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Massive Improvement in the Songwriting Department - 80%

kluseba, September 30th, 2022
Written based on this version: 2022, 2CD, AFM Records

Austrian quintet Edenbridge has been one of the world's greatest yet most overlooked symphonic power metal bands in the early years of its career. The band's mixture of classical music, folk and new age elements, power metal guitar work, heavy metal rhythm section and the lead singer's charismatic elegant vocals was adventurous, balanced, charismatic, epic and intellectually appealing. Records such as Sunrise in Eden, Arcana, Aphelion and Shine have triumphantly stood the test of time and beat everything similar bands like Within Temptation, Nightwish and Evanescence released at the same time.

Edenbridge continued to release two very good albums with The Grand Design and MyEarthDream that were more progressive, intellectual and complex and needed some more time to grow. Ever since then however, the band has only been releasing average to boring outputs, but I have kept checking them out since I know the excellent potential of this band. The band's songwriting became blurry, predictable and repetitive as the last few records failed to leave significant marks. I'm glad to announce that Shangri-La is a huge step in the right direction and easily Edenbridge's best album in fourteen years.

The band's songwriting finally sounds balanced, focused and sharp again. Perhaps this is due to the break imposed on the band due to the coronavirus or the release of the most recent compilation that made the group reevaluate its past achievements. I can only speculate but whatever the reason might be, it's great that this significant improvement has been happening. Let's take atmospheric, epic and playful opener ''At First Light'' that fluidly and playfully meanders between power metal and symphonic metal while incorporating elements of classical music, folk music and soundtracks that would do any ambitious fantasy movie justice. Despite its ambitious length of eight minutes, the song feels half as long and makes you want to push the repeat button right away.

''Somewhere Else but Here'' on the other side is an excellent single choice. The track features convincing heavy metal guitar work, steady rhythm section and mystic vocals that are catchy without sounding by the numbers. The song gets to the point if four and a half energetic and energizing minutes. This song should work splendidly in concert and could become a new band anthem.

On the other side, ''Savage Land'' convinces with its reduced musicianship, organic vocals and imaginative folk soundscapes that invite listeners to dream themselves far away. This new age ballad grows with every spin and is this album's hidden gem that is worth being discovered time and again.

One also has to point out closing epic ''The Bonding (Parts 2)'' that is more than sixteen minutes long. While the first part overstayed its welcome, needed multiple spins to grow and didn't always sound coherent, this second part does everything right. The song sounds much shorter than it actually is. The different sections meandering from energetic heavy metal over melodious power metal to epic symphonic metal and laid-back folk metal are cleverly interwoven and showcase the band's vast soundscapes perfectly. This song is an instant classic but still manages to grow with every single spin.

The only reasons why this album doesn't achieve an even higher rating are because some of the other songs are only of a good average quality and fail to leave a mark and because Sabine Edelsbacher's vocals don't sound as uplifting as in the band's early years which might come naturally with her age. If this same album had been recorded in the band's prime one and a half decades ago, this record might have sounded even more convincing. Despite those minor flaws, Edenbridge's Shangri-La is nevertheless album of the year material for any fan of symphonic and folk metal sounds.

To keep it short, Edenbridge's Shangri-La oozes with creativity, diversity and intellect as it entertains from start to finish. The record's most adventurous songs work perfectly well upon first impression and even have the potential to grow as time goes by. This is the kind of record you should definitely purchase physically, listen to every now and then and you will be enjoying this convincing return to form for a very long period of time.