Edguy – Hellfire Club
History (read: Wikipedia) teaches us that hellfire clubs were meeting places where high society scallywags from 18th century Britain and Ireland could gather to take part in all sorts of base activities such as satire, blasphemy and really vicious games of Monopoly. Formally known as “The Order Of The Friars Of Saint Francis of Wycombe” (which makes for a far less bitching album title), the club’s motto was ‘Do what thou wilt’, a phrase later associated with – who else – Aleister Crowley. Those who have been wasting their eyesight on these reviews will comprehend where Tobias Sammet’s fascination with the idea of the Hellfire Club comes from and why he named Edguy’s seventh studio album after it. Certainly not because he loves X-men-comics.
First act in the freakshow is the nasty “Mysteria”, an immediate sign that the happy power metal Edguy from yore has been sacrificed to the beast. It resembles the rawness of Mandrake’s “Nailed To The Wheel”, but packs a far more rapturous refrain. Guitars are prominent and furious, Sammet howls like a banshee with a sore toe, and the whole thing gives off a ritualistic vibe as if we’re unwelcome intruders witnessing a nocturnal ceremony about to achieve Lovecraftian levels of insanity. We’re miles from “Babylon” and “Jerusalem” here. “The Piper Never Dies” is a much-coveted live song and it’s not hard to see why. Over the length of its ten minutes it takes us on a ride into the shadows, into darkness and danger, down to the devil, and ultimately the hellfire club. A voice (or is it a piper’s flute?) promises us vistas of wonder, glory, and illumination represented by a crackling chorus and a stunning multi-vocal bridge. For a band that fumbled its first epic “The Kingdom” this is a brilliant triumph, one that Sammet so far hasn’t attempted to surpass. I’m not sure he could anyway.
More outwardly melodic and traditionally Edguy is “We Don’t Need A Hero”, a song I once used for a presentation in high school. Let’s just say my religion-teacher did not “get” power metal, that cow. “Tears Of A Mandrake”-esque organs melt into speedy guitar work and anyone frantically frothing at the mouth for some Theater Of Salvation should find this to his liking. Combining energetic riffs with twin harmonies and sizzling background choirs, this goes to show you that Edguy’s transformation to a more hard rock-based band was far from complete on Hellfire Club. The opening soft piano notes on “Down To The Devil” give the temporary illusion of a ballad before turning into a luscious guitar lead and another up-tempo firecracker track. Notice the name-check of the album’s title in the fadeout if you’re in possession of such strange technological devices such as “headphones”.
After four hellish hits the single “King Of Fools”, and the ballad “Forever” momentarily take us out of the savagery. The former fits better on its own private little EP, but the latter has no problem sweeping you up into its epic scope. Picking up the pace again is “Under The Moon”, another song taking place at night on the top of some stone-crowned hill where devils and demons dance in the moonlight. Coming down with fire indeed, the chugging riffs are topped with Sammet’s snapping snarl and a chorus from the heavens. “Lavatory Love Machine” is sexualized silliness distilled into a sing-a-long hard rock tune and depending on your tolerance for thinly veiled double entendres and/or fantasies about intercourse with flight attendants you’ll either love or hate this.
With “Rise Of The Morning Glory”, we are back in familiar power metal waters. Tender acoustics introduce fast guitar leads and a sense of urgency until we come to the majestic chorus. “Lucifer In Love” is a barely-worth-mentioning interlude featuring the key melody of “Down To The Devil” and some demonic moaning. It’s utterly pointless. A more brooding affair is “The Navigator”, slower than most of its colleagues but equally formidable. To call closer “The Spirit Will Remain” a ballad is doing it an injustice. Instead it sounds like something off the Braveheart-soundtrack with its touching Celtic tones and orchestral backdrop. Not hard to imagine the Scottisch highlands against that soundscape, and while it feels slightly out of place, lad, is it ever a wee bit epic. A side of Sammet further explored in tidbits on Avantasia’s The Scarecrow and The Wicked Symphony, it’s one I never grow tired of. The bonus tracks include a rerecording of the early days demo song “Children Of Steel” which has a hook the size of Switzerland and gets a fantastic update. On the other hand the version of “Mysteria” with Mille Petrozza from Kreator on guest vocals was unnecessary.
Lyrically, Hellfire Club mostly deals with the alternative, the move away from conformity to a free, individual, and wicked state of mind. It’s about a transcendental journey into the depths of the human soul, conveyed through mystical and devilish imagery. The method is ritualistic (“Mysteria”, “Under The Moon”), the destination is imagined as hell or the underworld (“The Piper Never Dies”, “Down To The Devil”, “The Navigator”) and the goal is re-awakening, self-discovery, and independence from others (“We Don’t Need A Hero”, “King Of Fools”, “Rise Of The Morning Glory”). The pied piper stands for the temptation and allure to go in a different direction, to break away from a morally depraved society that doesn’t pay its rat-catchers.
Even with a larger focus on guitars, Edguy hasn’t lost any of its melodic touch, and if anything Hellfire Club applies the band’s instrumental strengths to make their heaviest, but still recognizably Edguy record. Sammet’s croon is stronger than ever, the axe-duo of Jens Ludwig and Dirk Sauer sounds as if possessed and the sparse keyboards amplify the mood of the songs instead of overwhelming them. Even if hard-rockers like “Lavatory Love Machine” would become more rule than exception, Hellfire Club is a testament to an evolving band who is very aware of their past roots and their future potential.
Best silly joke: “And when she asks me what I’d like to eat I realize the domina feels the same, and I reply ‘What about your pie?'” always has me in stitches. I guess I don’t have to explain what song that’s from. (Editor’s note: ugh.)
Arno Callens’ Rating: 4.5 out of 5
King Of Fools (2004)