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Sometimes working backwards is a good way to understand the evolution of a band, starting with what is essentially the current end point of its evolution and retracing all its various steps to the actual genesis. That's the curious thing about Eden's Curse, how a band that is essentially a play of the lead vocalist's namesake is essentially cloaked in a massive array of Christian imagery and metaphors both visually and lyrically, all the while presenting a sonic package that is more historically associated with the excesses of 80s heavy metal with a tad bit of nuanced, hyper-intellectual progressive elements. It's difficult to miss the commonalities that this band shares with the likes of Dio, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, Queensryche, and a few others during the high, pomp-infused era of 80s rock/power tinged metal era that stretched from 1985 to 1989, though the occasional nods to classic Deep Purple are fairly prominent as well, particularly in the case of this band's sophomore effort dubbed The Second Coming.
In terms of commonality with the rest of this band's output, this highly ambitious and aesthetically rich opus shares a great deal in common with its immediate successor Trinity, save the heavy input of the one different part of the lineup in Ferdy Doernberg of Axel Rudi Pell fame, who left the band soon after this was put together. His presence definitely puts a bit more of an older rock tinge on the peripheral atmospheric character of this album, both given his somewhat looser interpretation of the band's classical music elements, and also his greater fondness for using rock organ and traditional piano sounds for his keyboard leads rather than a spacey synthesizer timbre after the mode of Jordan Rudess, which is how both Alessandro Del Vecchio and Scott Williams pulled things into a bit more of a Dream Theater direction on subsequent releases. Nevertheless, when compared on the overall merits, this album is largely a somewhat more compact, consistent, and less ballad-heavy version of their slightly better known third album.
The general feel and tone of this album is a bit on the agitated side, despite largely being of a more mid-tempo character when compared with most power metal out of the 2000s, even when compared to stylistically similar outfits such as Masterplan and Jorn Lande. The overall production quality is generally smooth, relying heavily on keyboard and vocal layering, resulting in something that is mildly comparable to the Queen sound associated with a number of Swedish power metal bands with a Christian bent such as Narnia and Harmony given Michael Eden's similarly squeaky clean, crooning tenor voice quality. However, this album is slightly more technical and shred happy, both due to Ferdy's generally virtuoso geared keyboard noodling, but also due to a greater degree of shredding out of ax man Thorsten Köhne, whose playing is a similar balance of Rhandy Rhoades/Vivian Campbell shredding and Chris DeGarmo melodic wailing to subsequent studio efforts, but just a tad more frenetic at times. But the real difference in activity is out of bassist Paul Logue, who is often relegated to Ian Hill status on his instrument by plugging away in a support role, but here sees a number of fairly prominent parts on numbers including but not limited to "Lost Soul" and "Angels & Demons".
The various auditory treats found on here are numerous, resulting in an album that gets about as close to being flawless as possible, all the while maintaining a level of consistency that lends itself more towards a concept album than a collection of greater and lesser songs, though this album is not a proper concept album formally speaking. The high period Queensryche influences are probably the most overt feature of the overall listen, and not merely because Pamela Moore (aka Sister Mary from Operation Mindcrime) makes an appearance on one of the songs. The driving, yet largely restrained and mid tempo character of catchy anthems such as "Lost Soul" and "Just Like Judas" are almost dead ringers for acclaimed Mindcrime numbers such as "Revolution Calling" and "Breaking The Silence", though they are spiced up with more technical solos and slightly busier riff work. Things pick up a bit more in the speed of the riff work on other songs such as "Masquerade Ball" and the not so subtle nod to mid 80s Ozzy "Signs Of Your Life", but generally the drum and bass work is restrained and leans more towards a standard rock feel. In fact, apart from "Raven's Revenge", which listens more like an 80s reinterpretation of an early Rainbow version of speeding, nothing on here really crosses over into speed metal territory.
If there is one album to get carrying the Eden's Curse name, this is the one, though the band's overall catalog has been an admirable exercise in qualitative consistency. From those nostalgic 80s hounds that were bummed out that they didn't get another Russian Roulette or a Sacred Heart, to the folks that just want something a bit more on the melodic side without a constant barrage of speed metal trappings common to Gamma Ray and others in the German scene, this is a veritable storm of rocking goodness that makes mercifully few trips to the ballad zone, save the moderately sappy though largely listenable "Man Against The World", which is not quite a nod to 80s arena darlings and Rocky soundtrack sharks Survivor, though the name might suggest otherwise. Just one touch of the play button with this in the player, and good times will be had by all.
I "discovered" Eden's Curse today, due to the fact that James LaBrie of Dream Theater did some guest vocals on a track from their most recent album. I must admit, I was also intrigued by some of the comments on a couple of their videos on YouTube, asking whether this was a Christian band. Apparently, they are not, but they are one of those bands that has a vaguely Christian feel to their lyrics and song titles. The band's name, which is presumably a play on lead singer Michael Eden's surname, has an obvious reference to the Biblical garden. And song titles like "Angels & Demons" and "Just Like Judas" and "Man Against the World" seem to indicate at least a mild interest in spiritual/Biblical themes. And of course, there are a couple album titles that indicate the same theme, The Second Coming and Trinity being good examples.
But what about the music? Well, it's pretty solid, enjoyable melodic metal. The listener is reminded of Symphony X, both in lyrical content and songwriting style. The music is a little more straghtforward hard rock/metal, not as prog-oriented as Symphony X. Michael Eden is a capable lead singer: not the best one you'll ever hear, but neither is he the worst. There is some layering of background vocals, similar to more mainstream hard rock groups. The keyboards are solid without being cheesy, and the rhythm and lead guitar work is quite good. One of the standout tracks on the record is the song "Angels & Demons," which features the marvelous Pamela Moore (of Operation: MINDCRIME fame) on guest vocals.
"Man Against the World," which starts out a little too power-ballad-ish for my tastes, quickly becomes one of the more interesting tracks, as the piano takes a surprisingly jazzy turn in the middle of the track. What begins like a stereotypically light metal track actually becomes a fun unique track. It's sometimes refreshing when a band embraces their soft side. Lord knows, Judas Priest and other classic metal bands have done so from time to time.
Backing up to the beginning of the album for a second, I was immediately intrigued by the atmosphere established by the keyboards and sound effects right off the bat. A little pseudo-classical carousel-type motif (that wouldn't be out of place on a King Diamond record) breaks down into chaos as we hear screams, as if some violent crime has just been perpetrated in the middle of a carnival. This leads us into another standout track, "Masquerade Ball." This tune has some really excellent forward momentum, good vocal arrangements, and some terrific soloing by the lead guitarist and keyboardist (the keyboard solo being somewhat reminiscent of Jon Lord's work in Deep Purple).
"Games People Play" is another marvelous track, and one in which I finally hear enough of the bass. I know it's not atypical for bass to be too far down in the mix in a lot of heavy metal, so it's always nice to get a little more bass, especially when it's played competently, as it is here. There's also plenty of headlong momentum in this tune, with its triplet based rhythm. Some sweet guitar soloing and layered vocals round out the track.
The final track on the album ("Ride the Storm") is a good finale, especially since Michael Eden's vocals have a little grittier edge to them on this track. The tune has a somewhat anthemic quality to it on the refrain, and the guitar work is nice and punchy. The style is reminiscent of another band, but I can't quite place who. (Maybe it's Queen in a few spots?) Still, it's a killer track to wrap up the record: a little shredding, solid vocals, quality rhythm work. Really, I based my rating of 90% on my sense that this band is still on the way up. This record is a fine entry in the world of melodic metal, and one that I will listen to often.