If 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.
These 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.
Filling 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.
May 2, 2014
I have been waiting to read what you had to say about the new edguy album, thanks for posting!
I agree with much of what you wrote, but I differ on my views on the quality of the space police cd. I tried to lsiten to it, and actually made it through the album several times, but that was more than enough for me and it will be relegated to riding the proverbial garbage truck. I agree with you on many points regarding the issue of edguy being sammet’s playground now and that there has been a very noticeable change in the stylings and some say the quality of the music being written and recorded.
For the record, I think the new edguy album(space police) is a steaming pile. I think it is absolutely terrible and a disgrace to a band that has had so many memorable songs over their careers.
I am very annoyed by the changes you specifically pointed out regarding sammet’s focus on edguy and the music he writes for that band. Too much of the material comes off as immature and infantile to me. When I listen to music written and recorded by someone with sammet’s considerable abilities I want to be impressed, left in awe, and amazed at what I just heard. On my first attempt at listening to the new cd I had to struggle not to hit the ‘next’ button quickly and try to give the songs a fair shot.
I am absolutely convinced that the well has pretty much run dry for Tobias Sammet. I hope I am wrong! But I hated the style and writing of mystery of time as it just felt weak in many areas. On the edguy side I don’t care for Tinnitus Sanctus, I mostly disliked Age of the Joker, but Space Police just leaves me scratching my head and unable to explain the album to anyone. Starting with that idiotic album cover. Jesus, what in the hell is that? The cop looks like the stereotype of a 1970s porn star, complete with atrocious moustache. I don’t care for the album name, but the name is the least of the problems for me.
A lot of the songs just feel like they are going through the motions. Yes, he wrote songs, yes they recorded them, but they just don’t measure up to what I know sammet is capable of. Is it better than what he’s released over the last couple of years? I don’t think it is. I think it is just a different flavor of the same dish. It just sounds like a lot of rehashes of old material and that disappoints me. I was very excited in the build up for the new album and the updates from sammet, but when I heard Sabre & Torch all I could think was ‘that’s it?? they did that for the first release?’. I was woefully underwhelmed. I have the album but won’t be keeping it, it is terrible.
When I look at the early edguy material, early avantasia, and then start to run through the albums chronologically I see a great amount of maturity develop through the albums, but then at some point sammet started in throwing his attempts at funny songs. That is when I start to see a downward trend in the quality of the writing as though he is going backwards in the maturity area. I don’t even recognize the edguy and avantasia material from the last release for each.
Something I think that also is going on with sammet is that he has had a lot of recording and a lot of touring over the last few years and I think his voice is starting to show some ragged edges. he’s held up remarkably well, but I do think a toll has been taken on his voice and it shows up most notably for me on space police.
May 2, 2014
Interesting observation about his voice deteriorating —- some people have expressed their concern that his reliance on higher vocals in a live setting is shredding his voice, there could be some truth to that. I only really noticed it in “Sabre & Torch” as far as the record goes, he tends to sound far better in the midrange thesedays. Getting older I guess adds to that as well.
You’re likely not alone in your opinion on the album, and I totally understand where you’re coming from. A big Edguy fan who’s a friend of mine also expressed a similar take on the new stuff. Out of curiosity, what was your take on the last Avantasia album?
May 2, 2014
I’d be more than happy to comment on that, just let me write it up!
May 5, 2014
Sorry I’m a little slow, the weekend got a little nuts.
I was very disappointed in ‘the mystery of time’. I was very excited about when I found out there would even be a new avantasia album, but when sammet started to release the names of the guest vocalists I was very wary of how the album actually would be. I don’t know what went into his decision to have mostly an entirely new panel of guest vocalists, but in looking at the performances and my enjoyment of the work on the mystery of time cd but it was curious. I did not enjoy the new guests. I thought biff byford, ronnie atkins, and joe lynn turner were a poor match for the songs. I particularly disliked biff byford’s vocals. The inclusion of eric martin left me scratching my head about why sammet was so excited to have a cheesy 80s singer on the album. Could he not find someone even more cheesy?
