I was first introduced to Edguy during my college years, when "Mandrake" was the band's signature album. That album was possessed of fire and heart, armed with a devil-may-care attitude and a new age power metal swagger.
Several years removed from that experience, it feels like Edguy's career is riding an accelerated version of their heroes Iron Maiden. Beginning as an up-tempo, fist-clenched European metal experience, "Age of the Joker" sees Edguy retreat to a safer, more balanced musical approach. It’s only slightly ironic to see Edguy take the long-form path after Iron Maiden’s evolution from “Killers” to “The Final Frontier.”
“Age of the Joker” attempts to capitalize on atmosphere and storytelling as opposed to breakneck tempo and sneered, cynical lyrics. The album is almost like a more modern telling of some of the earlier material of the Electric Light Orchestra, blending rock elements with electronics and accessible pacing.
In the face of modern advances in the paradigm of power metal, Edguy consciously returns to the roots of the genre, more in the style of genre prototypes like Virgin Steele. Rather than lean on huge effects and inflated pomp and circumstance, Edguy sacrifices those go-to’s for realistic construction and reliance on hook-laden refrains.
The complication here is that “Age of the Joker” gets too easily caught up in itself, and wallows too often in high drama to carry the album. All too many cuts, like “Nobody’s Hero,” start with a powerful push, but then have the brakes slammed on as they fishtail into a yawning chorus. This takes the teeth out of what could have been, and leaves the album as an admirably executed but blasé compendium.
While Edguy is to be commended for their dedication to the humble beginnings of power metal, songs like “Rock of Cashel” could have been roof-raisers with just a small injection of what had been Edguy’s customary bravado. The song’s coda is wonderfully influenced by medieval or romantic era strings, but doesn’t have the muscle to stress the point.
“The Arcane Guild” and the promising “Breathe” are two of the album’s cuts that truly buck the trend and channel the fun, swaying style that not only power metal, but more specifically Edguy, is capable of. These songs are galloping, articulate romps much more akin to the band’s previous hits like “All the Clowns.”
It bears mentioning that album closer “Every Night Without You,” is just plain awful. Without exaggeration, the cut could have fit easily on Nelson’s “After the Rain” album, with a video that would have been theme appropriate. Yeesh.
It’s possible that my impression of Edguy from several years ago is artificially enhanced by time and the wistful memories of my collegiate years. I doubt it, though. “Age of the Joker” is a piece of music that is clearly crafted and honed over time, but is soft around the edges and spongy in the middle. Be cautious.