Friday, July 5, 2013

Edenbridge - The Bonding (2013)

Much like the other genres of music, female fronted symphonic metal is a crowded room, and a tough one at that. There are the superstars, the top tier bands that are always on the tip of everyone's tongues. On the flip side, there are amateur acts that are a dime a dozen. Literally. Disposable, nameless, and gasping for breath, this mass is responsible for making the music industry so hard to sustain. But in between those two chunks lie the others; bands that are way too good for the chopping room floor, but haven't broken through the glass ceiling to the upper echelon. For fifteen years, Edenbridge has dwelled just below the mountaintop. Their previous seven full lengths have made the rounds, with copies landing in every corner of the globe. Yet they simply haven't broken through to the other side. With the release of "The Bonding," their eighth studio album and first since 2010, the two remaining founding members won't settle for anything less than their best. But what they have may fall short of those lofty standards.

With driving guitars and a flurry of huge drum sounds, "Mystic River" wastes no time in agging you into the center of it all. The swirling symphonics are rich, easing the transition from intro to verse, as frontwoman Sabine Edelsbacher lets her tone say so much more than her lyrics ever could. Her voice, which manages to find harmony between operatic and accessible styles most of the time, sits gently on top of a mix that is packed full of distortion and airy keyboard work. A quiet interlude takes over, much like the score of a Broadway show, setting the scene before a blazing set of solos. With double duty on both guitar and keyboards, Lanvall is his best friend here, pushing himself further and further. Even in a smaller package, like "Alight A New Tomorrow," he keeps the tempo moving at the right speed, which isn't always the fastest. The bridge section, ignited by a piano, is the perfect example. It focuses on each detail in a much slower tempo, allowing you to appreciate parts of the whole more effectively. The ballad track, the four minute "Star Crossed Dreamer" is disposable, if not complete dead weight. It does little to further the album, and with a mix that isn't as crisp as it should be at this stage of the game, it fails to highlight the vocals talents of Edelsbacher properly. It takes a full three minutes for things to fall into place, leaving no time for expansion.

All is forgiven, though, thanks to "The Invisible Force," a track that is as heavy as any the band have done to date. Gritty guitars get the powerful backing of the full orchestral arrangement, including a set of horns that blare through your speakers. The bass work here is a highlight, with newest member Wolfgang Rothbauer showing his mettle at every twist and turn. But for an instrumental to boast this much aggression, it feels like something is missing, vocally. Whether it be a harmony or change of tone, Edelsbacher failed to meet the band halfway. A smoother opening on "Into A Sea Of Souls" seems to do her well, bringing back an edge to her voice that was missing. Buts its positioning in the mix, especially in the verse, leaves it feeling disconnected at times, only to rejoin the group in the chorus and bridge. Luckily, but not by chance, Lanvall is there to break off a signature riff and rescue the track from fading. But for every piece of momentum gained, it seems as though just as may are lost in the early stages of "Far Out Of Reach," which plays like a ballad confused for an opera, or vice versa. The operatic segments are glorious in their writing and execution, Edelsbacher soaring over the bed of symphonic and orchestral elements. How they are offset in the flow by watered down ballad injections, though, is alarmingly ineffective. Taken as separate pieces, they are workable; but together, they are counterproductive.

That on again, off again type of relationship they've constructed here can be rewarding, as it is when the "on again" half returns on "Shadows Of My Memory." A single growled roar does wonders for an albums latter half, and when coupled with a powerful female voice, it can burn the place to the ground. This is the best the album has to offer, finally finding that level piece between beauty and the beast. The storming gallop of drummer Max Pointner shines brightly, injecting life when so desperately needed. It makes the five and a half minute track seem like a flash something they had failed to do to this point. But for some reason, another ballad is blocking the stone from rolling down hill. Yes, "Death Is Not The End" is stronger than the previous installments, but with only one step to go on this journey, it's placement seems odd at best. It leaves all of the chips riding on the title track, "The Bonding," to make this album a  winner. It succeeds in every possible way. In one, fifteen minute deluge, you are poked, prodded, hammered, and caressed. The band hits their stride, albeit it very late in the game, at the perfect moment. The guitars are heavier, the symphonics are deeper, and Edelsbacher gives her best performance on the disc. Paired with that equally strong male voice, you finally get the full picture.

A lot of things go into making an album a success or failure, and it is impossible to point to one thing and say that it was the underlying cause for the result. In the end, Edenbridge have an album that they can be proud of here. But is that enough to hang your hat on? For a band in the middle of their fifteenth year of existence, there were mistakes made that seem uncharacteristic. The setbacks are strategy related, with the ordering of the songs preventing them from gaining speed and momentum throughout the album. And while that seems minor in the scale of things - the songs, individually, are all good - it can be the difference between someone listening to an album as a whole, or skipping through. In this day and age, the era of digital music, playlists, and music fans who go for singles rather than whole records, that is a dangerous precedent to set for yourself. if the title track becomes the cut of choice, it might open up a new wave of fans from across the world. Otherwise, "The Bonding" might never get the credit it deserves.


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