Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Eden's Curse's 'Cardinal' - Album Review

I was pretty late to the party when it comes to Eden's Curse. It was not until around 2014 that I got into the UK-based multinational band, despite being familiar with their name for a while. The band's fourth album Symphony of Sin had been released the previous year and had heralded a new dawn for the band. The band's namesake and frontman Michael Eden left the band in 2011 after the release of the excellent Trinity album and, despite a brief flirtation with Italian singer Marco Sandron which produced the Time to Breathe single, was eventually replaced in 2013 by Serbian Nikola Mijić. Mijić made his debut with Eden's Curse on Symphony of Sin, which was less heavy than the band's previous three albums and showed more of an 1980s melodic rock/AOR influence than before. Founding members guitarist Thorsten Koehne, bassist Paul Logue, and drummer Pete Newdeck - along with newcomers Mijić and keyboardist Steve Williams - found Symphony of Sin to be a hit with the band's fanbase, and the excellent UK tour in 2014 featured a lot of it in the setlists. Eden's Curse have always been a hard band to classify. They almost perfectly straddle the line between hard rock and heavy metal without clearly being either. They are a big melting pot of influences, with elements of classic rock, AOR, power metal, and even sometimes progressive metal all thrown together to create a classy and melodic songs. Melodies are always key with Eden's Curse, with the vocals always taking prominence, and instrumental showboating kept to a minimum. That being said, Koehne always has plenty of opportunities to solo but his playing is always for the song and never outstays it's welcome. Three years on from Symphony of Sin the band have released their fifth album. Cardinal. The AOR elements that dominated Symphony of Sin remain, but combined more with some of the heavier elements the band was originally known for. As seem to be customary for the band now, this album sees some line-up changes. Newdeck left the band not long after the release of Symphony of Sin and was replaced by John Clelland (Code of Silence). He makes his debut on an Eden's Curse studio album (although his playing can be heard on the live album Live with the Curse which was recorded in 2014) along with new keyboardist Christian 'Chrism' Pulkkinen (Epicrenel; Adamantra; Simulacrum) who replaced Williams earlier this year when the latter left the band to resurrect his power metal band Power Quest (who released an EP called Face the Raven earlier this year). Both of the band's new recruits add to the band's overall sound, with Chrism standing out the most with plenty of fluid keyboard solos throughout. The keyboards generally seem much more prominent, with more noticeable leads and solos than on any other Eden's Curse album. Despite leaving the band, Newdeck, who has a great songwriting chemistry with Logue, has co-written the vast majority of the songs here as well as providing some backing vocals. This ensures that the band's core songwriting team has remained on board which means the high quality of the material here is ensured.

While Symphony of Sin opened with a lengthy piece showing the band's slightly progressive side, Cardinal opens with the power metal of Prophets of Doom, which is more reminiscent of how the band's older albums began. Koehne's tight guitar riff drives the song, while new drummer Clelland immediately makes his mark with some double bass drumming to match. Fans of the band's older sound will love this, with Mijić adding a little more bite to his vocals which make him sound a little more similar to his predecessor. Mijić sounds fantastic throughout this album, and has grown more into his role since last time. His showcases more range here, and this song is a perfect example of that with a lower register employed during the crunchy verses, before letting rip in the chorus in a call-and-response style with the choral backing vocals. Those who enjoyed the overall lighter tone of Symphony of Sin will enjoy Sell Your Soul, which has a video that can be seen below. The upbeat AOR vibe of the song is ridiculously infectious, with a bouncy guitar/keyboard riff that continues to resurface throughout, and prominent keyboards throughout providing pomp flourishes. The song's chorus is the first real sing-a-long moment of the album. A tougher mid-section provides some weight, before an instrumental workout ensues that sees Koehne and Chrism trading solo sections perfectly. The two already have a great chemisty, and the latter proves to be a great foil for the founding guitarist. With a sledgehammer of a main riff that would not have been out of place on a late-era Dio album, The Great Pretender packs a real punch as it moves along at a solid pace. Logue's bass is nice and high in the mix here, and really helps to anchor the main riff, as Chrism's main keyboard riff dances over the top (think Rainbow in the Dark but less cheesy - the Dio comparisons continue!). Another great chorus dominates the song, with Mijić's expressive vocals really shining here. This is a song that perfectly mixes the band's heavier early sound with the more overtly melodic path forged on Symphony of Sin, and shows that this mix of styles really benefits the band's sound overall. Those who want something a little heavier need look no further than Messiah Complex, which has a fast, modern Helloween sound with a slightly thrashier riff and plenty of double bass drumming. The tight verses are excellent, with Mijić's vocals (on a song he has co-written) having some real venom to them. As is with most Eden's Curse songs however, the chorus still manages to soar, with a tinkling keyboard riff that works as a great contrast to the darker guitars. The mid-song solo section is one of the album's best too, with Koehne and Chrism playing off each other perfectly with speedy and flashy lead runs. Find my Way is much more keyboard-dominated, with lots of electronics in the song's intro, before piano takes over for the verses. The song is a bit of a power ballad, but some sections of heavier riffing stop it from becoming too twee. The chorus is very theatrical, with a hint of Tobias Sammet's writing style for Avantasia, with lots of backing vocals and a good helping of melodrama. It provides a good contrast to the heavier material that has come before it, and shows a different side of the band's writing. Kingdom of Solitude is a song that definitely shows the band's love of all things Dream Theater. The riffing here is very technical, and the mix of sections that are pasted together works really well. Chrism's keyboards have plenty of chances to shine here too, with lots of stand-out riffs. This is easily the most progressive song on the album, and it packs a lot into a short space of time. While Chrism owns the main parts of the song with his glue-like keyboard playing, Koehne solos alone this time which gives him more chance to breath and stretch his wings with lots of excellent licks.

