If there’s one thing Tobias Sammet loves more than anything in the world, it is England – the home of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris. Just look up his song England with his other band Edguy which is completely devoted to our wonderful country and the Iron Maiden bass player in particular.
Selfies of Sammet with English landmarks raging from red telephone boxes to the Baker Street underground sign were plastered all over his social media pages hours before the gig. The Avantasia mastermind giddy with excitement and genuine joy about being back in the capital and country that invented heavy metal.
Until tonight Avantasia had played just two shows in the United Kingdom – a sub-headliner spot at Bloodstock in 2013 and a three-hour headliner show on the Ghostlights tour back in 2016 (also at The Forum). Now, coordinating a schedule that works for the super-group cast that Sammet puts together, must be a logistical nightmare of epic proportions. Really, their tour manager/agent/whomever deserves some kind of knighthood. It’s uncertain whether the fans will ever see them tour again to put into words how significant this tour is to his legions of loyal fans. People have travelled not just all corners of the UK but from all over the world for this show. London, like many of their other European dates, is also sold out.
Joining Sammet tonight are a plethora of guest vocalists from the rock and metal world including; Geoff Tate (Ex-Queensryche), Bob Catley (Magnum), Jorn Lande (Jorn), Eric Martin (Mr Big), Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Herbie Langhans, Adrienne Cowan and Ina Morgan. Not forgetting the main band comprising Sasha Paerth (Guitars), Oliver Hartmann (Guitars), Michael Rodenberg (Keyboards) and Felix Bohnke (Drums).
The lights dimmed and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony boomed across the concert hall as the Avantasia backdrop covering the stage plunged to the floor. Sammet made a rather grandiose and stylish entrance, decked in a black and red top hat and the familiar metal trench coat we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Ghost In The Moon, the opening track from latest opus, Moonglow set the scene with Sammet flamboyantly appearing front and centre on the raised section of the stage set above the drum fort – microphone tossing to perfection in time with bass lines and the lot. And on the piano/orchestral section, Sammet’s cries of London were met with deafening roars which captivated the audience from start to the curtain call.
And who could blame him for being larger-than-life? An idea originally conceived at the age of 21 that was supposed to be a once in a lifetime studio album wish list now playing out on the big stages and getting serious chart recognition globally. Sometimes you get a sense Sammet can’t even quite believe it himself. Stood on stage with his idols surrounding him, singing the songs he wrote.
The setlist was bold (and rather brave) including nine Moonglow songs, four of which were in succession. Anyone else would have lost the crowd but Sammet just did Sammet and from the moment he walked on stage London was right there with him. He rolled the first of the Moonglow medley dice bringing out Ronnie Atkins for Starlight and Book of Shallows. There may have been no Mille Petrozza on this tour but Adrienne Cowan absolutely crushed the thrash section showing some serious girl power on the screams. Geoff Tate, on his maiden Avantasia tour, raised the roof with the ballad Invincible.
But it was 12 minutes of The Raven Child with the Norwegian Viking Jorn Lande trading lines with Sammet that shone the brightest. Sammet briefly paused for a tongue in cheek speech on commercial radio being particularly poor in the UK and Germany and how the label was anti having the 12-minute epic being the leadoff single and face of the album but he just went with it anyway.
The pace quickened when the band unleashed the full-throttled power metal anthem, Reach Out For The Light. The album version features the legendary Michael Kiske (Helloween / Unisonic) whom sadly wasn’t on this tour run with the band. Instead, singer/guitarist Oliver Hartmann was tasked with the job of joining Sammet on vocals. It didn’t quite go to plan. Hartmann launched into the second verse lyrics by mistake and Sammet was left in stitches so much so he could barely perform his own lines! “What are you getting paid for” he jokingly remarked! Amidst the onstage banter, and just how Sammet held an extended top note section whilst bursting with laughter we’ll never know, the song went on without any further entertaining glitches. Hartmann and Paerth slayed the solo and Sammet absolutely smashed the sky-high Michael Kiske notes with ease.
What is most impressive however is that Sammet is in all but two of the numbers. And let’s be real here, these aren’t easy songs to sing – many are 10-minute tracks and sometimes he’s doing the lines of other singers with ranges like Kiske – and yet somehow half-way through a grueling world tour and three-hour shows every night, he still sounds so good. A real testament to his showmanship and vocal prowess. Case in point that two hours into the show he even pulled out ANOTHER 12-minute epic in the form of Let The Storm Descend Upon You.
Few bands would dare attempt a show spanning over three hours but Sammet ends looking like he could do another three hours without any trouble. In fact, three hours didn’t feel like long enough. The energy and support for all of the singers was incredible – even the youngest members of the crowd screamed for the likes of Bob Catley and Eric Martin. But the cries of Tobi, Tobi, Tobi and Sammet again proclaiming his love for London when the band started the encore and the scores of arms raised for Farewell were something else.
They closed with all of the singers taking to the stage for one last sing-song for The Sign Of The Cross/The Seven Angels. Truly electrifying. A setlist, stage show and front man honed to perfection.
If this is indeed the last time Avantasia is able to tour, we really can’t think of a better ending… magical.
The Mozart of our age did it again. (10)