2017 marks the 25th anniversary of Edguy, one of Germany’s most popular and longest running active heavy metal groups. As we countdown to the release of their celebratory box set, Monuments, reviewer Kevin McDonald takes a look back and gives the verdict on their back catalogue.
Kingdom of Madness (1997)
It is rare for a band to get it right on their first attempt, and although Edguy fall into this category, there was enough present on Kingdom of Madness to highlight their potential. Despite being marred by poor production and a slightly derivative songwriting direction, the qualities of the group shine through, with duelling axemen Jens Ludwig and Dirk Sauer showing their accomplished skills even at this early stage. Although Tobias Sammet’s vocals were still some way away from the dazzling heights he would eventually reach, he shows plenty of the spirit and tenacity that has since made him one of the genre’s best. “Wings of a Dream” became an early fan favourite; it’s undeniable quality unearthed on the re-recorded version four years later. One can only imagine how good “Paradise” and “Deadmaker” may have sounded with a better budget, whilst “Angel Rebellion” and “Steel Church” offer the riff hungry audience something to gorge on. Eighteen minute epic “The Kingdom” remains the longest composition of the band’s career career, and whilst it is a little uneven, it holds up pretty well for a song of its duration; a credit to Sammet’s remarkable songwriting craft. Overall, there’s no disputing that this is the weakest album of Edguy’s career, but the fact that it’s still pretty damn good is a statement in itself.
Vain Glory Opera (1998)
Arriving eleven months after their debut, the improvements displayed on Vain Glory Opera are substantial. Everything sounds bigger and more vibrant, from the professional production, huge backing choirs, better song writing and individual performances. Sammet in particular upped his game, and although his vocals were still developing at this point, he sounds much stronger here, particularly his vibrato. Frank Lindenthal sat behind the kit following Storch’s departure, his more capable playing giving the album added vigour. The album also birthed Edguy’s first bona fide classics, in the shape of the Europe-esque title track (something Sammet has eluded to on stage) and the measured thump of “Out of Control”, both of which feature guest vocals from Hansi Kursch of fellow German giants Blind Guardian (Timo Tolkki, formerly of Stratovarius fame, also contributes a splendid solo to the latter). Elsewhere, “Until We Rise Again”, “Fairytale” and the riff heavy “No More Foolin’” provide the up tempo thrills, whilst “Scarlet Rose” superbly showcases Sammet’s tender side. That Ultravox cover “Hymn” could pass off as an Edguy original is indicative of their ability to weave massive ’80s style hooks into the power metal tapestry, and is a wonderfully uplifting way to close the record. A major step up from Kingdom of Madness, Vain Glory Opera was the first of many albums that would go on to cement Edguy’s legacy as one of power metal’s greats.
Theater of Salvation (1999)
Released 13 months after Vain Glory Opera, Theater of Salvation is, like its predecessor, a marked improvement on what came before. With Felix Bonhke and Tobias ‘Eggi’ Exxel taking up drum and bass duties respectively, the new rhythm section rounded out the line up that has been going strong for 18 years now (as of writing). For the first time, it felt like Edguy had the abilities and production to do their material justice. And boy, did they bring the material big time. “Babylon” sets the tone with a power metal behemoth of, well, Babylonian proportions; a tireless six and a half minute marathon of driving double bass, melodic guitar harmonies and soaring vocals. “Wake Up the King” and “Arrows Fly” are in a similar vein, with “Holy Shadows” and “The Headless Game” taking a more mid tempo approach. The stirring “Land of the Miracle” and sombre “Another Time” are both fine piano orientated ballads, whilst the nimble riffery of “The Unbeliever” shows that Jens Ludwig brings more than just searing leads to the group. The title track is a firm fan favourite; an epic, 12 minute composition rich in operatic grandeur; the first of many sprawling classics Sammet would go on to write in his career. Superb from the first second to the last, Theater of Salvation is a triumph that, remarkably, doesn’t even rank among Edguy’s best records.
The Savage Poetry (2000)
Recorded in the interim between albums whilst Sammet busied himself with the all star Avantasia project, The Savage Poetry revisits Edguy’s unofficial 1995 debut. If ever there was an advert for re-recording material, this is it. Much like Kingdom of Madness, the original Savage Poetry was made by a band that didn’t have the capabilities or budget to do the songs justice. Edguy had come on leaps and bounds since then though, and now the potential of the material could be realised. Bonhke’s drumming is leagues ahead of Storch’s; a metronomic juggernaught of machine like precision that never loses the human element, whilst the impressive vocal gymnastics of the irrepressible Sammet are the sound of a man whose voice could now match the ideals in his head (just listen to those high notes that close “Eyes of the Tyrant”). The songs are, unsurprisingly, more basic than Edguy’s recent material at the time, but they hit a lot harder; with speedy riff onslaughts such as “Frozen Candle”, “Sacred Hell” and “Misguiding Your Life” packing quite a punch. The impassioned pleas in ballad “Roses to No One” tug at the heart strings, whilst the bounce of “Hallowed” and “Power & Majesty” foreshadow the more jovial musical direction the band would eventually take. A fantastic trip down memory lane, The Savage Poetry is evidence that Edguy always had what it took to achieve greatness, it was just a case of giving them the tools and the platform to do so.
