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An unexpected positive surprise and return to form - 75%

kluseba, June 20th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, Frontiers Records

Timo Tolkki's Avalaon was on a dangerous downward spiral with the terribly produced and lifeless Angels of the Apocalypse and the boring and formulaic Return to Eden but the fourth instalment in form of The Enigma Birth marks a certain return to form. That doesn't mean that it can compete with Timo Tolkki's influential power metal milestones of the nineties but it's his best release since the project's first offering eight years earlier.

The songwriting here is short and focused with most songs clocking in at below five minutes. The songs are energetic and get to the point. The organic production is much better than on its two predecessors. The vocals sound fresh, the guitar play is tight, the drums sound powerful, the bass guitar has its shining moments and the perfectly executed occasional neoclassical keyboard sounds are neither too dominant to water the record down nor too unspectacular to be restricted to atmospheric background layers.

The invited guest singers offer mostly inspired performances. Social media phenomenon PelleK delivers the goods in the energetic opener and title track ''The Enigma Birth'' that doesn't take any prisoners. Raphael Mendes shines in the anthemic ''Master of Hell'' that convinces with vibrant bass guitar play balanced by epic keyboard fanfares. Jake E and Brittney Slayes harmonize and unfold their skills in soulful ballad ''The Fire and the Sinner''. My personal highlight is energetic, fast and melodic album closer ''Without Fear'' that features veteran Fabio Lione at his best.

Even though the album grows with every spin, it certainly isn't without its flaws. A truly breathtaking and memorable song is missing among the twelve selections. Timo Tolkki's charismatic fast soloing that reminds me of an angry turkey is almost completely absent on this output. Some vocal performances are slightly underwhelming such as James LaBrie's participation on the forgettable ''Truth''. A few tunes such as the fluffy and forgettable ''Time'' rush by without leaving any impression other than a shrug.

The record certainly can't compete with the new records released by other genre bands such as Galneryus and Helloween in the same week. However, it's Timo Tolkki's greatest achievement in eight long years and a return to form for the project that comes as an unexpected positive surprise. Fans of contemporary power metal who don't mind occasional pop melodies will certainly appreciate this album where Timo Tolkki walks off the beaten path and delivers eight songs without progressive epics and extensive soloing but with focused songwriting and numerous convincing guest performances by mostly young and inspired artists.

The power metal renaissance continues. - 92%

hells_unicorn, June 18th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2021, CD, Frontiers Records

There is definitely strength in numbers; as if the ongoing success of Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia and the wide array of super groups flowing out of the floodgates of Frontiers Records was not enough of an indication of that. Following his exodus from the band that was his vehicle for helping to usher in the second wave of power metal, ex-Stratovarius guitarist Timo Tolkki has made this the guiding philosophy of his subsequent ventures, his latest one in Timo Tolkki’s Avalon being arguably the most consistent and successful of the bunch. Though even this project has been subject to a certain level of ebb and flow in quality of output since its 2012 inception, things have been going quite well since the release of 2019’s Return To Eden, drawing more directly from the heyday of Timo’s former glory just prior to the 2000s with Stratovarius, and the follow up to said success dubbed The Enigma Birth, the fourth LP under the Avalon name continues this formula to masterful results.

It almost goes without saying that the partnership that Timo currently shares with Frontiers Records was fated to occur when looking at how similar his trajectory as a creator has been to that of Magnus Karlsson. Perhaps the chief different separating these two virtuoso guitarists and symphonic arrangers is that Timo’s approach is a bit more nostalgic and gradual in its approach, while Magnus’ massive sounding sampled orchestrations have more of a modern bombast to them that is highly impressive but perhaps a bit less dynamic from one song to the next. On the other hand, Tolkki’s continual adherence to the speed metal roots of his signature style gives this particular album far more of an old school metallic character, often paralleling the triumphant fury of material heard back in Episode and Visions when the tempo is kicked up. To that end, this is probably the closest thing to a late 90s power metal offering to come out of the Frontiers catalog.

While the stylistic nature of this album should be familiar to anyone even mildly familiar with power metal, the assembly of vocalists tapped to bring these songs to the finish line includes a few surprises. Things begin in standard fashion with a driving speed-infused powerhouse with the title anthem “Enigma Birth”, featuring frequent power metal cover artist and ex-Damnation Angels front man PelleK, who turns in a high flying performance that comes the closest to channeling Timo Koltipelto of anything heard on here. But from here on in the picture gets a bit more stylistically nuanced, as more symphonic-tinged offerings set to a slower pace such as the 80s rock infused banger “I Just Collapse” and the beautifully symphonic-tinged power ballad “Memories” (that little harp part during the intro and outro segments is just haunting) feature stellar showings by Chaos Magic singer Caterina Nix and Unleash The Archers’ own Brittney Slayes, rivaled fairly closely by the more standard pop-like balladry with a Within Temptation-like twist turned in by Phantom Elite vocalist Marina La Torraca.

Generally speaking, the further into things this album goes, the more intriguing the vocal performances accompanying Tolkki’s dense arrangements and six-string wizardry, with those elements themselves adapting accordingly. The keyboard-infused yet driving power anthem “Master Of Hell” bringing in a masterful performance by noted Bruce Dickinson doppelganger and internet sensation Raphael Mendes, who also can’t help but also bring an unsubtle “What if Bruce sang for Stratovarius” scenario to the equally strong “Beauty And War”. On the slightly more rhythmically involved and progressive side of the coin, appropriately enough, is a chunky groove anthem in “Beautfiul Lie” featuring Dream Theater helmsman James Labrie himself, to speak nothing for the power metal splendor with an epic flavor delivered by Fabio Lione on “Dreaming” and the cruising speeder “Without Fear”, both pretty overt throwbacks to the late 90s Stratovarius days. One would also be remiss to gloss over the solid and soulful showing by former Amaranthe vocalist Jake E on the bass-heavy banger “Truth”.

On the whole, this is just a slight smidgeon of a tinge below the massive undertaking that was the preceding chapter in the ongoing Avalon saga, but others should absolutely feel free to disagree with that notion given all of the highly proficient vocal entries found on here. The beauty in this varied vocalist mode of metal is that, much like the original conceptual template offered up by Avantasia’s The Metal Opera a little over 20 years ago, it adds yet another dimension to an already elaborate and exciting art form. For an album that isn’t that much of a stylistic enigma, it nevertheless provides an assortment of anthems so fun and varied that frequent replays are a virtual certainty. Whether one be an old school Stratovarius fan who is getting a bit impatient in the 6 years of studio silence said band has been basking in, or someone generally amenable to the outpouring of albums in this format courtesy of Frontiers Records, this is definitely an album not to be missed.

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