I’ll Pretend Its Autumn: Insomnium’s Shadows of the Dying Sun

Finland’s melodic death metal brush artists Insomnium are perhaps my most beloved metal “discovery” within the past few years. I stumbled across them some time after the release of their 2011 album One For Sorrow, an elegiac, melancholy touched masterpiece. I think its easy for writers to throw that term around often, it happens quite a bit within metal reviewer circles —- but I really mean it in relation to that album. I was transfixed by every note within, and when I worked my way backwards through their discography, eagerly devouring the similarly styled Across the Dark (2009) and the noticeably more aggressive Above the Weeping World (2006), my appreciation for the band grew stronger and deeper. By October of 2012 I had my first opportunity to see the band live, who had an opening slot for Alestorm (the very idea) and Epica. I’ll never forget that show, I wrote earnestly about my experience that night in an admittedly unnoticed article published later in December of that year that discussed the musical links I traced between Insomnium and Sentenced. Reading it over now, I wonder why I didn’t discuss how deeply I felt connected to the band’s music that night, even on the drive to and from the venue, racing along the highways while staring out at a rapidly darkening, grey-clouded autumn sky. I’m not a religious person for the most part, but something spiritual was going on that day, it was as if Insomnium’s music was painting in the world around me as I perceived it.

 

After Insomnium had played, I thought I might stick around for Epica since I’d coughed up over twenty bucks for the ticket, but Alestorm made me throw in the towel, and I headed outside into the cold night chill. I was walking towards my car and had to move around one of the nightliner tour buses parked outside, and as I rounded the corner I walked past a couple guys that looked familiar. I stopped after a few steps while craning back to look at them, only realizing after my eyes had adjusted to the dark that I’d walked past Insomnium. There they were, all four of them, just casually hanging outside like they hadn’t just put on one of the all time great live performances that I’d ever witnessed. I sauntered over to them and we all said hellos and shook hands, and we began to converse about the typical things —- how they liked the audience,  how was the tour going, etc. They were quite friendly, seemingly rather surprised that some fan had apparently only come to see them play, and they talked at great length. At some point during this conversation, I remember just actively realizing what a vivid impression their music had upon me in various ways that day and its a memory haze blur as to how exactly I told them of this, but I did. I think I behaved like a normal human being (fairly sure), but I briefly let them know, and they replied with genuine appreciation. They shook my hand again after hearing of it, and I told them good night. When I got in my car and pulled out onto the road I felt invincible, and that somehow for a few hours that night, the world made sense to me.

 

 

I tell you all that not only to rectify the lack of detail in that older Insomnium/Sentenced article, but to express to you just how deep my personal roots have grown with this band. I’m writing an album review on the surface, but I’m almost pained to write one for fear of deconstructing the album past the point of —- well, the way I want to enjoy it. In keeping with the way I handled my previous review, for Sabaton’s Heroes, I’ll just come right out and declare this: This is a great Insomnium record, filled with the kind of emotionally charged songwriting and artistry that we now expect from the band. But then haven’t I already expressed that I felt their past three albums were great? Yes I have, and if that nullifies any sense of relative objectivity for you then I’m sorry. And really, what else can I say? This is a band on a roll, with an unshakeable sense of identity and a musical nucleus of guitarist/vocalist Ville Friman and vocalist/bassist Niilo Sevanen that is perhaps the strongest in melodic death metal since the Stromblad-Gelotte pairing during the classic In Flames era.

 

Speaking of identity in particular, Insomnium weren’t preternaturally gifted —- their first three albums were made of good, solid melodic death metal with some certain flashes of brilliance; you can see retrospectively that some unpopped kernel was there, trying to figure its way out. It happened with their fourth album, Above the Weeping World, their first truly great record where they began to trickle in this flood of musical melancholy —- a robust sense of definable emotion that was inherently very Finnish. Their next two albums, Across the Dark and One For Sorrow fully revealed the extent of this transformation —- all traces of Gothenberg removed from their take on melodic death metal as the band’s songwriting had transitioned away from being built around riffs. Instead they created songs by first painting with melodies, even allowing vocal melodies to carry the weight of choruses through clean vocals; there was a sense of space, of delicacy, and of musical texture. Tempos were slowed, there was an noticeable eagerness in their wanting to craft songs with unorthodox rhythms and percussive patterns —- they were in short redefining what melodic death metal could sound like.

