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Baby steps - 70%

LordAquila, November 12th, 2011

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome the freakshow!” No words are better suited to kick off a rewind of the entire discography of German power metal jesters Edguy. Once accused of being “another gay metal band from Sweden”, front man and leopard-skin-pants-enthusiast Tobias Sammet responded that they were in fact “another straight band playing gay metal from Germany”. Judging by that statement, they are quite the freak show indeed, if only for having their band named after a teacher from high school. Sammet, his lead axeman Jens Ludwig and rhythm guitarist Dirk Sauer have been at this since 1992, when they were only fourteen. It was a simpler time, when children of that age rocked out in garages and didn’t spend most of their time sniffing coke or impregnating each other. They were truly the “Children Of Steel”.

Which brings me almost seamlessly to my first point. For strategic reasons (read: laziness) I will not include the first demos Evil Minded and Children Of Steel in this rewind and stick to full-lengths and the occasional EP. Guess I shouldn’t have called it an “entire” rewind then, eh? Ah well. So, we start with Edguy’s first full, and self-financed (probably by selling lots of cookies), 1995 release Savage Poetry, more famously known as The Savage Poetry, a re-recording from 2000 which I will get to in due time. The reason to separate these two are many: the material may be the same, but the running order, performance, and production are different, plus the position they both have in Edguy’s back catalogue is significantly different and the cover is less shit. Truthfully though, I just want to make more jokes.

For an independent release, the production on Savage Poetry is fairly decent. There is a minimum of echo unlike most of these things recorded in abandoned containers or drippy dungeons. The guitars have a warm sound to them and the interplay between Ludwig and Sauer is just as good as it is anno 2011. The drums are solid if a little uninspired, and Edguy’s only ex-member (!) Dominic Storch certainly isn’t as big a talent behind the drum kit as his later replacement Felix Bohnke. Tobias’ bass isn’t terribly audible, which he makes up for with his screechy voice. Considering he was only in his teens, I wonder how much of his voice was already affected by the foils of puberty. Not quite as tonally stable as he would prove to be, this is a good starting point for one of power metal’s finest vocalists. Yet it is unfamiliarly raspy and the re-recording of 2000 definitely serves the melodies better.

And some melodies they are. These days we are often spoiled by stellar debuts from bands like Sinbreed or Morton, but they have an entire genre to build upon. Back in 1995 there were only a handful of bands already active in the power metal scene. Helloween just got out of their weird phase with the return-to-form Master Of The Rings, Gamma Ray released the classic Land Of The Free and Blind Guardian conquered the world with Imaginations From The Other Side. Germany was the birthplace of power metal and the foursome from Fulda somehow were swept along with the first wave despite not being of a legal drinking age. In that regard, Savage Poetry is a truly impressive achievement even if the band would top it with almost every subsequent release.

The material here is mostly in the speedy power metal-mould, influenced by Iron Maiden’s trademark galloping riffs and Helloween’s bouncy sense of melody. If anything sets them apart it’s the sheer joy that emanates from the compositions, be it more brooding ones like opener “Key To My Fate” or the upbeat sensitivities of “Frozen Candle”, which is enjoyable albeit inferior to its 2000-version. Add to that a pervasive epic atmosphere and you have a band that successfully incorporates inspiration into innovation. We are miles away from the splendor of Theater Of Salvation, but there is a penchant for the grandiose here, not in the least noticeable on the eight-minute long “Eyes Of The Tyrant”. Another key element of their music is introduced with the two cheesy ballads “Sands Of Time” and “Roses To No One”. The rose-motif would return with “Scarlet Rose” and “Thorn Without A Rose”, to the point where I figure Sammet is just a little girl who wants a nice bouquet of flowers for a change. “Sands” edges it out being the more epic of the two with “Roses” being quite sentimental, something that to this day marks Sammet’s lyricism. “Every Night Without You”, anyone?

Speaking of lyrics, I’ve always considered Sammet to be one of the very best wordsmiths in the dragon-infested niche that is power metal. He has the ability to turn a phrase and invest it with meaningful symbolism, and the idea behind a song is often difficult to figure out. Some themes on Savage Poetry seem to be fueled by teenage angst and that’s not just counting the whiny balladry. “Misguiding Your Life” lashes out against a life under the thumb of society and in “Hallowed” an anti-Catholic seed is sown which would later grow into Sammet’s Avantasia-metal operas. The rest of the album deals with various notions of sin, perversion and individualism, the latter being a recurring subject throughout Edguy’s discography (see e.g. “The Headless Game” and “King Of Fools”). Mostly the lyrics are quite undecipherable, but the contrast of “Sacred Hell” and “burning like a Frozen Candle” shows the capabilities of Sammet as a writer, which would later be elaborated on. And really, in a genre mostly known at that point for its science fiction- or fantasy-flavored material, this was quite the welcome exception.