I liked the strong performance from M. Kiske although I did not like the songs particularly well.
Much of the album seemed to be very formulaic and that sammet once again went to the same well for material and I believe that well is running dry. If not dry, then stale… The mystery of time also seemed to lack a lot of story and cohesion when listened to in order. THe first two metal operas were wonderful for story and progression, but that got very lost. The mystery of time seems to just be a random collection of songs that have similar keywords in the title such as clock, dream or watch, etc. It just came off unimaginative and the issue of the album being formulaic was sad. For some time sammet has been writing and recording his ‘epic’ songs, but they are all the same basic structure and when one uses the same idea too man times eventually it starts to lose some shine and not be as impressive. Particularly when the epic songs start to lose seem like lesser songs that have been stretched and massaged to try and turn them into an epic song length..
I don’t like what sammet has been up to lately. he’s transforming himself and edguy into a sad neo-80s rock band that is nothing but a joke. I have trouble taking him seriously as an artist anymore. If I was a member of edguy and had to play the material he’s been writing I would be more than a bit resentful.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say but this is my nutshell commentary on what I think of the mystery of time.
May 5, 2014
I agree with SR. I only listened to the 30 seconds of each song on ITunes but it was enough. There wasn’t a single track that grabbed me or whose chorus was catchy like an Edguy song should be. Seriously, this is the same band that wrote “Mandrake”, “Vain Glory Opera”, “Babylon”, etc.? Maybe there’s one or two tracks I’d go back and re-listen to again but the rest was pretty bad, especially that god awful “Love Tyger”. I don’t have a problem necessarily with the humor, I thought “Lavatory Love Machine” and “Dead or Rock” were good songs but this was just a disgrace, as was “Do Me Like A Caveman”. Even “Rocket Ride” had a few good tracks but this is just very disappointing. I hate to say it but Edguy’s glory days may well be behind them.
May 5, 2014
I can tell you and I are of a similar opinion on space police. I LOVED Mandrake, Vain Glory Opera, and all of the other stuff from back then. It was enjoyable, well written, memorable and left me amazed that they were doing stuff like that.
I’m glad to see you have the same opinion of ‘love tyger’ that I do, and that it is very god awful. I tend to agree with your statement that edguy’s glory days appear to be behind them, hence my belief that the well has run dry. This isn’t a new phenomenon on this album alone as I believe it has been building.
It is so bad for me that one of my lifelong music related dreams was to attend an edguy concert. Living in the US it isn’t as easy to attend their shows as if I lived in other parts of the world where they tour more frequently, but I have zero desire to see their show because I just don’t feel like I would want to do it. Tongue-in-cheek here, but I would have a hard time figure out when they might play a couple of new songs in a row so I would know when I could go to the restroom and not miss something good.
May 6, 2014
I did see them live a few years ago and they were awesome live. The energy level was insane. However, I’d have to get a copy of their setlist nowadays so I too would know when to use the john. I call it the “Sonata Arctica” effect. 😛
May 5, 2014
Edguy is band I have never really gotten in to but then I have not listened to their full catalog. Tobias vocals remind me of ACDC with a bit of ahh uhahhuahh added (forced tremulo…). It took me a couple attempts to finally make myself listen to this one all the way through and I definitely will not be running out to buy it.
I do see enough there however that I do plan to listen to some of the older releases when I’m in a more receptive mood. As I write this I have to admit that Tobias vocals have stuck in my mind though no one song from Space Police. I have listened to one Avantasia album though the only track I can remember featured Roy Khan but I did enjoy the whole album.
So if I am going to give Edguy another try, what albums do you recommend?
May 5, 2014
I would strongly recommend ‘The Savage Poetry’, or ‘Mandrake’ as a good starting point. Both are exactly what turned me into a fan of edguy.
May 6, 2014
Just to add, I would also recommend “Vain Glory Opera” and “Theater of Salvation”.