 

Those albums also seemed to be the apotheosis of that particular avenue for the band in that I regard them as musical siblings, they share musical and structural commonalities and seem to fit together —- so much so that I suspected it was unlikely that they’d attempt a third repeat performance. In confirming my hypothesis, Shadows of the Dying Sun is as much a departure as it is a continuation of its immediate predecessors. It is simultaneously a further exploration of the softened melodic brush strokes of Across the Dark and One For Sorrow as it is a throwback to the sheer brutal intensity of Across the Weeping World —- and its a near faultless marriage. I’m not sure whether or not it was a conscious decision, but the band have definitely increased the tempos and aggression on an almost album wide basis. There’s a songwriting move back towards sharp, tight melodic riffs while still keeping the new-era layers of expressive clean guitar melodies. The semi-introductory track “The Primeval Dark” is a big hint towards this trajectory, with its soft atmospherics serving as a tension heightening backdrop to the marching, grinding, half growled/half instrumental passages that act as a build up to the kickoff of the album proper.

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBZ5SLJmfdw&w=560&h=315]

 

 

That kickoff being the multifaceted “While We Sleep”, which starts off with some melodic vocals courtesy of Friman before transitioning into Sevanen’s monstrously deep death vocals, all while Friman and fellow guitarist Markus Vanhala create beautifully swirling guitar patterns juxtaposed over sharp, cutting riffs. I love that the mid-song guitar solo here isn’t kicked off in a wild Scorpions-esque electric overdrive, but builds slowly, with gently fluttering acoustic guitar chords that usher in a vivid electric guitar solo sans distortion. Its just one of the ways in which Friman is a thoughtful composer, he could’ve really gone for the big Slash-styled moment there, but tempered it back in accordance with the credo of only giving the song what it needs at any given moment, and in keeping with the tone set by his pensive lyrics. As we segue into the final outro where Sevanen growls the despairing lyric “We need to slow down, so I can catch you / We need to slow down, so you can catch me”, the lost wild rock n’ roll guitar solo finally shows up and its a stunningly expressive emotional release —- one of my favorite moments on the album. Looking at these two songs as a pair its worth noting that they’re keeping in the tradition of the past three Insomnium albums having similarly styled one-two punch opening combos.

 

The next two tracks, “Revelation” and “Black Heart Rebellion” are as starkly contrasting as day and night; the former is a dreamy blend of acoustic guitars and slower, patient tempos with crescendoing clean electric melodic runs, Sevanen’s vocal performance at times softening to a near spoken word whisper. Its a startlingly spiritual lyric at work here too, a Sevanen penned hymn that seems to touch on the Cosmos-themed concepts of being aware of one’s own place in the universe, that “This is the gift of man / The key to see it all / The hidden wonders / Hope in despair”. Alternately in both music and lyrics, “Black Heart Rebellion” is perhaps the most punishing and brutal track on the album, with its black metal like flurry of near tremolo riffs, blastbeat percussive tempos, and Sevanen’s vicious growling about the parallels between “Morning star, angel of the dawn” and “Desolate is the path of self-believers”. Yet Friman still writes in moments of space for quiet melodic reflections, such as Vanhala’s hushed solo at 4:53 —- the kind of thing that is such a distinctive Insomnium signature, their musical calling card if you will. The lengthiest track on the album is the similarly black metal-touched “The River”, where I love the way the guitars anticipate the vocals by a fraction of a second at the 1:27 mark and the resulting effect crackles with excitement. Those stately verse sections unleash into a tremolo riff fueled chorus section with some surprising melodic change-ups.

