Timo Tolkki’s Avalon project returns with another symphonic power metal rock opera project featuring an all-star cast of guest vocalists who shine in this collection of songs.
For those who don’t know, Avalon is a metal opera project of guitarist Timo Tolkki (ex-Stratovarius), and the project has released four full length albums, The Land of New Hope (2013), Angels of the Apocalypse (2014), Return to Eden (2019), and now The Enigma Birth (2021). As these are projects, they have had a variety of guest musicians from the likes of Stratovarious, Sonata Arctica, Dream Theater, but more importantly, the guest vocalists that read like an all-star cast in metal and include, Rob Rock (Impelllitteri), Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica), Sharon del Adel (Within Temptation), Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), Floor Jansen (Nightwish),and Simone Simons (Epica). For The Enigma Birth, Tolkki brought in , PelleK, Raphael Mendes (Icon of Sin), Brittney Hayes (Unleash the Archers), Marina La Torraca (Phantom Elite), Jake E (ex-Amaranthe), James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Caternia Nix (Chaos Magic), and Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire).
The Enigma Birth wastes no time jumping right into the epic symphonic power metal Avalon is known for. “Enigma Birth” hits the ground at a breakneck pace with Pellek’s vocals also showing great range in the just the first few moments of the song. Immediately, one can’t help but hear the quality and care put into the production and mixing with vocals, keyboards, drums and bass all coming through clearly. Guitars are a bit too quiet in the mix for my taste which is a bit surprising given Timo Tolkki is a guitarist of renown, but this is a personal taste gripe on my part. As one might imagine, there are solos in the song but not just guitar but some guitar-keyboard trade off and all fitting will within the context of the song.
As will be the case for the listener, the music all stays fairly constant in approach throughout the album but the many vocalists take the songs in very different directions. On “I Just Collapse” Caterina Nix vocals shine in the slower, more melodic and emotional song. The quieter verse sections of the song also bring forward the bass work of Andrea Buratto and keyboards/orchestral parts from Antonio Agate, highlighting the great mix/production, which give way to Timo’s guitar that is more pronounced here than in the first track and adds power to the song.
“Memories” keeps Caterina’s brighter vocals but adds in Brittney Slayes for some contrast and depth. The driving, pounding guitars, bass, and drums, work well with the orchestral strings and once again the bass work of Andrea Buratto really shines in the verse sections of the song. Brittney’s vocals are a bit deeper and a bit darker in tone than Caterina’s and the blend of the two is really exceptional. The contrast between the lighter and heavier vocals in the section right before the guitar solo is something to behold.
“Master of Hell” has that late 80’s metal keyboard opening and a distinct Iron Maiden feel after that, largely due to the vocals of Raphael Mendes. Musically and vocally, one could pass the song off as an unknown Iron Maiden track to the unknowing…it is that good. Likewise, Mendes later song “Beauty and War” fits the same mold and will raise the eyebrows of Maiden fans.
In contrast, “Beautiful Lie” has a very different feel, opening up with some industrial sounding keyboards, but then settling into a guitar, bass and drum rhythm highlighted by some opposing keyboards. Vocally, James LaBrie (Dream Theater) brings yet another feel to the song which also has some complicated drum patterns in the background from Marco Lazzarini. This brings me to another aspect of this album in that musically, there is so much going on in the songs, it’s hard to get a full appreciation on an initial listen. The next track, “Truth” is a good example of this as well as initially it seems a fairly straightforward, fairly fast, melodic power metal song, but within it, there are little bits of guitar sprinkled here and there that provide an extra quality to the song.
“Another Day” starts out much slower with an orchestral section backing moody vocals from Marina LaTorraca and the song becomes one of the power ballads on the album, which unfortunately, doesn’t work for me. Performance wise, the vocals are again strong and the emotional guitar solo fits well but I am just not a fan of the song in general. “The FIre and the Sinner” is another power ballad on the album but in this case bringing Brittney Slayes and Jake E on vocals. While not a power ballad fan at all as they all seem a bit forced for my liking, the combination of Jake E and Brittney on the vocals here do make this the stronger of the two power ballads on the album.
“Dreaming” introduces the vocal stylings of Fabio Lione to the mix and the song starts out somewhat delicately relying on orchestral and keyboards before launching into a fast galloping metal rhythm again reminiscent of Iron Maiden. Interestingly, Raphael Mendes and Fabio Lione, both deliver vocals that remind one of Bruce Dickinson, but then are unique in their own right. The song itself takes on an epic feel, at times incredibly heavy and slower, while at others changing tempo and reverting to the orchestral.
To my ears, “Time” gives Marina LaTorraca another chance to be on a great song as I wasn’t a fan of the power ballad she performed on earlier. The stripped down verse sections highlight the strength and range of her voice and the choruses are simply epic. Musically the song features some great riffs and guitar work outside of the solo, which one would expect.
The album closes with an epic straightforward metal track featuring Fabio Lione on vocals, so one knows by now a bit of what to expect but I will say that opening guitar riff totally caught me off-guard in how great and fast it is.
Honestly, after reviewing Return to Eden and not being overly impressed, I was expecting much of the same from The Enigma Birth, but was pleasantly surprised. Unlike Return to Eden, songs didn’t feel as forced or scripted this time around, which really let the guest performers shine. In my experience, all-star projects with lots of guest performances tend to not work as well as one would think, highlighting the challenges in songwriting and arranging. On The Enigma Birth, Timo Tolkki has found the right combination of outstandingly talented vocal performers and matched them with his band’s incredible musicianship to create a collection of well-written and arranged songs that lets everyone shine.
Written by John Jackson
- The Enigma Birth (feat. Pellek)
- I Just Collapse (feat. Caterina Nix)
- Memories (feat. Caterina Nix, Brittney Slayes)
- Master of Hell (feat. Raphael Mendes)
- Beautiful Lie (feat. James LaBrie)
- Truth (feat. Jake E)
- Another Day (feat. Marina La Torraca)
- Beauty And War (feat. Raphael Mendes)
- Dreaming (feat. Fabio Lione)
- The Fire And The Sinner (feat. Jake E, Brittney Slayes)
- Time (feat. Marina La Torraca)
- Without Fear (feat. Fabio Lione)
Various artists – vocals (see tracklist)
Timo Tolkki / Guitars
Andrea Buratto / Bass
Marco Lazzarini / Drums
Antonio Agate / Piano and Keyboards
Release Date: 18th. June 2021
Record Label: Frontiers Records
2014: “Angels Of The Apocalypse” (review)
2019: “Return To Eden” (review)
2021: “The Enigma Birth”
Weblinks: Facebook / Twitter / Website
Lyric Video for ‘Beautiful Lie’
Video for ‘The Fire and the Sinner’
Video for ‘Master of Hell’