Operatic rock from Sky of Avalon

Uli Jon Roth is a fascinating guy. Not content with merely playing with the Scorpions, he’s become a painter, musical director, philosopher, and also somehow found time to invent the Sky guitar. He’s a musician’s musician. So when he brings out a new record, it’s going to be something special.

Under A Dark Sky is pure operatic rock. Recorded with a full band (Sky of Avalon), plus eight singers, the Sky Orchestra, and the Sky Choir, this is no small project. The singers include Mark Boals of Yngwie Malmsteen and Royal Hunt, and Liz Vandall of Sahara, by the way. And the sound is simply amazing. ‘SOS’ starts with blaring sirens and hysterical vocals. If you can imagine it, it’s the aural equivalent of being on a sinking ship in stormy seas. And it’s not as if the guitar is always the focus, even if is exceptional. Roth adds in guitars only when they’re needed, and the result is that it doesn’t sound like the average rock guitar pasted over an orchestra. Everything blends together perfectly.

‘Land of Dawn’ (in very Rick Wakeman-esque three parts) is far more the traditional rock opera. In fact, it’s not too far removed from something you’d find on Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’. But just longer and more bombastic, flitting from out-and-out rock to a quiet neo-classical moment, to duelling guitars and soaring chorus. ‘The Magic Word’ is the closest thing on the record to a straight rock song. ‘Letter of the Law’ is ominous and menacing with its chanted lyrics and screaming guitars. Everything is punctuated with Roth’s sustain-soaked, dreamy guitar sound, particularly the heartbreakingly beautiful ‘Benediction’, the only track where the guitar takes the place of vocals. It’s like he’s taken Brian May’s style of playing a meaningful song to a whole other level.

Like classical music and symphonic metal, and don’t mind a retro feel to a record? This is for you. Like to keep things sweet and simple (and short)? No, no, and thrice no.

It’s heavy going, make no mistake. Especially when you reach what on vinyl would have been the B-side, the twelve-part ‘Tanz In Die Dämmerung’. But if you don’t mind the feeling of going on a (very long) journey without actually finding a destination, go for it. Like they say, it’s the glory of the ride.