 

The untarnished gem on this album is “Lose to Night”, a song with an achingly beautiful chorus and note-perfect encapsulating verses. This is my most listened to song on an album that I must have spun at least a few dozen times by now, its the track that practically bleeds out the core musical identity of this band. Everything about it is perfect to me, from its tribal-esque intro drum patterns, to the circular guitar melodies within the verses where Sevanen growl-speaks about a litany of regrets, to Friman’s shining clean vocal performance in the chorus with that delicately hook laden vocal melody. I love that during said chorus, subtly buried in the mix is an electric guitar gently echoing Friman’s vocal melody beat for beat, along with Sevanen’s distant growls adding just the right touch of stormy intensity. I love that its a song about the decay of a relationship, but Friman’s prose is sparse and interpretative enough for it to apply to any circumstance —- the narrator could be speaking to his parents, or his sibling, or his past. I love that instead of associating a barren heart with romance, Friman dishes a curve ball by singing “No more fear in me / This heart’s stone inside”, while adding that “Every day must lose to night / Fade and die”. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this here but these strike me as very Finnish in their inherent nature —- slightly gloomy yes, but beautiful sentiments despite their despairing tone. I think back to my article linking Insomnium and Sentenced, and how these lyrics could have found their way onto The Cold White Light.

 

 

I have other favorites as well, “The Promethean Song” being chief among them, its chiming acoustics and slow tempo-ed bed of bass heavy guitars preceding a Sevanen/Friman vocal trade off where the latter opens up his pipes to higher ranges than we’ve seen from him before. He sounds good, really good actually, and he knows how to write vocal melodies that suit his tone (a rare skill in guitarist first songwriters). I adore the bridge section that occurs at the 4:00 minute mark with accented drumming, Sevanen’s harshly barked out vocals and perhaps the album’s best guitar solo. Then there’s the title track serving as the album closer, its a bass driven, rumbling beast of a song where heavy guitars suddenly swing up and crunch down to usher in a rather inspired Sevanen / Friman vocal duet on the refrain, “And I feel it in my heart / And I know it in my mind / That’s all there is, ever will be”. Its another song where Friman ruminates upon the stardust-y nature of our existence, a sentiment I entertain myself with on occasion and feel rather connected to. Incidentally, Friman makes his rent by working a day job as a scientific researcher, so if you’ve been wondering at the inclusion of science meets spirituality themes within the lyrics, that goes a long way towards explaining it. And of course there’s “Ephemeral”, which we heard late last year as a standalone single, and its dressed up here in a few more layers of guitars and production work, but still sounds just as vibrant, fresh, and ear wormingly catchy as it did originally. It features my favorite lyric on the album, “Dying doesn’t make this world dead to us / Breathing doesn’t keep the flame alive in us”, and its a rarity among Insomnium’s catalog —- a truly anthemic song.

 

I’ll curb this now to prevent it from being a track by track dissection, its already more review than I ever wanted it to be. On a personal level I’m still just allowing myself to experience the album as a continuum where the band’s musical sound palette affects me on a raw emotional level. That’s the kind of thing that I’ll never really be able to express within the context of a review, and its where the large majority of my enjoyment of Insomnium comes from. I was asked by a friend who was eager to hear the album how I thought it stacked up when compared to One For Sorrow, and apart from mentioning the obvious uptick in aggression and overall heaviness, it was a question that I really couldn’t answer. I loved One For Sorrow not only because I thought it was a masterpiece, but because it was the album that reintroduced me to this band and made me a devout fan, and because the music on that album came to me at the perfect moment in my life when I was receptive enough to appreciate it. That’s a lot for a follow-up album to live up to, and that’s why I’ve chosen not to compare Shadows of the Dying Sun directly to it —- its a beautiful, inspired album on its own, and that’s enough. I’m sure that others won’t have a problem giving a more objectified opinion, but there’s a fine line I’m walking here in regards to discussing personal connections to a band’s work. Music can often serve as a mask, a way for you to have your feelings expressed without opening your own dumb mouth. There’s that Oscar Wilde quote, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

