I’m not sure what my expectations were for the new Edguy album, Age of the Joker. Ever since 2004’s Hellfire Club, the band’s first outing on Nuclear Blast, Edguy has been incorporating more and more elements of traditional metal and hard rock into their music and less of the power metal they were known for. This has caused a bit of a rift with their fan base. Some long for the days of Theater of Salvation and Mandrake and a great chorus of fans deride the band’s new sound. At the same time, the group’s exposure increased and as a result so did its popularity, and we all know what that does to the “hardcore” fan base.
Hellfire Club served as a breakout, and the following album Rocket Ride furthered that while also further removing the band from its power metal roots. Following Rocket Ride, frontman and brainchild Tobias Sammet took some time off to create the next Avantasia record before returning for 2008’s Tinnitus Sanctus. Tinnitus once more saw a reduction of the power metal sound, almost eliminating it entirely, in favor of more mid-tempo tracks and hard rock riffs. The press was fairly positive at first, but fans did not seem to enjoy it as much. The album was unbalanced and for every good track there seemed to be an under developed one.
For those who hopped off the Edguy band wagon following Tinnitus Sanctus I will say the latest album Age of the Joker is a marked improvement. However, those longing for the old power metal sound should not bother. Some of the pre-release hype for AOTJ has called it a return to form but that seems quite misleading. If trying to compare AOTJ with prior Edguy works is necessary, then I would say it is best described as a melding of Hellfire Club’s heavy riffing with Tinnitus Santus’ rock undertones. And really, the album is at its best when it goes for that sound. When the band tries to stretch the songs out into something epic, such as with the lead track “Robin Hood,” things stumble and the band struggles to keep the song interesting. In the very specific case of “Robin Hood,” the subject matter just doesn’t lend itself well to an epic 8 minute song. Sammet tries to play it tongue and cheek with some sophomoric humor thrown in (Robin Hood is just trying to get someone to caress his “Little John”) but the vocal melody for the chorus just doesn’t fit. Some of the attempts at humor fall flat as well, such as Robin being out for “bling,” and the middle section just doesn’t work.
The album is immediately redeemed with the next song, “Nobody’s Hero,” a blistering rock track with a great chorus. The lead riffs are some of the album’s best and everything comes together well. The momentum is carried on into the anthemic “Rock of Cashel” but does stumble once again when the band tries to stretch out another long track with “Pandora’s Box.” The song meanders along alternating between the interesting and the dull. The middle section features an oddly placed blues section where Tobi’s vocal cadence reminds me of Bad era Michael Jackson. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it did make me nearly laugh out loud while listening to the album on the train.
The rest of the album contains more high marks with songs like “Breathe” and “Faces in the Darkness.” The album never truly breaks out a power metal track like Tinnitus did with “Speedhoven” but that’s okay. Most of the songs are well developed and contain plenty of trademark catchy Edguy melodies. Sascha Paeth is back in the producer’s chair and the result is the typical polish one would expect of a Sascha Paeth album. Everything has a nice sheen to it without sounding over produced. If I had one complaint with the production it’s that the line between Edguy and Avantasia continues to blur. I guess so long as both outfits continue to put out quality records that’s not such a big deal.
The rest of the album isn’t all gold. “Behind the Gates to Midnight World” is too long and could have been trimmed down, and I find the album’s closer to be overly sappy and corny, but every Edguy album apparently needs to contain a Bon Jovi-like ballad to round things out.
Overall though I’ve enjoyed Age of the Joker quite a bit. I don’t know where I would place it amongst Edguy’s other albums but time shall sort that out. Start to finish it’s one of their catchiest releases that will likely prove pretty accessible for new fans. Old fans who enjoyed Hellfire Club and Rocket Ride will find plenty to like here as well, though if you’re looking for that speedy, Helloween type of stuff you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.
- Nobody’s Hero
- Faces in the Darkness
- Fire on the Downline