The new millennium brought with it the golden age of Edguy, ushered in by the brilliance of the seminal Mandrake album. Recorded under the working title of Magic, that’s exactly what the album is; 60 minutes of power metal mastery, aided by a superbly atmospheric production and an exceptional Sammet performance; a man truly at the peak of his powers. Storming opener “Tears of a Mandrake” is quintessential Edguy; a seven and a half minute workout of pumping riffs, dazzling lead work and an incredibly catchy chorus. “Golden Dawn”, “Fallen Angels”, “All the Clowns” and “Save Us Now” deliver the sort of pacey power metal anthems other bands could only dream of making, the latter a humourous ode to their ‘high speed alien drum bunny’ (aka energetic drummer Felix Bohnke). “The Pharaoh” puts an Egyptian flavoured spin on the lengthy epic formula, managing to surpass Theater of Salvation‘s title track, whilst “Jerusalem” is the first time the band would flirt with folk influences. “Painting on the Wall” is a precursor to the more hard rock direction the band would go on to take, whereas “Nailed to the Wheel” takes no prisoners with one of the heaviest songs of their career. After a number of strong albums, Mandrake saw Edguy truly elevate themselves to the top tier of the power metal scene, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed, as they were subsequently signed to Nuclear Blast Records following the release of their first live record, Burning Down the Opera.
Hellfire Club (2004)
12 years into their career, Edguy had the chance to break through big time, an opportunity they duly seized with both hands. Hellfire Club is the sound of a band full of confidence; their bombastic heavy metal matched by the massive production style, complete with orchestral contributions from Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg. There is plenty of diversity on offer, with speed metal assaults (“Mysteria”, “Under the Moon”), power metal stormers (“We Don’t Need a Hero”, “Rise of the Morning Glory”), measured melodic anthems (“Down to the Devil”, “Navigator”), Celtic ballads (“The Spirit Will Remain”) and the now customary 10+ minute epic (“The Piper Never Dies”); all underpinned by a plethora of vocal and guitar hooks that’ll have the songs stuck in your head for weeks on end. The mid paced stomp of “King of Fools” has gone on to become the definitive show closer (the promo EP is well worth a look for B-sides “The Savage Union” and “Holy Water”), with the cheeky, hard rockin’ tribute to the mile high club “Lavatory Love Machine” also becoming a live favourite. A milestone album for Edguy, Hellfire Club also marked the first time the group worked with Sascha Paeth, the start of a fruitful relationship that has seen the producer go on to work with the band (and Avantasia) on every album since. Much like Mandrake three years prior, Hellfire Club is Edguy at the top of their game, and one of many essential power metal albums the band have produced.
Rocket Ride (2006)
Hellfire Club had the sound of a band itching to free themselves from the constraints of their genre, and with Rocket Ride, they truly broke away from the power metal mould. An eclectic mix of heavy metal and rock that draws from a wealth of influences and eras, Edguy’s creative wings were spread like never before. There is a warmth and and vibrancy about the album thanks to the production of Sascha Paeth, with much of the album recorded live on analogue. As a result, the material lacks the sonic punch of Hellfire Club, but the more colourful sound suits the hard rock leanings of the album. Humour was found in abundance, with some detractors feeling tongue was planted a bit too firmly in cheek, with the likes of the tropical themed “Trinidad”, ’80s hair metal throwback “Fucking with Fire” (both originally intended to be bonus tracks) and the infectious, cocksure rocker “Catch of the Century” the subject of their derision. Whilst it is not an accusation without merit, there is still a lot of serious material on offer, with the brooding blast of “The Asylum” and the piano driven riffing of “Sacrifice” serving as duel mini epics in the absence of a truly lengthy track. The title track and “Return to the Tribe” satiate the appetite for traditional power metal songs, with the synth laden “Matrix” the most experimental song Edguy had done at the time. Acoustic rock ballad “Save Me” and the slick, catchy “Superheroes” saw screams of sell out, but it’s impossible not to see the heart, soul and passion put into each and every second of the album. “Superheroes” was the lead track on a pre-release EP that again saw some hidden gems relegated to B-side status. “Spooks in the Attic” is possibly the most uplifting and catchy song Edguy have penned, whilst “Judas at the Opera” puts Queen through a power metal filter as the legendary Michael Kiske joins Sammet in taking a light hearted jab at genre loyalists. A remarkable album, Rocket Ride might just be the crown jewel in Edguy’s discography.