Into the Fire: Sabaton Begin a New Era with Heroes

There’s so much to discuss in regards to Sabaton’s newest album, Heroes, a ten track paean to specific acts of heroism in wartime, and a strong contender to be the band’s best album to date. Let’s just get that out of the way first: Heroes is a great Sabaton record, not perfect… but really, really great. I usually avoid disclosing my overall consensus on an album until midway through a review, because after all, I’d like you all to keep reading throughout. Yet the story of this record is worth discussing in depth even though you know where my opinion stands. Its simultaneously a story of the self-driven perseverance of two friends and band mates and their vindication in the wake of what could have been crippling circumstances; as well as a collage of moments where humanity triumphed over the waste and destruction of warfare. Regarding the latter, this is a turning point for Sabaton, whose previous albums were largely made up of metallic anthems either depicting the intensity of war and its participants (for example, “Ghost Division”, “Into the Fire” or “Primo Victoria”), or paying homage to war heroes exclusively (“White Death”). There’s a bit of that on Heroes as well (certainly the cover art reinforces that), but surprisingly enough the album largely consists of songs honoring those moments when non-violence prevailed over all.

 

The last time Sabaton released an album was in 2012, with the thematic departure of Carolus Rex, whose release was clouded with inter-band strife —- resulting in four of the band’s members departing shortly after the recording sessions were complete. An American tour was coming up, and remaining members vocalist Joakim Brodén and bassist Pär Sundström had to scramble to assemble a new lineup. It wasn’t even certain if these new guys would last through the duration of the album’s touring cycle, much less stick around to participate on any future albums. I was there at the Sunday night San Antonio gig that kicked off the Carolus Rex world tour and served as the debut of new Sabaton guitarists Chris Rörland and Thobbe Englund, and drummer Robban Bäck. The new guys were obviously nervous, but so were Broden and Sundstrom. When they took the stage to a relatively small crowd of about fifty of us, they played as though they were in front of thousands —- Broden and Sundstrom leading the stage performances. By the end of that show, the nerves had noticeably dissipated, Broden was communicating his appreciation for the strong support, and I was marveling at just how well the new guys were gelling live in such a short time.

 

 

It was an inconspicuous debut —- though an auspicious one. The tour plowed on, and when I caught the band almost a year later back in Houston, they were firing on all cylinders, the new guys even equaling Broden in their stage performances. I’ve seen them a few times since then, most recently the other week opening for Iced Earth, this time with another new drummer Hannes van Dahl as replacement for Bäck who had to leave for paternity reasons —- and my impressions were further reinforced. Having seen both eras of their lineups, I feel that the current incarnation is the definitive lineup, and that’s not to discredit former band members, but the new guys just seem to “get” what Broden and Sundstrom have in mind when it comes to their live performance. The real question however that lingered throughout was just how this massive lineup change would affect a new recording? In terms of songwriting, there didn’t seem a reason to be concerned since Broden has always served as Sabaton’s musical scribe, but he composes on keyboards and leaves the guitars to his bandmates —- how would the new guys mesh with what he gave them? Exceedingly well as it turns out, and I gather this not only from my takeaway from listening to the album itself, but from comments made by Broden and Sundstrom themselves, who in a recent interview with Spain’s Metalovision mentioned their surprise at how quickly their new guitarists figured out and recorded their parts (apparently in only four days). It wasn’t guaranteed that Heroes would be a great album —- that Sabaton have accomplished this is a testament to the artistic bonds formed while touring Carolus Rex.