Co-written by ex-keyboardist Williams, it is unsurprising that Utopian Dreams is extremely keyboard heavy. Chrism takes this in his stride, and nails the opening riff with ease and provides a synthy halo for the rest of the song. Comparisons can be drawn to Power Quest's melodic style, Williams' songwriting style is quite recognisable, but the song has more of a grounding in hard rock than that band. The chorus is fantastic as always, with Mijić's vocals really standing out and proving what a find he was for Eden's Curse. Those who want a bit of a throwback to Symphony of Sin will love This is Our Moment. It is much lighter in tone than much of the material here, with a bouncy main riff and a subtle symphonic keyboard backing which adds real depth. It is certainly one of the album's least interesting songs however, with a chorus that never really gets going and fewer standout melodies. That being said, Chrism's lengthy keyboard solo is excellent and shows what an asset keyboards can be to rock and metal bands. Even many bands who use keyboards quite liberally rarely allow their keyboardist to solo, and this is something I would like to see more of in the genre. Rome's on Fire restores the album's quality with a great heavier song with a crunchy riff and some excellent drumming. Koehne really owns this song however, with lots of short bursts of shredding lead guitar throughout, and a fantastic little verse lick that really makes this part of the song stand out. Not to be outdone, Chrism performs something similar during the choruses which creates a link between the two parts of the song perfectly. Koehne shreds during the short solo too, with a great neo-classical theme throughout. Unconditional, which features the angelic voice of Liv Kristine (Theatre of Tragedy; Leaves' Eyes) duetting with Mijić, is the album's true ballad. Kristine's voice is so distinctive, and she joins the impressive list of vocalists to guest on an Eden's Curse album. The two voices compliment each other perfectly, and the call-and-response style brings out the best in each of them without one person dominating. Kristine tends to take centre stage in the song's chorus though, and lets her shimmering vocals just wash over the listener. Koehne's spacey guitar solo has something of John Sykes' on Whitesnake's Still of the Night about it, which fits perfectly for this more atmospheric song. Two heavier songs bring the album to a close, with Saints & Sinners up first. The lightning-fast keyboard intro again has a strong power metal vibe, but the song overall is much tougher than that with a crunching guitar line that dominates the verses, and this mood carries on throughout. Clelland's drumming is pretty heavy here too, and little bursts of double bass drumming really propel the song along. The chorus is strong too, with a great use of backing vocals to create a big sound. The album's closing number Jericho is great, and sounds a bit different to everything else on the album with a bigger symphonic feeling with orchestral keyboards throughout that overshadow everything else. Mijić's voice is smooth here, which shows another side to his singing, and the dramatic chorus is boosted by the soaring vocal ending. Overall, Cardinal is an album that showcases everything that has made Eden's Curse great in the past packaged into one album. It is probably the band's most consistent work so far, and contains some truly excellent songs. This is a band that deserves to be heard by more people, so anyone who is into good quality melodic hard rock and metal need to give this quintet a go.

The album was released on 14th October 2016 via AFM Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Sell Your Soul.

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