Album Title: The Legend Of The Storyteller
Label: Rockshots Records
Date of Release: 31 March 2023
Warning: this album contains so much cheese that it is not suitable for those with a lactose intolerance. The opening track to Avaland’s sophomore full-length release is the kind of toe-curling experience that’ll have many of you, me included, running screaming into the distance. Screaming, or laughing. Symphonic power metal has never been the friendliest to those with a dislike of dairy, but right from the off, Avaland take the cheese to new heights.
“Crystal ball” begins the narrator, “tell me, what does the future hold, Will the tyranny fall? Tell me.”
So far, so bearable, but then…
“What? A foolish sorcerer? Centuries of darkness and then a young man? Avaland in ruins and built again? Dragons? A witch and an Alchemist? A civil war? And a world of magic and machines? The kingdom of the throes and…OH NO, the great annihilation!
Hammed up like an earnest Shakespearean actor, over-acting for all his worth, the narrator isn’t done yet.
“By the trinity, and the seven spells, no-one will trust me. No, we can’t go this way. Lies!”
OK, I get it, this album is full of fantastical stories in a fictious land. The only problem is, this intro with all its neon-lit signposting is the very reason I nearly stopped listening and consigned “The Legend Of The Storyteller” to the promo dustbin.
Fortunately for Avaland, I decided not to act upon this immediate impulse for a few reasons. Firstly, I liked the cover artwork, I also quite liked the orchestration that accompanied the narrator in the otherwise shocking intro, and finally, there was the list of guest musicians referenced in the press release. TSO and ex-Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens is perhaps the most high profile of them, but the list also includes Madie (ex-Nightmare/Faith In Agony), Pierre “Cara” Carabalona (Eltharia),
Ivan Castelli (Lionsoul), Angèle Macabiès, Jens Ludwig (Edguy), and Bruno Ramos (Sortilège/ex-Manigance). Not all of these guests can be wrong to get involved, surely, I thought. So, I ploughed on with trepidation.
As it turns out, the decision hasn’t been a total waste of time either, as there is actually a fair amount of great music on this album. The band, comprised of Adrien G. Gzagg (Autor/Composer/Lead Singer/Synths and Orchestrations), Jeff Kanji (Lead Singer/Additional Voices and Guitars), Lucas Martinez (Guitars), Camille Souffron (Bass), and Leo Mouchonay (Drums), certainly know their way around the genre and they put this ability to good use throughout ‘The Legend Of The Storyteller’.
In fact, the French quintet start to put things right straight away with ‘Crimson Tyranny’, which is nothing short of a fantastic symphonic power metal romp. Beginning with rich, melodic orchestration, it explodes into life with crunchy riffing, lead guitars wailing, and a powerful rhythm section to drive the song along at a decent tempo. Vocalist Jeff Kanji is forgiven for his previous narration too, as his voice is vibrant and resonant, working well with Stevens when his familiar voice appears. There’s a folk-like lilt to some of the delicate melodies and embellishments, but the central melodies are strong and engaging, creating a sense of the epic in the choruses with choral voices to add pomp and gravitas. The statement from the band that ‘The Legend Of The Storyteller’ is heavier and more epic starts to make perfect sense.
Avaland are not afraid to mix things up either, as demonstrated by ‘Insurrection’. The symphonics and power metal take more of a back seat for a funkier, cheekier song that sees bassist Camille Souffron come into his own within what’s a more mainstream and immediately catchy composition. It’s impossible not to enjoy it though, as it is delivered with a real swagger.
The intro to ‘To Be A King’ is dominated by a rich piano, before the song opens out into another strong song with great melodies, choral, almost ‘gang’ vocals, and appearances from Ludwig and Carabalona to offer just a little more variety. I also love ‘Out Of The Fog’ thanks to what are possibly the most memorable melodies and the fun, upbeat tone of the vibrant choruses. Anyone who likes a spot of power metal has got to enjoy the opening guitar lick to ‘Betrayers’ too. The energy throughout the song is infectious, with the drumming in particular catching my ear, as well as the vague Middle Eastern flavour to some of the composition.
Unfortunately, for my tastes, there are a few missteps along the way. ‘Secret Night’ is a full-on folk-inspired Medieval ballad with strings and flute. Not even the multi-vocalist approach, featuring Madie, Stevens, and Macabiès saves it from being a personal low point. We also get more narration to open up ‘Kingslayer’. Fortunately, it’s very short-lived, but it does dredge up unwelcome memories of the album intro. The song itself is catchy and memorable, but somehow doesn’t quite hit the mark, and I’m not sure why.
Album closer, ‘Lies’ is another strange song. It’s over ten minutes and seeks to bring the album to a suitably epic close. However, it tries to do too much in my opinion. I like parts of it, but other parts bring back the cheese a little too much. It starts off like a 80s power ballad mixed with Meatloaf and a bit of a boyband vibe which I can’t quite put my finger on. And, at times, this odd flavour comes back in, creating a slightly incoherent and disconcerting feel. Nevertheless, the sense of ambition and the rich orchestration cannot be faulted.
In many ways, this final track sums up the entire record well. When Avaland fire on all cylinders, then the music on ‘The Legend Of The Storyteller’ is very good indeed, more than a match for many of their peers within the symphonic power metal genre. But the album is also littered with aspects that are not quite as palatable, thus threatening to undermine their not inconsiderable efforts. Despite all of my misgivings, and the whiff of cheese that lies in wait frequently, I have to say that I enjoy this album a lot more than I first thought I would, and perhaps just a little more than I should. And that’s credit to Avaland.
The Score of Much Metal: 75%