 

As far as what makes it great, listen first to five absolutely excellent standout tracks in “Night Witches”, “No Bullets Fly”, “The Ballad of Bull”, “Resist and Bite”, and album closer “Hearts of Iron”. In typical Sabaton fashion, what makes these songs so great is not only their precision honed array of hooks and musical ear candy, but the interesting subject matter and Broden’s skilled ability at lyric writing. One of the most gripping back stories is found on “No Bullets Fly”, honoring an incident in which a crippled American B-17 was escorted back to friendly territory by a German ace fighter pilot named Franz Stigler who was one confirmed kill away from qualifying for the Knights Cross. He said that he maneuvered alongside the  B-17 and could actually see through the damaged air frame and look directly at the faces of its injured pilot, Charles Brown and remaining crew. He made a choice that could’ve gotten him executed had his superiors found out —- he escorted the B-17 back to the North Sea, his presence preventing German anti-aircraft batteries from firing upon the American craft. Upon reaching the sea Stigler saluted the American crew and turned back. Forty-seven years later, the two pilots would finally meet and became good friends.  As a kid I grew up wanting to be nothing more than a fighter pilot, and I loved reading about the history of aerial combat —- and I’m torn between being annoyed with myself for not hearing of this particular story earlier, but very gratified that I got to hear about it through Sabaton’s monstrously epic, adrenaline pounding celebration of human decency. It sounds like an odd juxtaposition because it is: Group shouted vocals yelling “Killing Machine!… B-17!” during the chorus envelope the humanitarian sentiments of “Honor in the sky!… Flying Home!… Said goodbye to the Cross he deserved!” Its quickly become one of my favorite Sabaton songs.

 

 

I’d be remiss not to discuss in greater detail my love of the songs “The Ballad of Bull” and “Hearts of Iron”, two songs about non-violent humanitarian action in the middle of utter chaos. Again its refreshing to hear Sabaton’s scope increasing, their views on the concepts of heroism being greater than just focusing on combative actions. Broden’s lyrics are often startlingly direct, and they certainly are here, but I feel that it works better for the song —- what could he possibly couch in a metaphor? Some may be put off by the former’s piano drenched balladry, in fact a fellow metal critic/radio host friend of mine stated that he thought the piano on it was too “processional”, or too formal for his preferences. I can see where he’s coming from, but for me, that is precisely why I love it so much. I love that the heavy emphasis on naked piano seems to evoke a musical pastiche of the 1940s (or at least my impression of it), and its heavily pronounced major keys seem fitting to match such a near mythical tale of gallant individual heroism. Maybe its also that I simply love piano as an instrument, and amidst an album full of heavy, breakneck guitars, its arrival is a welcome contrast.

 

As for “Hearts of Iron”, its a song concerning the bravery of the German 9th and 12th armies in late April 1945, who facing certain destruction at the hands of the Soviets ignored orders to stand their ground; instead they fought to create and protect a corridor headed west across the Elbe river through which 25,000 civilian and soldier refugees could escape to surrender to western forces. It takes a certain amount of guts to pen a song in which you depict heroism from Nazi German forces, but as a lyricist Broden is deftly aware of this, “It is not about Berlin / It is not about the Reich / It’s about the men who fought for them / What peace can they expect?” Its one of Sabaton’s most tragic yet uplifting songs, with a chorus that tightens your chest with its noble sentiments, “Its the end / The war has been lost / Keeping them safe til the river’s been crossed”. Broden has made a career out of painting lyrical portraits of the vivid shock and terror of battle through multiple narrative perspectives and points of view —- on Heroes he branches out as a lyricist with a very un-metal-like appeal towards moments of human morality (just so there’s no confusion, I consider that to be a good thing).

