While many people consider 1985 to be the worst year of heavy metal’s salad days in the ‘80s (Slayer’s Hell Awaits, Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion, and Iron Maiden’s Live After Death the best of a very sorry lot), it was just the opposite for the pop side of the genre, as that was the year hard rock got its cock on. Before Poison and Cinderella glammed it up in 1986, and before Guns ‘N’ Roses and Faster Pussycat brought the sleaze in 1987, pop metal was everywhere in 1985, as band after band reveled in the simple pleasures, singing songs about scoring chicks and how important it was in one’s life to just rock. Ratt, Dokken, and W.A.S.P. all followed up their 1984 breakthroughs with slickly produced, more pop-centric efforts, young bands like Keel, Kix, and Rough Cutt delivered their own party anthems, and crafty veterans Accept released the brilliantly melodic Metal Heart, their last great album. Hell, even as Y&T continued to shamelessly sell out, they were still capable of the odd nugget or two (I will defend “Summertime Girls” to my dying day). It was right before the Trixters, Warrants, and Wingers of the world came around with their flaccid imitations, and it was goofy, it was shallow, it was glorious.
Like death metal, you either love power metal or you hate it, but in contrast to death metal’s massive influence on young bands, power metal is nowhere near as cool these days. Massively popular in Europe, yet still struggling for respect in North America, the bombastic, operatic bands like Hammerfall, Stratovarius, and Sonata Arctica continue to faithfully ply their trade, creating music heavily indebted to Iron Maiden, Helloween, and Dream Theater, singing the usual straight-faced, fantasy-laced lyrics that make non-fans wonder if they’re actually serious, or taking the piss. With the majority of power metal bands taking themselves far too seriously, thank goodness for Germany’s Edguy, who, seven albums into their prolific career, continue to breathe new life in an increasingly tired genre.
For years, Edguy was your typical power metal band, working every power metal cliché in the book, and despite doing so very well, the turning point came in 2004, with the release of the single “Lavatory Love Machine”. Stuck right in the middle of the Hellfire Club album, surrounded by such typically-titled songs like “The Piper Never Dies” and “The Spirit Will Remain”, was this boisterous blast of cock rock, guitarists Dirk Sauer and Jens Ludwig trading flashy riffs and licks as singer Tobias Sammet champions the virtues of the Mile High Club, especially when during a plane crash (“Don’t hear those scary noises from the turbine when you scream”). Hilarious, rambunctious, and unbelievably catchy, the single brought the fun back to power metal, and turned out to be every bit as good as those anthems from 19 years earlier.
Edguy obviously were fully aware that they were on to something when “Lavatory Love Machine” charted so well in Europe, and Rocket Ride has the band continuing their gradual move toward middle-of-the-road pop metal, an album as garish as its cover art. Make no mistake, the band aren’t forgetting to dance with what brung ‘em, as the first half of the album is dominated by songs in the five to eight minute range, but while they still adhere to that progressive power metal sound, the vocal hooks, which they are getting better and better at writing, dominate the music more. After a grandiose, piano-driven intro, “Sacrifice” explodes with rich vocal harmonies; similarly, acoustic guitar opens “The Asylum” before those contagious choruses kick in. For all the epic tracks, that hard rock element keeps creeping in more and more, as the frantic “Rocket Ride” takes a page out of the German metal book, Sauer and Ludwig paying homage to Accept’s Wolf Hoffman and UFO’s Michael Schenker, and their twin guitar harmonies dominate the Styx-like “Wasted Time”.
As solid as the first six songs are, the second half of Rocket Ride kicks into high gear, starting with the startlingly straight-faced power ballad “Save Me”, a misty-eyed weeper in the same vein as Kiss’s “Forever” and (dare I say) Winger. Had this song come out two decades ago, accompanied by a Wayne Isham-directed video packed with slo-mo live montages, it would have been a surefire hit. The flashy “Catch of the Century” is highlighted by Sammet’s ridiculous lyrics (“I’m going down with flying colors, before I go down on someone else”), before falling off the rails altogether with a funny, nonsensical rant about big houses and helicopters. Released as a single in late 2005, “Superheroes” is superbly crafted melodic hard rock, incorporating a Peter Gunn-like opening riff with a keyboard-tinged, shamelessly feel-good chorus that sounds like an updated version of Joey Scarbury’s 1981 single “Theme From Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)”. The best is saved for last, though, as the over-the-top “Fucking With Fire” continues where “Lavatory Love Machine” left off; Sammet can’t contain himself during the intro, letting loose a gut-busting string of lead singer clichés (“Ooh, ha ha! Ow! Yeah! Hey! Huh! C’mon, let’s go, boys! Ow ow owwww!”), the song building up to the requisite group shout of, “I’m a bad, bad boy!” and the overtly phallocentric refrain: “I’m coming to rock / Got my rocket on fire and I take what I want!”
At just over an hour, Rocket Ride does go on longer than an album of this type should, as the lengthy ode to the road “Return to the Tribe” (complete with a line about Japanese toilets) and the B-side worthy novelty number “Trinidad” threaten to create a sense of overkill as the album wears on, but to the band’s credit, despite the length, we’re too busy having fun as listeners to notice. While the Darkness has perfected resurrecting ‘70s retro rawk, Edguy has done the same with mid-‘80s pop metal, and has put out one of the most genuinely enjoyable metal albums of 2006 so far.