Tinnitus Sanctus (2008)
Whilst Rocket Ride was well received, it did draw criticism for it’s overly goofy demeanour and for straying too far into hard rock territory. Tinnitus Sanctus does reel in both aspects a touch, but not in response to the criticism (a glimpse at “Speedhoven”’s lyrics assure us of that); it’s simply a natural progression from the 2006 album, with a more concise heavy metal approach. “Ministry of Saints” gets things underway with a neck snapping riff, the understated chorus growing in stature with every passing listen. The quirky “The Pride of Creation” and darker “Wake Up Dreaming Black” provide the subordinate power metal thrills, paving the way for the mini marvel of “Speedhoven”, a dynamic tour de force with superb instrumental prowess and a staggering mid song vocal. The straightforward rock of “9-2-9” is as genuine an ode to love and friendship as you’re likely to hear, a far cry from the twisted love portrayed in the heavy grooves of “Sex Fire Religion”. The anti drug sentiment of the simmering “Dragonfly” is further compounded by the haunting vocals that echo in the refrain, with “Dead or Rock” providing fireworks to the last with an energetic hard rock workout. The only dud is the ‘bonus’ “Aren’t You a Little Pervert Too?!”, a forgettable comedy number that caused a minor stir in the US due to rodeo references. Tinnitus Sanctus was Edguy’s fourth consecutive knockout album, and should be a staple in anyone feasting on a a diet of the group’s discography.
Age of the Joker (2011)
All good things must come to an end, and with Age to the Joker, Edguy’s winning run is brought to a halt. This is all relatively speaking of course, as this is still a very good album, but it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the four records prior. In truth, Sammet had probably spread himself a bit too thin with Avantasia’s ambitious double album project a year prior, and perhaps a bit of fatigue crept into his songwriting (that said, the brevity between The Scarecrow and Tinnitus Sanctus had no ill effect). Nevertheless, there is still a lot if quality material on Age of the Joker, even if it doesn’t shine quite as brightly as the classics. “Rock of Cashel” is another folk forage in the vein of “Jerusalem”, whilst the use of the dobro gives the slow burning “Pandora’s Box” a distinctive flair. Bittersweet ballad “Every Night Without You” bares Sammet’s soul like never before, whereas “Nobody’s Hero” and “Faces in the Darkness” deliver the heavy riff action. Memorable synth lines lead the trio of “Two Out of Seven”, “Fire on the Downline” and “Breathe”, with “The Arcane Guild” carrying the power metal torch in fine fashion. “Robin Hood” and “Behind the Gates to Midnight World” take the sprawling route with mixed results; the former a light hearted look at the Prince of Thieves (or is it Man in Tights?) with a gallant gallop and a nod to Seventh Son in the bridge, the latter a good collection of ideas that never really finds congruence. It’s a rare miss for Sammet, whose more ambitious songs tend to be among the strongest on any given album, but it’s something he would remedy on the follow up. Despite ranking among Edguy’s weaker records, Age of the Joker is still a fine album that is indicative of the depth of quality the band has in their catalogue.
Space Police – Defenders of the Crown (2014)
Since 2008, Sammet’s constant creative/touring cycle alternated between Avantasia and Edguy, seeing the gap in releases for his main band widen to every three years or so. Many felt that he was filling Edguy records with Avantasia cast offs, but the truth is there had been a minor lull in the collective output that began with Avantasia’s 2010 combo of The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon. Thankfully, Space Police arrests that slide with the best album since 2008’s Tinnitus Sanctus. Right from the get go, the vicious bite of “Sabre & Torch” grips you tightly and refuses to let go, a defiant middle finger to the naysayers that ranks amongst the group’s heaviest compositions. This theme carries over to the first of two title tracks, with “Space Police” taking aim at those who impose limitations on creative freedom. It’s co-star, “Defenders of the Crown”, is a pedal to the power metal, with a rousing pre chorus leading to a gang vocal befitting a Hammerfall classic. The flamboyant, ’80s rock stylings of “Love Tyger” could turn the most depressive of frowns upside down; Sammet’s playful posturing the perfect foil for a monumental sing along chorus. In another life, “The Realms of Baba Yaga” could well have been Ozzy’s No Rest for the Wicked, with some of Sammet’s vocal mannerisms and Ludwig’s blistering riff and lead work recalling the vibe of the Ozzman’s late ’80’s record. “Do Me Like a Caveman” is a surprisingly straight laced look at the seedier side of hotel life, with a vocal line that doesn’t go for the most obvious hook, whereas the introspective “Alone in Myself”, a rather solemn ballad, forgoes the tried and true Edguy format for a more modern sound. “The Eternal Wayfarer” is where it all comes together though, and I can say, with absolute confidence, that this is the best song Edguy have to their name thus far. The main key melody may well be lifted from “The Piper Never Dies”, but that’s the only criticism that can be levelled at it. It’s a tight, expertly crafted epic that takes you on an evocative, wondrous journey to the stars and beyond, with an extraordinary, goosebump inducing chorus, a solo trade off that recalls the Theater of Salvation days and an ingenious layered vocal passage all part of the impeccable package. An utterly sensational end to an album that sees Edguy return to form.
Be sure to keep an eye out for a review of Monuments, as well as an interview with Tobias Sammet, in the coming days.