 

 

Of course, that’s not to suggest that the band have entirely left tradition behind, as “Resist and Bite” is one of the band’s best songs to date and falls in line behind old classics like “40:1” and “Uprising” as us against them celebrations of sacrifice (though in this case it’s about the Belgian infantry resistance to the Nazis). I was driving along the spaghetti bowl of Houston freeways listening to the album this past weekend, and when this song came on I blew past the speed limit and barely saw a highway patrol car on the shoulder just in time —- a very close call! Its got that kind of adrenaline surging, pulse poundingly dramatic (and ultra-catchy) chorus that defines epic and makes you look like a maniac to other passing vehicles. The guitar solos in this track are worth mentioning —- on the entire album in fact, Englund and Rorland trade back and forth wildly melodic, furious soloing that is always complementary to the primary melody at work. Similar in old school theme is “Soldier of 3 Armies”, about Lauri Törni who as the title suggests fought for Finland during the Winter War, Germany in World War II against the Soviets, and the United States (in Vietnam as a Green Beret no less… and man, did this guy hate the Soviets or what?). Its a strong track that is a spiritual cousin to “White Death” from Coat of Arms.

 

The rest of the album fills up nicely with solid songs brimming with catchy hooks, interesting one-off musical moments, and of course loads of melody. I’m not sure if “To Hell and Back”, a song about the legendary World War II hero Audie Murphy, was the best choice for the lead off single (“Resist and Bite” fits the bill better), but its a good song nonetheless and its whistling motif has a real Scorpions call back to it. If there’s a tune on here that can merely be described as decent or good, its “Inmate 4859” —- about Polish resistance hero Witold Pilecki. Its a bit lumbering, the chorus is a touch too close to the verse in tempo, structure, and design (a very un-Sabaton quality), but it does have a nice guitar solo led bridge in the middle that is very pleasing to the ear. Again, not a bad song by any stretch, but it and a track like “Far From the Fame” just don’t live up to the high bar set by the other truly classic songs here —- but seriously, for any metal record seven out of ten isn’t a bad ratio.

 

My spirits have been buoyed by the artistic success of this album, I now know that Sabaton will be able to sustain any major lineup shocks and upheavals (though here’s hoping no more come). This is one of the most impressive bands in metal, they’re self-managed, they tour like they’re possessed, they have a great respect for their American audiences and actively seek to make a dent in the market Stateside, and they’re aware of their own identity in a way most bands are not. And they’ve also released one of the best records of the year so far, something I wasn’t predicting a few months ago. They get a lot of flak from more than a handful of popular metal sites, whether its for their subject matter, or their major key melodicism, or their pristine productions —- all criticisms that are actually the band’s biggest strengths. Critics will be critics, metal bands can’t all sound purposefully lo-fi and full of black metal tropes. Sabaton’s growing popularity is a testament to the honest nature of their audiences —- that there can be metal fans who are unapologetic about what qualities they enjoy in their heavy music, unaffected by trends or flavors of the month. I noticed it when I turned in any direction towards the crowd at the Iced Earth / Sabaton show the other week, real enthusiasm untempered by internet angst. There’s hope after all.

 

Edguy’s Space Police: Does Tobias Sammet Rebound?

Edguy_Space-Police-300x300_zps0f723504If you’ve kept up with the blog over the past few years, you’ll know that I’m a pretty big Tobias Sammet fan. Yet my unabashed fandom has not prevented me from listening with a critical ear to his songwriting in both Avantasia and Edguy, and in doing so I’ve begun to notice a certain track that his recent works have been taking. There was a noticeable decline with Edguy’s Age of the Joker and last year’s Avantasia offering, The Mystery of Time, and it could be argued that the seeds of this decline for Edguy in particular began with 2008’s Tinnitus Sanctus. That in itself I find rather revealing, because 2008 also ushered in the release of the first Avantasia album in the largely brilliant Scarecrow trilogy —- which suggests that it marked the start of an era in which Sammet began to reserve his best material for the Avantasia records, by default giving Edguy second priority. Sammet himself would balk at that very suggestion and has gone on record stating that the songwriting periods for both projects do not intersect. Hey I’m a fan of the guy, I’ll take him at his word, but I will argue that its fair to suggest that his main musical priority had shifted to Avantasia within the past six years. Its in the math guys: since 2008 —- four Avantasia albums to three for Edguy.

