[9 February 2009]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Power metal is a particularly difficult metal sub genre to perfect, as the blend of melodic riffs, soaring hooks and completely over-the-top vocal acrobatics always teeter precipitously towards utter ludicrousness. The trick is to walk that gossamer-thin tightrope between credible metal chops and bombastic stadium rawk and not look like too much of an ass while doing so. And if you can’t help look like an ass onstage, either you take the Manowar/Blind Guardian route and deliver the music with a totally straight face, looking the punters dead in the eye and selling the hell out of your music, or you follow the example of DragonForce and Edguy, and show the kids you’re not afraid to laugh at yourself and simply revel in the ridiculousness of it all, yet avoid coming off as a self-parody at the same time.
After more than a decade of slogging away in Europe, German quintet Edguy achieved a very impressive balance between the classic speed-riddled power metal styles of countrymen Helloween and Gamma Ray and the double-entendre-laced cock rock of the mid-1980s when the fabulous novelty single “Lavatory Love Machine” catapulted them to stardom in their homeland. Rocket Ride was even better: a riotous, ultra-catchy ode to everything great about melodic metal and a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre that often takes itself far too seriously. At the center of it all is prolific vocalist/primary songwriter Tobias Sammet, who in the last seven years has divided his time between Edguy and side project Avantasia, with his “fun” songs relegated to the former, his more pompous musical forays devoted to the latter. Both projects afford the talented singer and composer the chance to go nuts on either side of the power metal spectrum, and each one turns out to be just as rewarding and consistently good as the other.
For all the recent success of Edguy and Avantasia, though, it comes as quite a surprise that Edguy’s eighth album turns out to be a very scattershot piece of work, as if Sammet has been afforded so much creative freedom he fails to notice the dubiously titled Tinnitus Sanctus has morphed into a gigantic mess that doesn’t know when to say when. At first, though, everything seems fine, as the rousing opening track “Ministry of Saints” launches into a tremendous riff straight out of the Zakk Wylde School of Metal Posturing before erupting in the kind of über-melodic, bubblegummy chorus Sammet and his mates execute so well. Any momentum is quickly stifled, unfortunately, as “Sex Fire Religion” attempts to satirize organized religion, but the sexual metaphor comes off as unintentionally comical. “Wake Up Dreaming Black” is as nonsensical as the title suggests. “9-2-9” is an awkward exercise in upbeat, synth-infused pop rock, and instead of feeling anthemic, the tepid “Dead or Rock” falls flat on its face.
Some of the worst offenders, however, are three songs that have no reason being on an Edguy record, sounding like Avantasia rejects. “The Pride of Creation” might have one of the album’s best hooks, but the fact that Sammet devotes a five-minute power metal song to paying tribute to, uh, the aardvark (“Here we go / What a show / What a nose for blow”) is too stupid for any discerning fan to accept. “Dragonfly” is only a marginal improvement, but this time Sammet comes off as too heavy-handed for his own good, actually attempting the line, “You’re riding high when you nasalize.” The nearly eight-minute “Speedhoven”, meanwhile, makes no sense whatsoever, as the band slavishly mimics Blind Guardian at its most extravagant, from the operatic refrains to the attempts at complex arrangements.
Edguy hits an all-time low on the closing track, “Aren’t You a Little Pervert Too”, half a send-up of material excess, half a shamelessly anti-American rant that takes the novelty shtick too far, to the point where it becomes far more cringe-inducing than funny. Considering Sammet reminds us a total of 13 times in the liner notes he wrote all the music and lyrics, the blame falls completely on his shoulders, and while we do get a couple glimpses of just how good a hard rock songwriter he can be (“Thorn Without a Rose” is as undeniable a power ballad as you’ll ever hear), what should have been a triumphant reassertion of Edguy’s status at the top of the power metal heap is instead a self-parodical, inexcusable misstep by a band that should have known better.