Timo Tolkki\’s Avalon: Angels of the Apocalypse review

One time Stratovarius mastermind Timo Tolkki is at it yet again. Building on the huge success of the stunning 2013 debut New Land Of Hope, he has just unveiled his 2nd album for Frontiers Records under the moniker Avalon entitled Angels Of The Apocalypse. If you’re not yet familar with Tolkki’s body of work, all you really need to know is this. He has released over 20 albums, played over 3000 shows in 52 countries and was named one of the top 100 guitarists of all time by Guitar World magazine. Much like its epic predecessor, Angels Of The Apocalypse is a concept album that allows Tollki to express his musical creativity without any boundaries in the form of a metal opera. The new album is even more grandiose than the first with a much darker and heavier symphonic metal mood, groove and direction that was very intentional on the part of Tolkki. Angels Of The Apocalypse is the second installment of what will be a trilogy and tells the story of four angels- Fire, Wind, Earth and Water who have the ability to travel through time. They have become increasingly unhappy with the unimaginable events that have taken place in mankind over the last 150 years so they unleash the fury of the forces of nature in the form of what may be judgment day. The album again features cover art by French artist Stanis W. Decker, as well as a virtual who’s who list of symphonic metals best and brightest including what amounts to be the line-up of the Stratovarius album Dreamscape with Tuomo Lassila on drums, Antti Ikonen on keyboards and Nicholas Jeudy providing orchestration and with Tolkki handling all other instruments as well as production duties. The album also boasts a bevy of talented singers as well. With guest vocals by none other than new Nightwish singer Floor Jansen, Simone Simons from Epica, Fabio Lione from Rhapsody Of Fire, David DeFeis from Virgin Steele, Zachary Stevens from Savatage, Elize Ryd from Amaranthe and newcomer Caterina Nix. Who’s debut solo album will hit later this year under the expert tutelage of Tolkki himself. The album begins with the somewhat unneeded a capella intro “Song For Eden.” It’s not until opener “Jerusalem Is Falling” kicks in do you get the full effect and range of Fabio Lione’s powerful voice. It’s pulsating melodies and soaring choruses draw the listener in and refuse to let go. It flows seamlessly into the evocative hook filled arrangements and technical brilliance of lead single and video “Design The Century,” a song that showcases the incomparable lead vocals of Floor Jansen and one that Nightwish fans are going to love. The groove laden riffage and unrelenting solos, combined with the banshee like wails of David Defeis  on “Rise Of The 4th Reich,” ends up being one of the albums most audibly enticing moments. At the same time the progressive power metal edge and turbulant double kick of “Stargate Atlantis” is a throwback in sound to Timo’s days in Stratovarius. From there, the captivating vocals of Floor Jansen mixed with the epic song structures of “The Paradise Lost” gives way to what can only be described as a possible foreshadowing of what the next Nightwish album might be like. “You’ll Bleed Forever” is a hypnotically enthralling power ballad that veers into the musical territory of Dutch heavyweights Within Temptation with Jansen’s astronomical vocals again taking center stage. Tolkki wrote each song with a specific singer in mind so it should come as no surprise that the music and Zachary Steven’s powerhouse vocal performance in “Neon Sirens” sounds a lot like a long lost Savatage or Circle II Circle track. The hauntingly beautiful piano melody and lush ethereal melodies created by the interwoven tri vocal attack of Elize Ryd, Simone Simons and newcomer Caterina Nix on “High Above Me” manifests itself into a musical landscape so otherworldly that it defies description with mere words. Proving that a good maestro always saves the very best for the building crescendo of the opera, title track “Angels Of The Apocalypse” is an epic masterpiece that rivals “Ghost Love Score” by Nightwish, but is taken to levels of excellence never seen before by the dynamic vocal tapestries of all four lovely ladies involved with this ambitious project. After all that, instumental closer “Garden Of Eden” seams a little anti climatic, but that’s ok. Here’s the bottom line- Despite a couple of pieces of filler at the beginning and end, everything in the juicy middle is hands down the best thing Tolkki has done since his days with Stratovarius. Rating: 8 out of 10 -Eric Hunker