 

I understood the importance of the Avantasia project to Sammet, and since he was delivering great records I was perfectly willing to tolerate a slight quality hit on the Edguy stuff, which weren’t bad albums by any means (there were a few gems on those records). But when The Mystery of Time happened, I began to see that there was a possibility of the well running dry in terms of Sammet’s seemingly endless capacity for penning excellent songs. It falls then to the newest Edguy release, the typically tongue-in-cheek titled Space Police: Defenders of the Crown, to show that Sammet has rebounded from the songwriting lethargy that has plagued his two most recent releases, and more importantly —- to bring some measure of importance and individuality back to the name Edguy. He can accomplish the former by of course delivering some truly knockout songs, but achieving the latter is a far more ambiguous task —- after all, a side effect of Sammet being the sole songwriter for both bands is that they have begun to blend together in styles. When Edguy records started showing noticeable hard rock influences, Avantasia records followed suit —- so it begs the question: What is Edguy anymore?

 

The answer appears to be right in front of our faces. Pick up your copy of Space Police and take a long gander at that ludicrous album cover. For the record, I do enjoy the artwork, but that image of a 70’s motorcycle cop pastiche holding an alien (in the most awkward way possible) is the codex that we can use to decipher how Sammet now permanently perceives his work in Edguy. There was a long period of time dating back to the band’s inception when Edguy wrote serious albums about relatively serious subjects. However levity and comic relief became a subtle tradition within Edguy albums dating back to 2000’s mostly dark and serious Mandrake, where a track called “Save Us Now” comic-riffed on drummer Felix Bohnke’s nickname of “Alien Drum Bunny”. Since then we’ve gotten songs about morning wood, self-referential ideas about superheroes, a fantasy of joining the mile high club as a way to deal with flight anxiety,  and of course a bonus track about the life and times of… a bonus track. I’m barely scratching the surface here, and I’m marveling at my own obtuseness in not realizing that Sammet has rather conspicuously separated the veins of his songwriting approach into his two ongoing projects. Since 2006, Avantasia would receive (and monopolize) the far more serious, artistic vein, while Edguy’s increasing blendings of hard rock with traditional power metal served as a perfect soundtrack in which Sammet could further indulge his wacky, silly, Scorpions-inspired vein.

 

edguy-400x300_zps6e8bd9a9These are permanent changes, and I suspect that Sammet realizes this, but I’m not sure that most of his fans have. If you’re one of the few that can accept the compartmentalizing of his songwriting career, then you’ll be able to accept Space Police for what it is —- namely, the strongest Edguy record of the past eight years. Sammet has successfully shaken off the dust of his past two recordings and delivers some pretty great songs, the most apparent of these being the title track itself. With its tension building, slow-burning verses and propulsive prog-pop chorus, Sammet has penned one of his best Edguy songs to date. Its subject matter is ironic in that its poking fun at fans, or critics (or in my case, one and the same) that tend to demand that the band stick to a particular set of stylistic rules or structures —- all while featuring some of the silliest voice effects on any Edguy song ever (remember the “sung” guitar solo from years ago… its back in a weird way). There’s also the standout single, “Love Tyger”, one of Sammet’s catchiest songs ever, with its “La-La-La-La-Love Tiiiger” refrain becoming perma-stuck in my head for the better part of two weeks now. I love the backing vocals on this tune, with its complementing mix of male and female vocals in what is by now becoming a Sammet trademark, they add a lushness to the sound that is supremely enjoyable. Another gem is the unconventional power ballad “Alone In Myself”, where Sammet trades the usual dramatic build up and Slash-esque guitar solos for an almost soul-influenced lead vocal backed up by some fantastic gospel tinged choir vocals during the refrain. I’m pretty big on Sammet’s ballads, I think he’s one of the best at penning them genre wide, and I love that he’s finding new ways to explore this particular avenue in his songwriting. What an astounding song.

