There’s a very handy Metallica comparison that works when thinking about Edguy. So, Kingdom of Madness is the Kill ‘Em All of the discography, a more raw and charming affair that wears its influences loud and proud and is fun but not yet fully developed. Vain Glory Opera is like Ride The Lightening, a more mature and uniquely them record that starts showing off their ambition while still rocking. Theater Of Salvation is Master Of Puppets, the magnum opus, the really grand and ambitious album that contains amazing, well constructed and monstrously catchy songs. The Savage Poetry is …And Justice For All, the follow up to their best album and almost as good in its own right.
All of that brings me to what I’m trying to say here. Mandrake is their Black Album. After four albums in one particular style and tone, the band decide to mature off in a new direction and break out of the confines of their home genre. Like The Black Album still had some Thrash songs on it like ‘Struggle Within’ and ‘Through The Never,’ Mandrake has some pure Power Metal songs on it like ‘Painting On The Wall,’ ‘Golden Dawn’ and ‘Save Us Now.’ Even then, sometimes when it does do traditional Power Metal, its more of a Master Of The Rings vibe than a Keeper Of The Seven Keys vibe if you know what I mean. Just listen to the little skiffly drumstick solo and high pitched comedy vocal in the middle of ‘Save Us Now’ to see what I mean.
Largely however, Edguy find themselves testing the limitations of their German Melodic Power Metal roots. ‘Painting On The Wall’ and its more progressive big brother ‘Tears Of A Mandrake’ have some very Bon Jovi and Detonater-era Ratt sounding influences audible on them, its no the whole picture but it is one colour they’re painting with. ‘Jerusalem’ sees them blending their Power Metal stylings with a more commercial Hard Rock vibe foreshadowing where they’d go on their next album. ‘The Pharaoh’ is a ten minute epic with an eastern vibe that sounds like a mixture between Sabaton when they get slow and stompy and when Rainbow would go eastern sounding like on ‘Babylon’ and ‘Tarot Woman.’ ‘Nailed To The Wheel’ although opening up acoustically with some very different vocal melodies than Edguy usually go for, evolves into the fastest most pissed-off Thrash Metal like song the band had put out to date. If you get the version with bonus tracks, ‘The Devil & The Savant’ also has a touch of Glam to it. Not the whole picture again, but its there. Its the band testing their boundaries.
The production job also has a lot to do with it. This album has a much more full, bright, unmetallic sheen to it. Commercial is the word best to describe it really. Its good in its own way but it sounds quite different to where they’d been living in previously.
Like with Metallica, there are lots of fans who consider The Black Album the last of the classic-five and there are other purists who think there was only a classic four and this is the first one afterwards. Of course, there are also a large amount of fans I’ve discovered online who prefer the band in their more Hard Rock form and say things like ‘Yeah, they got good when they stopped trying to sound like Iron Maiden’ and even those guys are also split on this record, because its not quite the Pure Power Metal style and its not quite not either.
Overall; Mandrake is a very good album, and a very interesting album, but whether you’ll like it or not very much depends on what you wanted out of it in the first place. The production job may be off putting if you wanted a certain thing, as may be the songwriting for about half of it. The songwriting on the other half may be off putting if you wanted a different thing. Vocals, guitar solos, drum patterns and creativity are all above reproach, its just the sound and musical direction that people are divided over.