Review: Edenbridge – Shangri-La
AFM Records (August 26th, 2022)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
Austrian Symphonic Metal band Edenbridge return with their eleventh studio album ‘Shangri-La‘. If you are a longtime fan of the band, please forgive my ignorance. I am not a close follower of symphonic metal and I have never heard of the band before. I dig bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation, and regard the latest Visions of Atlantis album ‘Pirates’ as one of this year’s great albums. I was hoping for something along those lines with this album. What I got is an album that has tropes that I love about symphonic metal along with parts that do not work for me.
I will start with the positives first. The best tracks are the ones that are short and get to the point. Third single ‘The Call of Eden’ has everything that makes symphonic metal unique and powerful. Soaring vocals, fantastic melody, and a chorus that sticks with you long after the song is over. ‘Hall of Shame’ is another winner. One of the faster tracks on the album, it hits you hard from its opening notes and does not let up. Best track goes to ‘Somewhere Else But Here’. The interplay between singer Sabine Edelsbacher and guitarist Arne “Lanvall” Stockhammer works very well. The melody notes are heavy in the verses but lighten up while Sabine is singing, with the focus kept on her until she stops singing, allowing the guitar to come roaring back. Her ethereal singing in the chorus is moving and beautiful, while also remaining powerful. It’s everything I love about the genre.
The album unfortunately takes some missteps that could have been avoided had the band decided not to overindulge in their symphonic tendencies. The over eight-minute opening track ‘At First Light’ is a great way to open the album, with a soaring, powerful chorus. Ms. Edelsbacher has the vocal chops to pull off what can be very difficult material, and she does it with ease. The first four minutes are everything I would want to hear when I listen to symphonic metal. The problem arises at around the four-and-a-half-minute mark, the song completely changes direction with a different melody. This is not something uncommon, but what usually happens is the band returns to the original melody to close out the song. That does not happen here. It’s as if two songs were welded together and neither melody complements each other. It does not help that the second melody is not nearly as exciting as what came before. That return to the original melody is critical, without it the song loses its way and lessens the impact, as is the case here.
As much as I would like to, I just cannot enjoy any song that runs over sixteen minutes long, which is the case with closing track ‘The Bonding (Part 2)’. Yes, there are parts that are exciting that get the blood pumping, and it’s great to hear Eclipse and W.E.T. singer Erik Martensson guest on the track, but the overindulgence of including multiple melodies is something that always confounded me. It would be so much better to separate the songs into individual tracks and still get the story that you would want to tell across to the audience.
Finally, there are some songs that just meander and do not ebb and flow the way a solid song should. Acoustic ballad ‘Savage Land’ does not build to anything. Sabine sounds great and there are times when the song sounds like it’s about to reach a crescendo, with a huge harmony coming in, but then the song ends abruptly. ‘Arcadia (The Great Escape)’ does build up to a huge sounding chorus and has great atmosphere but it’s let down by a chorus that is all choral gang vocals and not much else.
If you love everything symphonic metal then I would imagine this album is a blind purchase, especially if you are familiar with the history of the band and know what you are getting. For people like me who follow certain bands and prefer power and melody over grandiose and pomp, then I would suggest checking out the album online first and cherry-picking songs. There are certainly some winners here. I was just hoping for dig more than half of an album.