 

With those three tracks as the pinnacle of a pretty strong album, I’m left wondering why the band (or perhaps more accurately, Nuclear Blast) decided upon “Sabre & Torch” as the lead-off single. Its not a bad song, but its nothing spectacular either (its very construction reminds me of the similarly underwhelming “Ministry of Saints” from Tinnitus Sanctus), its appeal is all but extinguished after a couple spins and I have no real desire to hear it again. I was more than impressed with the guts it took to release “Sleepwalking” as the first single and video of the last Avantasia album, so why go the safe route with Edguy (which is ostensibly a far less conservative project)? I can only assume that its an overt play towards metal fans en masse as opposed to only Edguy/Sammet fans, who I believe would’ve been far more impressed even with the crudely titled “Do Me Like A Caveman”, which for its utterly throwaway title does sport a rather focused, serious sonic palette and a truly vibrant chorus. Likewise goes for “The Realms of Baba Yaga”, where a pretty good groove and some solid riffs help in distracting you from the vagueness of the lyrics (my stab in the dark at them is that its a very Iron Maiden-y “Number of the Beast” type of motif, except with a figure from Slavic myth instead of pitchforked devils). But credit where credit’s due, all parties involved were wise in keeping the Falco “Rock Me Amadeus” cover buried as a deep album cut, right in the middle of the tracklisting in fact. Its placement is well chosen, its execution is amusing and truly evocative of the spirit of the original, and as far as covers go, its an imaginative choice.

 

 

tobiassammet_zpsa1237831Filling out the rest of the record are some solid album cuts; “Defenders of the Crown”, the second half title track has a chorus that is slightly lacking, yet the rest of the song is packed with enough interesting musicality to make it worth many repeat listens. Same goes for “Shadow Eaters”, an uptempo mix of power and trad metal elements with a pummeling double bass furor throughout, its easily the heaviest track on the record (you know… if that’s the kind of thing you enjoy hearing about). The closing track “The Eternal Wayfarer” attempts to be the epic of the record, with its just under nine minutes in length, but it comes up short of meeting the criteria to be placed alongside past Edguy epic-length classics. Not for lack of trying however, because I should mention that the song is near spectacular from 5:03 to 7:00, where an extremely well written extended bridge features the kind of swirling lead vocal layering that we haven’t heard since the classic title track from Theater of Salvation, a blast of nostalgia that is tastefully done and just plain fun to hear! So there you have it, no real clunkers, and a handful of gems, I’d call that a pretty good outing for Sammet and a rebound for him in the quality department. I’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned any of the other band member’s performances, and that’s not meant to be a snub, as those guys do their job really well and sound great as always. This is a band that lives and dies on the songwriting skills of Sammet, and until they decide to get involved in that realm themselves, it will always be that way.

 

So its worth reiterating once again, Edguy is Sammet’s lighthearted rock n’ roll playground, and fans should start getting used to this being the way things will always be. The days of serious Edguy records are long over, since 2006 it seems —- so you’d figure we’d all be accepting of this by now, except one of the more unfortunate traits of metal fans of all stripes is an unwillingness to accept change. Check out the YouTube comments for any of these new songs, and you’ll find someone bemoaning the fact that the band has abandoned their classic style and gotten silly. But maybe they’re responding to the hard rock and trad metal influences, which are slowly taking over the sound of a majority of veteran power metal bands. I do feel that power metal is in need of another round of classicism, a re-appropriation of the sound that once defined a generation of bands in the nineties. When Silent Force’s new album sounds closer to Whitesnake than classic Helloween, you know that the state of the genre is in considerable flux. But when it comes to Sammet, I think he’s far removed from the rigidity of the classic style/sound that many of his fans crave (the biggest hint was his subtitling the last Avantasia record “A Rock Epic”, as opposed to “The Metal Opera”). The best that you can hope for as a listener and fan is to find something redeeming about his songwriting on every new release, and thankfully he’s never let me down in that regard.

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