Edguy – Mandrake
We left Edguy at the top of their game with Theater Of Salvation and nowhere on the follow-up Mandrake are there signs of slowing down. To show the world even more of what he was capable of, Tobias Sammet sandwiched this release in between his two Avantasia Metal Operas, the first one being a stone cold power metal classic, the second being not too shabby in its own right. Three records in little over a year, even Tommy Reinxeed would have to admit that’s just crazy.
There will undoubtedly be a time and a place to discuss Avantasia’s early triumphs, but we are here to look at Edguy. While Sammet’s hand is clear in the songwriting of both projects, because of the nature of Avantasia and the slew of guest singers the two are too clearly distinguishable to invite immediate comparison. Mandrake also continues down the lyrical path of previous works, while Avantasia tells a story of its own, albeit based on the same principles. More on that later.
Up to this point Edguy often hid their first real kicker behind a short opening track, but here they burst straight out of the gate with the stately keyboard intro of “Tears Of A Mandrake” which transforms into a steady riff, never betraying any of the overt bombast that so marked the opening of Vain Glory Opera. The verses build some gripping menace, slowing down for a pre-chorus that finally catapults the whole lot into a chorus for the ages. One so divine that countrymen Domain managed to get away with copying it years later on “Picture The Beauty” from The Chronicles Of Love, Hate & Sorrow. It’s a shame they don’t seem to play it that much live, because it easily deserves a place in the pantheon of greatest-ever Edguy tracks.
Double-kicking fury abounds in “Golden Dawn”, making another explicit reference to Aleister Crowley and boasting a refrain surely to stretch your vocal chords beyond repair. Take for example those final notes where Sammet goes for the Heiman-record of singing-way-too-high,. It falls short of “Highlander”-levels but amazes you all the same. From these two songs alone it’s clear Edguy has lost none of the melodic brilliance from Theater Of Salvation and are here to deliver another ass-whooping of a lifetime. Yet a new element makes an appearance, an element that would never leave Sammet’s compositions again: diversity. Theater Of Salvation, while being immensely satisfying, isn’t known for its variety, but Mandrake seeks to change this. “Jerusalem” opens with a folky intro (a source of inspiration Sammet hasn’t tapped enough in my opinion, making “Rock Of Cashel” from last year’s Age Of The Joker such a welcome treat) exploding into a full-blown epic about a journey to one of the religious centers of the world with a glorious instrumental middle section.
Adventure and wonder make room for bittersweet nostalgia with “All The Clowns”, perhaps the most radio-friendly song the band had written up to that point. It also debuted an essential part of the Edguy experience: the silly music video. Look out for the band members wearing red clown noses. This fairly standard tune fades out into a false sense of serenity with the crooning first minutes of “Nailed To The Wheel”, which slithers like a snake in waiting before releasing its bite and attacking with the unleashed snarl of the rhythm section. A song as tough as they have ever written, forcing Sammet’s voice to Virgin Steele’s David DeFeis’ levels of shrieking madness (the two would share the spotlight on Avantasia’s “The Final Sacrifice” not a year later). Already this feels like a band experimenting with the boundaries of their sound, and the magnum opus of the album hasn’t even hit yet.
While there is a lot of competition within their back catalogue, it wouldn’t be a crime to name “The Pharaoh” as one of Edguy’s best epics or even songs. The middle-eastern intro, the dark build-up, and another chorus worthy of a Nobel Prize for Catchiness flow collectively into the ever-changing bridge, including a fantastic overlay of vocal melodies they would later repeat on “The Piper Never Dies”. I also find that this may be a possible inspiration for similar uses throughout the discography of Theocracy. This is Edguy displaying the same level of talent and ambition that led to the “The Kingdom”, but this time executed with experience and knowhow. If “Theater Of Salvation” didn’t make clear they were some of the greatest writers of epics in the genre, then “The Pharaoh” should single-handedly seal the deal. So many bands strive to achieve this level of ten-minute long greatness, but few ever do.
