I’ve been on a power metal kick lately. Oh, you’ve noticed have you? What with writing about Blind Guardian recently (and Iron Maiden, the power metal precursors), I’ve been dusting off old CD’s. These pieces of plastic were the adornments of my teenage years, confused and lost in the same generic haze that envelops most people at that age. It was a good time, I must say. I had just discovered so many great bands: Dream Theater, Pantera, Metallica, Opeth, Children of Bodom. And Edguy. I was at the perfect age for their antics, particularly those of their earlier albums, then fresh off the press. Before they had turned up their personas to eleven, before they had signed to Nuclear Blast and released their massive Hellfire Club, Edguy was a brave band, doing many different things within their power metal classification. Mandrake is the perfect example of that, featuring a dark perspective on what power metal should be doing along with plenty of 80’s pop influences. From the first track, I was hooked, my Blind Guardian saturated ears opening up completely to this new-yet-familiar sound.
Let’s delay on that first track for a second. “Tears of a Mandrake” is possibly the best Edguy track ever recorded. It features an insanely catchy opening, Tobias Sammet digging mischievous fingers into your heart with his seductive voice. The chorus is so simple and yet immensely addictive. I remember humming it for days after first hearing it, driving everyone around me crazy. The middle of the track is where things get really interesting though: the music gets quieter, allowing Sammet his room. Dark 80’s synths accompany the guitar right before it explodes into a chain of several solos. From this summit there should be only descent but instead, we get the chorus again with Sammet improvising the track into greater and greater heights of passion.
All of this sounds too much and could possibly have been so had Edguy not made a brilliant and brave move by making the track over seven minutes. Within the genre of power metal, that’s not usually how you open an album; bands often resort to their fastest and most aggressive track, looking to reel in the listener immediately. Edguy, however, setup a perfect one-two punch combo by opening with “Tears of a Mandrake”, an emotional and melodic track. They follow it right up with “Golden Dawn”, a classically power metal track. Its main riff is pure fury, accompanied by a galloping rhythm section and high pitched cries from Sammet. Where “Tears of a Mandrake” was a slow burning fire, slowly rising up to its full potential, “Golden Dawn” is a gale blowing through it, sending the flames through the wood and burning everything to a crisp.
We’ll leave the track-by-track path soon but for now, we must move on directly to “Jerusalem”. The next track completes the opening trio of Mandrake and like its brethren before it, it presents a facet of power metal. It taps into the folk roots of power metal, both with its prominent acoustic guitar and its strings. The synths lay low and everything builds around a classically influenced power metal structure. The center of the track is populated by a bagpipe and rolling drums, echoing the belligerent role often associated with any pipes in metal. It’s still power metal, just like the other two tracks had been, but, like them, it looks at a different aspect of power metal. That’s why Mandrake is so fascinating; it’s a peek into a band probing, testing and pushing the bounds of their genre, trying perhaps to understand exactly where they fit into the grand scheme of things.
This feeling of wild excitement and juvenile experimentation, juvenile here in its best, most positive connotation, can be found on some of the closing tracks of the album. The first of these is “Painting on the Wall”. An epic track, it opens with the thickest synths imaginable, with Sammet positioned above them in a way which leaves no question about the influences for this track. We could throw all sorts of names into the air: Van Halen. Whitesnake. And so forth. However, that’s unnecessary: just listening to the track immediately transports you into the sleazy and electric rock of the 80’s. If you’re not convinced, simply listen attentively to the backing vocals and try and isolate them from the track. You’ll find that they wouldn’t be out of place on a Duran Duran track and I do believe that’s the first time those guys have been referenced on the blog.
Our last stop is, not surprisingly, the last track. “The Devil and the Savant” once again opens with heavy synths but the rest of it is more informed by heavy metal than anything else that happened in the 80’s. Interestingly enough, it’s one of the most straight forward and generic tracks on the album and that’s actually a good thing. It somehow reminds us of what Edguy are about and perhaps grounds in the reasons that we put on this album in the first place. We probably wanted excitement, passion and pathos and, among the experimentation and different vibes, those are the elements which make the album an album. Mandrake ends with a nod towards the basic ideas which make it possible. It’s a neat place to finish, firmly placed within everything that power metal had meant in the early 2000’s, not a young genre anymore but one which was struggling for its own justifications. Mandrake is one of the most complete and elegantly put justifications for it, proving that it can be engaging and worthwhile.