Savage Poetry may not be a landmark debut like Walls Of Jericho or Heading For Tomorrow, but it got the attention of AFM Records, who would release Edguy’s first official full-length Kingdom Of Madness two years later. Aside from that it is still a very agreeable power metal album, even though the re-recording is undoubtedly superior. More on that later. For now we celebrate the advent of Edguy to the scene, of the band that would take gay metal to a whole new place and inject an (over)dose of humor into the proceedings. That’s why I will include a feature called “best silly joke” in every review and this is the first one.

Best silly joke: Before the last chorus of “Power & Majesty” Sammet menacingly whispers: “”Hey baby, I wanna excuse me for my bad habits. Close your eyes, I’ve got a present for you.” Given the references to intercourse earlier in the song, I was expecting pants being unzipped, but it turns out to be a chainsaw. Not up there with the funniest moments in Sammet-history, but I had to mention something and that made me grin a little.

Originally written for: www.blackwindmetal.com

Edguy, Edguy, Edguy… - 62%

OzzyApu, November 1st, 2009

Tobias Sammet can pretty much be described as heavy metal’s Hamlet. Edguy happens to be one of those bands that fall right in the asscrack of fandom, for some reason. They’re definitely a mixed bag to most, but to others the heart of the core yearns for discovery. With a crummy name and pretty stock album covers, I wasn’t exactly too keen on going into this one. First off, this album alone is split between a demo and a debut album, but no one wants to claim which one because they don’t want to be called out for bullshit from the opposing side.

When I first heard this, things went very ugly, very fast. My biggest issue: the vocals. Sammet sounds like a chipmunk! We’re not talking Alvin and the Chipmunks here, no I’m talking about a chipmunk… or mouse / rat / rodent of some damn kind that feasts on cheese and crumbs. I understand the guy was in his teens when this was recorded and released, but he’s completely off pitch and sounds so stern. You kind of get used to them, but they’re still the worst aspect about the music, by far. Drumming capitalizes all around with a weird sounding drum bass. The snares have a booming echo, bringing you back to the ‘80s and steering clear of the modern production values. The double bass, while used effectively in a galloping fashion, sound like knobs hitting pillows. No, they aren’t drowned out much, but Storch sounds like he’s kicking pillows rather than a bass drum.

The rest of the music I’m actually pretty surprised about. Our two guitarists manage to pick Sammet up from his undermining performance and steer the group to victory with their compelling riffs and leadwork. When it comes to early Edguy, these guys sure make the songs. Sammet himself would mature and so would these two, but even from the start they had their shit down. The riffs are pretty rough, as the production holds out on the theatrics and opts for a more ballsy, vintage style. There’s very little room for prominent keys, crisp instruments, and whatever else money can buy. Therefore, the tone is raw and doesn’t enact a modern style; as such, the album retains a certain charm before the contemporary production job (basically the one found on the 2000 re-recording).

The leads work with the keys, charging with incredibly melodic and harmonious tunes relishing in Maiden’s glory. They’re always in the proper places, build-up to something, allow interludes to flow, or they maintain the climaxes themselves. The second half of the album (though beginning with “Key To My Fate”) kick off the best of the solos and / or bridges that make this album what it is. Bass duties by Sammet himself are especially booming; rhythmic grumbles back the riffs, which themselves surge like thunder. If a song begins to sound too boring or uneventful (which they usually do), then the solos and bridges surrounding them more than make up for the damage.

I’m very unsure about keeping this album; I heard the re-recording, and while it does sound much better overall, this “debut” has a personality that I know I’ll miss if I do away with it. Most of the songs survive off of the solos (as captivating as they are), but that’s no way to run an album. The re-recording mastered that, offered improved vocals, and better arrangements. “Eyes Of The Tyrant” I love not for Sammet’s vocals or general power, but for the solemn lead break after 4:25 that captures the very essence of power metal. It’s so heartwarming, and this moment isn’t as striking when heard on the re-recording; neither is the harmonious riff gallop thereafter. “Sands Of Time” on the re-recording is a majestic, keyboard driven ballad like no other. But on this album the song is deeper, more melancholic, and is backed by chilling atmosphere, which is very hard to choose against.

If I were you, I’d give these both a shot. You may like the re-recording over this one do to all the enhancements, but there’s some charm here that you won’t want to dismiss until you’ve heard it and decide for yourself.