Friday 21 October 2022

Edenbridge - Shangri-La (2022)

Country: Austria
Style: Symphonic Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Aug 2022
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Edenbridge have been playing a very pleasant form of symphonic metal since the last millennium, their debut album, Sunrise in Eden, seeing the light of day in 2000 with three more albums in only four years. That rate of output has certainly slowed down with this being only their third album in the past decade, but it still counts as an eleventh studio album, with three more live. I've always found them one of the more accessible symphonic metal bands, with a soft take on the genre that trawls in not merely classical and a variety of folk music, but prog rock and musical theatre. It's an easy combination to like.

This album is easy to like too, but it didn't grab me until the flutes came out on Savage Land. What makes that odd is that Savage Land is easily my least favourite song otherwise, very much unfolding like a Disney musical aria where a princess maybe thinks about the dark side but talks herself out of it, its teasing guitar hints refusing to blossom into something more. But then, three minutes in, it dives into a rainforest with fantastic drums and flutes and atmosphere. The song isn't far from being done at that point, but it's glorious and it grabs us right in time to hit us with the Accept-esque riffs that introduce Somewhere Else But Here.

And we're off and running. That song moves from Accept to a sort of Blue Öyster Cult groove and a quintessential symphonic metal chorus with all the grandeur we expect, but it's a good song and I felt the need to just start the album over again, finding new joy in At First Light and especially in The Call of Eden, which grew on me immensely, perhaps becoming my favourite song until the closer. Maybe I just needed to be in the mood for this album and I just wasn't for a little while until Lanvall hauled out his collection of unusual instruments and Gibbs slapped me into paying attention properly.

From there, I dug this album, from a strong riff in Freedom is a Roof Made of Stars to the piano in Arcadia (The Great Escape) and the evocative intro to The Road to Shangri-La. Sabine Edelsbacher has fun on the latter pair not just singing but vocalising in both the foreground and background as well. It's still commercial for symphonic metal and there are still sections that lost me, when they soften things up a little more than usual. I still can't get into the first half of Savage Land, but it's not hard to put it behind me when I'm enjoying the guitar solo in The Road to Shangri-La.

And that's a good point to pause, because this has been a very commercial album thus far with the band's poppy take on the genre paramount and the more overtly folk or world influenced sections the best ones. It's enough to make us wonder what happened to the progressive edge, indeed the edge, of Edenbridge and that's here on an epic closer, a sequel in five movements to the title track of their 2013 album The Bonding, called simply The Bonding (Part 2). And here's what I was missing all along.

It's on Alpha and Omega that Edelsbacher moves out of her Disney princess mode and gives some real metal attitude, deepening her voice and adding emotion. The Eleventh Hour is where we're treated to orchestrations and inventive choral work, along with some searing guitar as promised in Overture. Round and Round has that Abba-esque musical theatre sound, melodic voice over an acoustic guitar, but it doesn't outstay its welcome, moving into an intricate instrumental passage, and, when it returns, it's darker and more emphatic. There's prog riddled throughout all of these movements and it feels great after the much safer earlier songs.

And that's how this ends up for me, an album of uneven halves. The first runs a respectable forty minutes on its own but feels safe to me. There's enjoyment to be had, especially if you can find its mood, and I keep coming back to The Call of Eden because it continues to grow on me. However, it doesn't have the adventure for me that the second has. That's just one track, but The Bonding (Part 2) does more in my book in its sixteen minutes than the rest does in forty-one. This would have got a 6/10 from me without it.

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