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Inconsistent - 67%

criscool623, January 25th, 2020

Meh.

Timo Tolkki is one of the most loved musicians in power metal. Despite the downfall of his career in the last years, he has kept a certain number of followers that still support whatever he does, either Revolution Reinassance, Symfonia (that lamentable project that didn't end up well), or in this case, his symphonic metal project "Timo Tolkki's Avalon". I listened to the first album of this project and I have to say that it was a pretty mild album, nothing amazing. I never wanted to listen to the second album owing that nobody has something positive to say about it, so I abstained from checking it. However, when I found out that Timo Tolkki had the intention of releasing a third album, I was quite eager but sceptical, as unfortunately, nothing that Tolkki has done since his departure of Stratovarius has been something really worthy of praises. Nevertheless, being an album of one of my favourite musicians (despite all the bad things that I can say of his career), I just could not ignore it, so I decided to simply let me take by the new Tolkki's proposal.

The album has a great start. The first 3 songs (obviously excluding the intro) are the best that Return to Eden has to offer. The sound is epic, very powerful, glorious and has very memorable moments. Seriously, the chorus of these songs are a true delight, and as I do not have problem with these kind of songs (too melodious, but also not in excess), I found these songs a true beauty.

The production and instrumentation also help to give more points to the music. Being a symphonic metal album, it was obvious that it would have keyboards to enrich the music, and although their sound is a little low in volume in some parts, they accomplish with the purpose of being a plus in the music.

The invited singers are also very good. My favourite participations are Todd Michael Hall and Anneke van Giersbergen. Their work here is awesome, and in general, all the singers make a great job here.

Now, if you read the title and the very first line of this review, you'll know that I'm not satisfied with the final result of the album.

The album is very inconsistent. After the 4th song, Return to Eden starts to be a really boring album. Still "Now and Forever" and "Limits" ends up being more enjoyable songs, but some other songs like Miles Away and We Are The Ones are easily the most boring track of the album. By the end of the album, the music recovers its power, but just a little. The last 3 songs are decent (specially Guiding Star), with better riffs and a little faster, but they are nothing that surpasses the first 4 songs of the album.

Also, the album could have been shorter than it is. The album lasts 54 minutes, and due to songs like Godsend, We Are the Ones and Now and Forever, it may feel a quite boring and tiring, I recommend you not to listen to those songs, they don't really worth it and you won't lose anything important.

Return to Eden in an album that could have been better. It has a glorious beginning, but as the album goes on, it lose strength and turns into something bland. If you like any melodic stuff, listen to it, maybe you will enjoy it, but as to me, I will keep looking forward to something better from Tolkki.

The heart isn't there - 25%

kluseba, June 19th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Frontiers Records

Before legendary Finnish guitarist Timo Tolkki started his Avalon project, he was in the process of recording an ambitious solo album but he must have seen Frontiers Records' offer to release a metal opera consisting of three albums as the better financial option. Despite jumping on the bandwagon, the first album The Land of New Hope could convince thanks to great guest singers like Helloween's Michael Kiske, Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko and Symphony X's Russell Allen. The second output Angels of the Apocalypse was a disaster with less renowned guest vocalists, terrible sound effects and the worst production I have ever heard in my life. Timo Tolkki went through numerous personal issues as well and had pretty much vanished from the metal scene for three years. A little bit more than five years after the last output, the trilogy finally comes to its conclusion but it's obvious that it has only happened because both sides had a contract to respect. The label hired Italian session musicians, contacted a few less renowned guest vocalists and the Italian guitarist made sure to take care of the production himself to not let Timo Tolkki mess things up this time around. The Finnish guitarist was simply asked to write some generic power metal song structures by the numbers.

The final result sounds as exchangeable as it gets. The guest vocalists fail to leave a deeper impression since they lack the charisma and talent of those involved in the first record. The session musicians do a solid routine job but it's obvious why they aren't involved in any bigger bands because they are lacking creativity, identity and ultimately talent. They also have no chemistry with Timo Tolkki since his signature guitar solos simply sound phoned in. The melodic mid-paced songs all revolve around the five-minute mark and mostly follow the conventional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. No single track manages to surprise, innovate or energize.

There are few positive things to mention. The varied vocal performance in ''Promises'' is decent and the label made a mildly intriguing music video for the song. However, the second music video ''Godsend'' was already disappointing in that regard since it rehashed ideas from the first clip and presented a less skilled vocalist. ''Give Me Hope'' offers optimistic power metal tropes that would have been all the rage twenty years ago and is at least technically compelling which makes this average tune the highlight of the album.

Still, it's obvious that the heart simply isn't there. And even though the previous release was a disaster objectively speaking, it was at least Timo Tolkki's brain child, made critics and fans react controversially and had an unconventional style. Return to Eden is boring, faceless and forgettable and won't inspire any discussions, questions or reactions. That's why I consider this record the nadir of Timo Tolkki's career even though he is only partially to blame as he rather seems to be the pawn in the record company's game.

Return to Eden offers bland melodic power metal by the numbers and doesn't deserve any attention. If you really like melodic power metal, revisit Timo Tolkki's career highlights from the late nineties or support a young, hungry and creative band or project like Orion's Reign, Light & Shade or Guardians of Time. I wish Timo Tolkki all the best for yet another comeback and would suggest him to lower expectations and take his time to finally bring his solo album to life.

