Timo Tolkki’s Avalon - Return to Eden

Timo Tolkki’s Avalon Return to Eden cover
Timo Tolkki’s Avalon
Return to Eden
Frontiers Music srl
Timo Tolkki is obviously a name that many readers would be familiar with. The likable Finn has been to the highest highs, as he took over Stratovarius months after its inception and turned it into the next big thing, but he sort of crashed and burned, due to an diagnosed case of bipolar disorder that had him acting erratically in the mid-2000s, ultimately leading to go separate ways, with the band he really helped put on the map. The future did seem bright, when he did release his first Revolution Renaissance, but partly due to the inconsistent output that followed that album (that might or might not have had to do with personal issues at times) the past decade has not been exactly rosy at least from a professional perspective. The highly anticipated Symfonia album that he did with the late Andre Matos and other talented musicians didn’t quite manage to explode in the way everybody involved would have hoped they would and things wouldn’t exactly get much better despite the repeated efforts with the star studded Avalon albums to gain popular acclaim… let alone commercial success...
Most criticized those albums for not being “power metal” and in a way being more akin to pop-rock songs with a bite… they ‘are sort of simpler, that goes without saying, but there’s sufficient interesting material on those two volumes (especially the debut) to make one’s appreciation of them being worthwhile.
“Return to Eden” isn’t exactly the revelation, or the epic power metal, people might have been craving, but it takes things in the right direction. Joining Tolkki in his quest is his friend bass, guitarist and producer Santtu Lehtiniemi (who’s worked with him in RR and also has a band going on with RR vocalist Gus Monsanto, Beeastronaut, that sounds quite a bit like Racer’s X), as well as a whole armada of Italian musicians: Aldo Lonobile (guitars, production), Giulio Capone (drums), Antonio Agate (keyboards) and Andrea Buratto (bass). The vocals just like before are handled by a selection of heavy hitters in the industry, including current Riot vocalist, Todd Michael Hall, former The Gathering and Vuur, fronwoman Anneke van Giersbergen, Tristania’s Mariangela Demurtas, Zachary Stevens of Savatage fame, as well as original Elegy singer Eduard Hovinga (who I was surprise to find out seems to still be active).
“Enlighten” is your typical keyboard laden intro that fades into rainfall...
“Promises” cuts through that placid with a key/guitar attack that recalls of older times. Without ever becoming a full-blown power metal epic, the furious riffing, the double bass drumming, sublime keys and Hall’s smooth, yet impressive delivery, really make it one of the best things you’d have heard from Tolkki in a long time. There’s even some impressive soloing in there.
Hall keeps the main vocals for the title track “Return to Eden”, but he’s joined by Mariangela Demurtas and Zachary Stevens on it. It’s a more evolved, mid-tempo with some celtic influences at least initially. I have some issues, with the production of the additional vocals and even Stevens’s performance, which sounds a little uneasy in a couple of passages, but these are minor gripes.
“Hear My Call” is a nice, half ballad, that’s sung by Anneke and whoever has ever heard that woman would know that she could even sing a page from the telephone directory and make it sound great. She is simply killing it here, with her sublime, sweet vocal timbre.
“Now and Forever” is a more simplistic song, almost reminiscent of very early Stratovarius in a way but with some more epic vocals, courtesy of Todd Michael Hall. I was also getting a very Virgin Steele sort of vibe, during the song…
“Miles Away” features solely Zachary Stevens on vocals, but he sounds somewhat underwhelming, a bit tired. With most of the entire song plodding away in mid-tempo, it’s not exactly a highlight and its solo feels a little forced in there, just because there had to be one.
“Limits” is uncharacteristically double-bass of the album, but with hardly enough substance. Also Hovinga sounds really marginal and fairly nasal in places and this doesn’t really help the song a great deal, where a more agile voice (maybe Hall’s?) would have done this more justice. The rather nice solo is also wasted in this sort of ropey, hit and miss-mash of a song.
“We Are the Ones” drops speed significantly and has Anneke singing on it. It seems a little unconvincing in that there seems to be a power metal song somewhere in there (chorus and certain verse parts) repressed, by the desire to keep it from manifesting.
“Godsend” is a ballad with Demurtas that seems that is not that remarkable, but feels that could have benefited from maybe a switch of singers, ie Anneke singing it and Demurtas singin’ “We’re the Ones” might have wielded better results, at least in my mind’s “ear” (eye – wouldn’t be applicable). She inflects a lot like Anneke, without being her.
“Give Me Hope” is another song featuring Hovinga. It’s typical of the project’s style, but unfortunately Hovingas nasality and overall style seem to detract from it, rather than sell it.
“Wasted Dreams” is another song with Zak Stevens on lead vocals, who seems to sound rather odd when using his higher register, but sounds fine on lower passage, so I’m really wondering if this is him having blown out his voice or it’s just a butchered up mix job. The song is OK, I guess.
Lastly, “Guiding Star” seems to get its ducks more right than most of the tracks that precede it with Mariangela sounding like the proper singer for the song which features some interesting ideas and goes full circle from furious double bass to atmospheric and back again.
Japanese copies also include an orchestral version of “Godsend”, which sounds better than the original and would have been amazing if it featured Anneke on the vocals.
While “Return to Eden” is certainly a mixed bag of chips, it seems to have sufficient substance and succulence at its core and seems like it’s a step in the right direction that could lead to promising and exciting new opportunities for Tolkki in his musical odyssey.