Mystery of Time album started with a young Agnostic scientist realizing that time is moving faster and faster, and he senses that something is happening around him that everybody is getting caught in a treadmill. And it seems like this treadmill’s sped up. He joins a group of scientists who are trying to manipulate people’s individual perception of time, and who try to find a way to set a common pace for everybody, so they can align everybody’s perception of time and make it a common perception of time, so everybody gets to the same page. And this young scientist, for some reason, throughout the story realizes that what happens in the name of progress becomes more a tool to control people, and that there is a secret sinister force behind it which is interested in getting people to burn out and to lose all there energy… And that’s where the story picks up [on Ghostlights]. It’s pretty much a reflection of the personal journey of that protagonist who’s Agnostic in the beginning but who gets more and more confronted with the question of if he’s a materialistic existence or if his roots are spiritual. There are so many things I’m trying to come up with questions about in that story, and I think all those questions you don’t ask if you’re too stuck in whatever you are doing, or too busy just running. You don’t have any free energy left to think about what truly matters in life.”
Ghostlights, like all Avantasia albums, is packed with guest performances. While Tobi does all of the songwriting, plays bass, and does plenty of singing, he works closely with longtime collaborator, producer and guitarist Sascha Paeth, along with keyboardist and orchestrator Michael “Miro” Rodenberg, and drummer Felix Bohnke. On Ghostlights, the core quartet are joined by guitarists Bruce Kulick (Grand Funk Railroad, ex-Kiss) and Oliver Hartmann (ex-At Vance), along with a vast array of vocal performances by Jorn Lande, Michael Kiske (Unisonic, Place Vendome, ex-Helloween), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), Geoff Tate (Operation: Mindcrime, ex-Queensryche), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Herbie Langhans (Sinbreed), Robert Mason (Warrant, ex-Lynch Mob), Bob Catley (Magnum), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids, Nordic Union), and Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot). Tobias talked about how he tames all the players and moving parts—all the chaos, into a cohesive record:
“It IS chaos. You just have to accept the fact that there will be chaos. And that’s what is so exciting, you know? I do a lot of things at the same time and I believe that it’s all in the subconscious, and I just have to let it flow out. And it all comes together at the same time—very chaotic.”
Looking back on when he started Avantasia 15 years ago and how his goals and visions have shifted, Sammet laughs over the number of records labels who thought his ideas were great but who could not see the possibilities as he did.
“I started out as a young musician with a vision and a dream to record a particular album that seemingly nobody else cared about in the beginning. I was following my own instincts and I did it no matter what the public thought about it and no matter what the music industry thought about it. I just did it. And that approach hasn’t changed. I still feel I stick out like a sore thumb, only nowadays I have the confidence that there is quite many people who are as weird as me who really appreciate thumbs that stick out (laughs). I feel I have made it comfy for myself. I think the musical approach has never changed, really. Of course the music is a little different. If I hadn’t learned and hadn’t gone through certain experiences the last 15 years I would be quite feeling that. Of course I have developed. I’ve moved on, and grown as a musician, and as a personality I hope as well—as a person, as a character. But I still think it’s that innocent approach that I just want to play music to have a good time and enjoy myself. It’s more self-therapy than anything else. As long as I follow my own instincts, I feel like I’m safe. As long as you have fun doing things, it’s not as painful if you fail. Or as David Lee Roth once put it, ‘It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s just important how great you look while doing it’ (laughs).”
Check out the full interview above as Tobias Sammet shares his insights on Ghostlights, the upcoming world tour, and much more. Also check out the video for “Mystery of a Blood Red Rose” here.