Where paradise draws its power. - 94%

hells_unicorn, June 14th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Frontiers Records

In the annals of power metal’s 30 years plus history, one of the most pivotal bands in shaping the European sound is Finnish pioneering act Stratovarius, drawing their name from the famed 17th/early 18th century luthier and craftsman Antonio Stradivari and putting a rock/metal guitarist twist on things. Aside from popularizing the idea of incorporating classical song styles, composers and terminology into band names, they were at the forefront of merging the common practice Baroque and Classical virtuoso techniques and harmonic structure adopted by Ritchie Blackmore, Uli Jon Roth and Yngwie Malmsteen with the melodic speed metal foundations laid by Helloween and Running Wild. At the forefront of Stratovarius’ formative years was the songwriting and guitar chops of Timo Tolkki, who would find himself alienated from his former band and bouncing around various projects, occasionally acting as a competitor to famed guitarist/songwriter gun for hire Magnus Karlsson.

Though Tolkki has seen varying degrees of success in merging his signature songwriting niche with a number of apt musicians, most of them fellow veterans, his highly independent nature has caused highly viable projects such as Revolution Renaissance and Symfonia to be short-lived ventures. His most recent signature project, which bears his own name and the mythical location of Arthurian lore Avalon, has tended to mirror the ensemble vocalist/metal opera format that was pioneered by Avantasia, albeit with a musical style more in line with 90s Stratovarius, but has often found itself playing second fiddle to a number of side-projects under the Frontiers Records umbrella. However, following a period of about 4 years of studio silence, something must have lit a fire under this Finnish power metal extraordinaire, because his newly unleashed third LP under the Timo Tolkki’s Avalon moniker dubbed Return To Eden is a full on return to the good old days of the millennial power metal revolution circa 1998.

Part of what may lie at the heart of this outfit’s sonic renaissance is a total revamp of the entire lineup minus its head, as full time drummer Tuomo Lassila and keyboardist Antti Ikonen wound up vacating the premises immediately following the release of Angels Of The Apocalypse in 2014, being replaced with session musicians of a more power metal-based pedigree. Likewise, the usual suspects in the lead vocal department have been mostly traded out for a number of less commonly seen faces in the guest voice department, with the most notable figures being Todd Michael Hall of Riot V and Jack Starr’s Burning Star fame and current Tristania front-woman Mariangela Demurtas. Be this as it may, this is an album that largely earns its wings through strong songwriting and a highly impressive instrumental display that is heavily reminiscent of where Stratovarius was at their late 90s peak circa Visions and Destiny, not to mention a brilliant first run by producer and occasional lead guitarist Aldo Lonobile (best known for his work with Secret Sphere), who puts together a thunderous and colossal sound reminiscent of Jacob Hansen’s production work.

Following a somewhat conventional instrumental introduction called “Enlighten”, consisting largely of a serene piano line with obligatory cinematic bluster at key points, the bulk of this album consists of a largely conventional affair for anyone familiar with Finnish power metal as it has largely sounded since the late 90s. Most of the anthems found on here are fairly compact and follow conventional song structures, avoiding any long-winded epic fair that has often been a staple of Timo’s songwriting in the past, nor any really drastic forays into genre-bending territory. Where it truly succeeds is in the sheer quality of the ideas that are placed within an otherwise highly symmetrical and predictable box, matched with a highly impressive array of guitar and keyboard gymnastics and highly poignant and/or dramatic vocal displays out of the various vocalists. Nobody on here really sounds like Timo Koltipelto or Michael Kiske, the two most common voices in Tolkki’s past, but everything gels seamlessly with his consonant and hook-driven anthems.

What ends up making this effort more distinct from its immediate predecessors bearing the Avalon moniker is the degree of impact relative to atmosphere and slower-paced groove. When considering riff happy speed metal anthems such as “Promises”, “Limits” and “Give Me Hope”, it’s pretty clear that Timo is drawing heavily from the same well that brought out such high octane anthems as “Legions” and “No Turning Back”. Then again, the fast-paced mayhem of this album’s closer “Guiding Star” finds a more angelic voice befitting a nod to Epica thanks to Demurtas’ soaring soprano. Similarly, the shuffling and somewhat folksy rocker “Return To Eden” is given a highly theatrical and gritty quality thanks to Zak Stevens’ input, while the highly catchy mid-paced sing-along romp “Now And Forever” strikes a familiar chord for those who loved “Hunting High And Low” and “Eagleheart”. All the same, the more slow-paced and symphonic offerings “Hear My Call” and “We Are The Ones” find a more gothic character, due in no small part to Anneke Van Giersbergen’s voice breathing a fatalistic glow into the dense textures and minimalist grooves Tolkki conjures out of his more recent past.

With the arguable exception of the lone album to come out of Symfonia In Paradisium, fronted by the now dearly departed Andre Matos (R.I.P.), this is the greatest album that Timo has put together in about 20 years. Whether it is the consequence of taking more time to hone these songs and taking time to recharge his batteries, or because of bringing in a fresh batch of musicians who are mostly new to this format, this is the definition of symphonic power metal pay dirt. It incorporates all of the best elements of his more recent projects under the Frontiers Records brand, most particularly his ongoing practice of taking things a bit slower and often utilizing a female voice, with the signature blend of technical and speed-based power metal that originally put his name of the metal map. Though it is by no means a competition in any official capacity, Tolkki has thrown down an impressive gauntlet to his former band, it’ll be interesting to see how Stratovarius will match this.

Originally written for Sonic Perspectives (www.sonicperspectives.com)