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Timo Tolkki's Avalon - Return to Eden

Timo Tolkki's Avalon
Return to Eden
by Jon Conant at 01 July 2019, 10:05 AM

Timo Tolkki has returned for the third and final chapter of his grand symphonic metal opera trilogy project AVALON (formally called “Timo Tolki’s Avalon”), entitled Return To Eden. This full length effectively acts as the end of AVALON. The project was formed in 2013, 5 years after his departure from STRATOVARIUS after a 20 year tenure, a time during which he established himself as a premiere guitarist in the metal scene, even being listed in the top 50 fastest guitarists by Guitar World.

Unfortunately, the first two entries in the AVALON trilogy did not live up to that hype. I don’t know all the details, but with Timo starting and stopping a bunch of projects after leaving STRATOVARIUS it likely made sense to him to go after a big metal trilogy with Frontiers Records, from a financial and recognition standpoint.

But the result was albums that felt more forced than inspired. At least the debut effort “The Land of New Hope” featured some interesting musical ideas, and of course incredible guitar work, and some exciting guest vocal spots from the likes of Tony Kakko, Sharon den Adel, Elize Ryd, Russell Allen, and more. But then after disappearing for several years, Timo returned with the second AVALON entry, “Angels of the Apocalypse”, and that was widely regarded as a disastrous failure. The music was painfully uninspired, forced, and the production was terrible in a legendary way. It featured some cool vocalists, Floor Jansen was a highlight, but that wasn’t nearly enough to save it. Maybe the guitar could have helped redeem it, but you can barely ever hear it in the mix so it’s irrelevant.

So what should be expected from “Return To Eden, the grand finale to a trilogy that started with big ambitions but quickly ran into the ground? Well, plenty of expected bad, but also some good. The bad is of course what one could assume: a forced conclusion that Timo was barely interested in doing but had an obligation to complete. The songwriting is as uninspired as the previous efforts, and they traded in more star studded guest spots for lesser known session musicians and vocalists just for the sake of finishing the album, and the AVALON project. It’s about as awkward and forced as an album could be, and is in no way a redemption for the disaster the project has been on the whole.

But, it’s not all bad. At the very least, the production was DRAMATICALLY better, you could hear the guitar and Timo does save the album a bit with his masterful work, albeit usually cookie cutter and awkwardly forced into the mundane song concepts. Overall, the album has a stronger sense of theme and musicianship, despite being underwhelming and obligatory for the sake of finishing the AVALON project.

“Promises”, “Return To Eden”, “We Are The Ones”, and “Wasted Dreams” were probably the best songs on the album, featuring the fastest and most STRATOVARIUS-esque guitar work, as well as the biggest and fullest sounds. This is where Timo got to shine the brightest, and at least let his incredible talent count for something. Unfortunately, outside of those tracks, so much of the album is desperately boring slowed down more melodic numbers, that feel stuck between a power ballad and metal song. “Hear My Call”, “Miles And Away”, “Godsend”, and “Give Me Hope” were the worst offenders, and with each song being over 4 minutes and the album being 12 tracks, it really drags on. It reminds me of “The Astonishing” in terms of how desperately boring it is without seemingly wanting to end. Prog that just doesn’t know what it wants to be, but that’s what you get when you’re making music out of contractual obligation instead of inspiration.

I kind of had high hopes for this third and final chapter. Given that Timo is such an incredible artist, I thought maybe they’d come out swinging with a final hail mary to end with a bang and make up for the previous disaster. In some respects, that was the case, as “Return to Eden” was an improvement over “Angels of the Apocalypse”. But, ultimately, the little Timo was able to do with his guitar work and improved production to help save this album just wasn’t enough, and it finished as a forgettable and welcome end to a project that maybe should have never been undertaken. I’m looking forward to other potential projects from Timo Tolkki, we all know he is capable of better than this. Give it a listen if you like symphonic power metal, but don’t expect much.

Songwriting: 6
Originality: 5
Memorability: 5
Production : 7

3 Star Rating

1. Enlighten
2. Promises (feat. Todd Michael Hall)
3. Return To Eden (feat. Mariangela Demurtas, Zachary Stevens, & Todd Michael Hall)
4. Hear My Call (feat. Anneke Van Giersbergen)
5. Now and Forever (feat. Todd Michael Hall)
6. Miles Away (feat. Zachary Stevens)
7. Limits (feat. Eduard Hovinga)
8. We Are The Ones (feat. Anneke Van Giersbergen)
9. Godsend (feat. Mariangela Demurtas)
10. Give Me Hope (feat. Eduard Hovinga)
11. Wasted Dreams (feat. Zachary Stevens)
12. Guiding Star (feat. Mariangela Demurtas)

Timmo Tolkki - Guitar
Record Label: Frontiers Records


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Edited 29 November 2021

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