Review Summary: Enchanting, there is no doubt, but whether Solitaire is a spirit buff or a sleep spell is contentious.
Edenbridge are one of the more enticing of the ever so popular female-fronted-dark-gothic-symphonic-power metal bands, with a long and noteworthy career behind them. Fronted by the lovely Sabine Edelsbacher, who would have made a great dominatrix if her singing career hadn't worked out, Edenbridge are back with a new album and the fire burns hot and the magic is strong, I can feel it in the air between my headphones and eardrums. Solitaire is an enchanting album, there is no doubt about that, however the strength of said enchantment is yet to be subjected to my furious magic-missile attack of scrutiny.
Epic-sounding orchestra: check. Haunting choir singing in Latin: check. Flawlessly orchestrated interplay between all instruments followed by sweltering guitar riffing and drums: check. Yup, we have ourselves a formula for success. From the opening moments this absolutely screams Rhapsody and After Forever, but considering that Edenbridge's first release was the same year as After Forever's, it would be inaccurate to call Edenbridge an After Forever clone. Although the similarity is quite prominent. The instrumentation is beyond competent and keyboard leads and overlays dance majestically above the syncratic rhythm section. The drum beats are varied and interesting and the bass is audible. I feel like I'm in the twilight zone here, and it's not just the eery beauty of the music, these guys are very proficient and maintain a degree of memorability simultaneously. The guitars do the basic gothic chugga thing with some hot and inventive riff ideas, and occasionally we are blessed with a tasteful, high-caliber guitar solo. The vocals are gentle and understated. Rarely is there belting or face-melting, but this sort of approach fits the airy, ethereal mood perfectly. Despite the heavy riffing, this is not a heavy album and it embraces a calm, euphoric flow characterized by a subtle middle-eastern melodic theme. The title track, A Virtual Dream, and Further Afield are the heavier songs on the album, but even they are not raging demons and maintain a mild degree of furiosity (if that makes sense). The rest of the album is more relaxed and atmospheric with some truly stirring melodies, but also many moments of grating mundanity.
Nearly every song has a conspicuous and coherent theme and presents itself as a unique, individual entity which is always a positive, not just in metal, but nearly every genre these days. "Hey that's that song that sounds like that, which is different from those ones that preceded it" has become more and more of an alien thought for me lately. Edenbridge transition effortlessly between dark pop metal, to dauntingly complex symphonic prog, to even a couple of folksy tunes, but the underlying symphonic power metal persists throughout. Songs can change their direction and temperament multiple times, and rarely is it ever disruptive to the listening experience. But the album isn't free of flaws and despite a refreshing coherency of songwriting, many of the melodies come off as lackluster and wanting for the grandeur and innovation that makes for a truly legendary piece of music.
The drums are often a little too simple and the guitars, while interesting in parts, sound lazy and generic at times, though that is to be expected given the genre. The vocals are splendid and passionate and I have few quarrels with the keyboards which are solidly competent and find that elusive equilibrium between flash and subtlety, most of the time. These aren't songs that jump out of the speakers and into the souls of the listeners, but they are often delightful and they will grow on the listener if given a chance. Edenbridge have put an earnest effort into their lyrics and they convey worthwhile ideas and are catchy in parts. Unlike many similar bands they are understated and not pretentious, although I wouldn't expect any heroic poetics.
An album is a temporal marker for the artistic evolution of a band and this one, compared with those of previous years, will likely be seen favorably as both a satisfying listen and a step in a good direction. Where the inspiration lags, the technical competency fills the gap, and when the two unite it is a treat for the ears. I am still left wanting for the masterful writing of the genre's leading bands, but am also intrigued by the distinct style and themes conveyed. Solitaire is a strong album with many great moments, but it feels too much like the sound is confined to a narrow range, and at points it can drag and cease to grasp the listener's attention. Will Solitaire withstand the test of time and become an classic" I doubt it, but I wouldn't be surprised if Edenbridge are able to channel the inspiration in the future to catapult themselves into the symphonic metal spotlight.