When I reviewed Edenbridge‘s Solitaire album a few years back, I suggested their sound was only metal if you use the most generous and inclusive definition of the word. Their (slightly) evolving approach makes them sound like Nightwish‘s prettier, quieter sister and many of their songs are so light, ephemeral and gauzy, they seem more akin to New Age meditation soundscapes than anything heavy or hard. While that may seem like some kind of indictment on the pages of Angry Metal Guy Dot Com, I mean it in no such way. In fact, I’ve enjoyed almost all their output because they’re so good at crafting soothing, sugar-coated odes to tranquility and I’m utterly at a loss to resist the charms of Sabine Edelsbacher’s beautiful and enchanting voice. The Bonding is the eighth platter of symphonic, psuedo-goth metal with traces of Euro-power and there are no real surprises or change ups here. As before, the writing is geared to accentuate Sabine’s vocals and they place a greater value on mood than intrinsic heaviness or aggression. While there’s a step up in heaviness (and symphonics) from last time, the writing isn’t as consistent, crisp or catchy as before. It’s still a solid Edenbridge album, but not up there with their stronger releases.
Opener “Mystic River” is typical Edenbridge and rumbles along with a mid-tempo gallop loaded with big symphonics (courtesy of the Klangvereinigung Orchestra of Vienna) and carried by Sabine’s stellar vocals. It sounds a lot like recent Nightwish, but more mellow. It’s pretty, oh so very lush and features some nice, low-key choral segments, but overall it feels a little underwhelming and a drags at times over it’s seven-plus-minutes. Things get better on tracks like “Alight a New Tomorrow” which is more vibrant and rocking and has a big, hooky chorus that Sabine sells like a pro. Also of high quality is the moody ballad “Into the Sea of Souls” which is restrained and soothing, but full of emotion. It dials back the symphonics in favor of understated musical accents and reminds me of vintage The Gathering. “Far Out of Reach” also has a plethora of nice ideas and Sabine is extra impressive throughout.
Other numbers like “The Invisible Force” feel too bland and generic and don’t really do much for me. “Death is Not the End” is a super sappy ballad that has excellent vocals and enjoyable guitar-work, but feels too safe and tame. When they try to shake things up during “Shadows of a Memory” by using semi-thrash pacing and harsh vocals, it feels fake and cheesy rather than jarring. The fifteen minute closing title track, which should be the album highlight, is also underwhelming at times and though it has nice moments interspersed throughout, it sounds like they’re trying too hard to be “epic” while lacking the writing chops to keep in interesting over such a long runtime.
As always, this is the Sabine show and the songs depend on her to make them soar (which makes the limited edition album such an oddity, but more on that later). She is a rare talent and she can make any trite tune sound sweet and enchanting. She’s as close to a modern-day siren as you get and while I don’t quite need to lash myself to the mast prior to an Edenbridge review, I freely admit I’m a sucker for her singing. She doesn’t disappoint here either. From soft, intimate singing, to a more bombastic style that approaches opera, she does it all well. Her timbre and tone are beautiful and she can sooth the savage beast in any metalhead’s heart. On well written tunes, she’s irresistible. Hell, even on shitty tunes she’s irresistible. Sadly, a few of the songs here are just too weak for even her to salvage.
The guitar work by founder/keyboardist/chief writer Lanvall and Dominik Sebastian is often subdued and even when they dial-up the metal quotient, they still keep it fairly restrained. The basic riffing is decent, but can feel unimaginative and too simplistic at times, but there are quite a few enjoyable solos and some nice interplay with the keyboards. I noticed more of a Nightwish vibe to their playing than on other albums, but I suppose that’s inevitable in this small, distinct genre. The amped up symphonics sound great, but they don’t add memorability or hooks to the songs that lack them.
Now, about those odd marketing choices. Since the Edenbridge sound is so built around and focused on Sabine’s vocal seductions, it strikes me as odd, if not rather foolhardy that the limited edition of The Bonding contains an entire instrumental version of the album. I can’t speak for everyone, but I doubt people flock to the band to hear their base musical arrangements, even with the inflated symphonic element. Whereas the instrumental version of the recent The Ocean album was in some ways superior to the vocal version, this is pretty, but often unremarkable and at times boring without Sabine’s angelic trilling. I like the band, but they never really did anything super amazing musically and the instrumental version exposes this to the cold light of day. Strange choice indeed.
The Bonding is like a week-long balloon ride over the Alps; it’s gorgeous as hell, but gets kind of dull eventually. Fans of the band will find The Bonding familiar and comforting and it’s clearly their most ambitious album to date, but it’s a drop-off in quality from last time and sees them getting a bit too big for their leather britches. Until next time, Sabine. Mwah!