The welcome quiet of intermezzo “Wash Away The Poison” manages what it sets out to do: provide a moment of calm before the storm is resumed. As ballads go, it’s not their most remarkable, but adequate and memorable all the same. Up next is a foreboding of what would come on Hellfire Club, and I think “Fallen Angels” set the tone for the incorporation of more heavy metal and hard rock elements on that album. It resembles the riffing of “Under The Moon”, while still bearing the melodic qualities developed on Vain Glory Opera and Theater Of Salvation. The actual single “Painting On The Wall” places us back in familiar territory, and I have always found this song to be quite tame. It definitely doesn’t set my heart on fire like the others do. Forsaking all pretense of seriousness is “Save Us Now”, the first fully realized Edguy comedy song about a race of alien drum bunnies trying to take over the planet. Resistance, as they claim, is futile. It’s a happy and silly tune in the vein of Keepers-era Helloween and closes the album on a light-hearted note, not counting the bonus track “The Devil & The Savant”, another track very reminiscent of the predecessor, though slightly darker in tone.
On Mandrake Tobias Sammet elaborates on the now familiar theme of individuality. “Tears Of A Mandrake” introduces a world where society is controlled by various factions that try to chain you down (“gun runners, priests, and clairvoyants”) and urges the listener to break free from the violence, corruption, and greed. A possible explanation of the title lies in the nature of the mandrake, a plant that when uprooted cries you to death. The capacities of the mandrake are a superstition. We are taught to fear to dig it up, or it will kill us. The song urges us to do so anyway (like the jester on the cover), forsake the magical symbolism, and ironically “drown in the tears of the mandrake”, which of course we won’t. The mandrake is every lie and every deception society uses to keep us under its thumb. “Golden Dawn”, the name of the order Aleister Crowley belonged to, introduces a man disillusioned with such a world and in search of something new to believe in, as do the socially outcast travelers on their way to “Jerusalem”. “Nailed To The Wheel” sticks to this theme as well and talks about the corruption of innocence by outside parties offering power and riches.
“The Pharaoh” is the most challenging song to analyze and I believe it presents a worldview where religion no longer matters, but rather where man becomes his own god. The “wise man in the noble chamber” represents the old religion of the gods, but he is merely “a parrot” now, “a jester”. When he dies, “the red one” reigns (interpretable as bloodlust), scheming to put “a billion parrots in a big cage” (in other words to bring everyone under his control). Humanity has abandoned the gods and governs itself now, greed and power being chief among their values. This ties in neatly to the world of “Tears Of A Mandrake” where the protagonists in “Golden Dawn” and “Jerusalem” try to move away from. We then return to those who dare to think differently with “Fallen Angels”, who liberate a young woman from the lies she’s been told. “Painting On The Wall” also urges the listener to think outside box, thus tying a neat bow around the album.
Mandrake states that man has lost his core values and traded a belief in gods for a belief in man, resulting in a loss of morality. People who think outside the domains of financial gain, mass deception, or personal power are discredited or persecuted. The album urges to set yourself free from these forces, to fight for individuality and step away from the crowd. Wake up from the illusion, see the world for what it is, and find something for yourself to believe in and to fight for. Tobias Sammet of course sees himself as the personification of individuality, creativity, and artistic integrity, even though he himself has flirted with commercialism (see the Lost In Space-EPs). He is very ardent in his criticism of music reviewers who slam him for not doing what they deem appropriate, so at least he’s being partially true to his own ideals. I really want to interview this guy at length at some point.
Not all songs adhere to the main concept. “All The Clowns” zooms in on the theme of the rat race, where life hurries along so quickly we often wonder where our dreams, our laughter, and our innocence has gone. It’s a theme that would return on Age Of The Joker’s “Breathe”, and could in the larger scope of the album be seen as an attack upon the gathering of material wealth instead of true happiness.
As you can tell from my inhumanly long-winded musical and lyrical analysis, Mandrake is Edguy at their most creative and intellectual level, using the foundation of Theater Of Salvation to craft a more versatile album, both in musical and lyrical content. The first half thunders, while the second half slowly fizzles out, but nonetheless Mandrake more than solidified Edguy’s reputation as one of the premier power metal bands of their time. Soon they would start to gamble with that reputation on the turning point of their career, the illustrious Hellfire Club. But first: joke time!
Best silly joke: “This is alien drum bunnies’ revenge. Resistance is FUTIIIIILE!” Enough said, I think.
Arno Callens’ Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Savage Poetry (2000)
King Of Fools (2004)