Sunday, August 28

Edguy - Age Of The Joker

Age Of The Joker


Tobias Sammet has been popping out one album after another these last three years, so you’d think the quality had to drop some time. And in a way, it did. Last year’s double Avantasia-effort failed to be impressive all the way through and could’ve been cut down to one really great album. The promise of a new Edguy-record the next year had me psyched, but also raised some concerns that it would be rushed. Unnecessary, so it seems, because “Age Of The Joker” is a welcome and fresh addition to the Edguy-back catalogue.

Of course, your idea of what’s a fine Edguy-album will depend on the “camp” you’re in. You see, there are people who hail the band’s classic power metal period, from “Vain Glory Opera” up until “Mandrake”, as the best they ever did. Others, like me, appreciate them branching out into hard rock-territory with “Hellfire Club” up until “Tinnitus Sanctus”. Even though Sammet is on a (grossly exaggerated) crusade against the metal press and refuses to conform to anyone’s preconceived ideas of what Edguy should sound like, “Age Of The Joker” sort of bridges the divide between these two groups of Edguy-enthusiasts. And for that, it should be welcomed by anyone who loves at least one of their albums.

Let’s break it down. Without wanting to push every last song on this thing into this or that category, there are some clear back-to-the-old-days-tracks and some that continue the experimentation heard on the previous three albums. Opener and first single “Robin Hood” is miles away from the darkened groove of “Ministry Of Saints”, and is a more basic, straightforward power metal track with a typically anthemic chorus. For some reason it’s eight minutes long, and it does drag a bit between another of Sammet’s humorous voice-overs and a most excellent bridge. As far as opening tracks go, this is not the strongest one. Verses and pre-chorus are outstanding, but the chorus is somewhat of a letdown; and I had a similar impression with Avantasia’s “Stargazers” from “Angel Of Babylon”.  Follow-up “Nobody’s Hero” is a rocking track, reminding of Avantasia’s “Scales Of Justices”, with some nice keyboard-work in the chorus.

It’s not until “Rock Of Cashel” that Sammet shows he’s still one hell of a songwriter. His Celtic edge traces back to “Jerusalem” and “The Scarecrow”, but here he goes all out on it, weaving delicate folk melodies into a big refrain and a very atmospheric bridge. A similar thing happens in “Pandora’s Box”, but here country music is the biggest influence. Not in a silly way like “Aren’t You A Little Pervert Too?” from “Tinnitus Sanctus”, but in a way that fully integrates the country-styled guitars into a metal sound. This song changes moods more than Sammet changes leopard-skin pants, and it’s one of the absolute highlights of this album.

Power metal-fans losing their patience are rewarded with the combo of “Breathe”, an infectious power metal romp if there ever was one, and the slightly boring and overly juvenile “Two Out Of Seven”, that’ll probably become a live-favorite anyway, as it is the next single. Luckily it is followed by the ambitiously dark and heavy “Faces In The Darkness”, that boasts the album’s greatest riff and another splendid chorus. “The Arcane Guild” is another old-fashioned power metal track, more hard rock-ish is “Fire On The Downline”, which has the misfortune of being stuck in between two far superior songs, because it’s not bad on its own. It is outshone by “Behind The Gates To Midnight World”, though, a semi-ballad packing a lot of great riffs nevertheless, and a chorus for the ages. Sammet may blow his own trumpet a little too hard from time to time, but the man cranks out this kind of immortal melodies like he’s just making a sandwich. Closer is the ballad “Every Night Without You”, which is just as cheesy as it sounds and while it’s alright, it doesn’t hold a candle to “Save Me” or “Thorn Without A Rose”.

Diversity abounds, so much is clear. Now where does it rank among the Edguy-discography? Hard to say, because Edguy-albums generally don’t show such a variety of style. It doesn’t have that careless-for-what-everyone-thinks-honesty of “Tinnitus Sanctus” and despite its title, it isn’t half as goofy as “Rocket Ride”. If anything, this resembles “Hellfire Club” the most, with the exception that the aforementioned album didn’t have any clunkers, while “Age Of The Joker” has a few weaker cuts. It’s not a return to former power metal glory, not an ill-disguised Avantasia-album, it’s simply an Edguy-record that has something to offer for everyone. The joker smiles once again.

Update: I kind of forgot there was a bonus disc with an additional six songs, so let me say a few words on that as well. The two single cuts of "Robin Hood" and "Two Out Of Seven" are useless, and the Slade-cover "Cum On Feel The Noize" is irrelevant after the superior Quiet Riot-version. The main attractions here are the extremely catchy "God Fallen Silent," which could've replaced a number of inferior songs on the main album and the Hammond-organ-overloaded "Aleister Crowley Memorial Boogie", which is also interesting enough to deserve better than bonus track-status.  The "Rocket Ride"-leftover "Standing In The Rain" doesn't and makes some of the extra material on the "Lost In Space"-EPs seem look very good. Worth the few extra bucks for the first two songs, the rest is kind of bland and superficial.


Arno Callens' rating: 4.0 out of 5

No comments: