Wait, come back! I know a quarter of you took one look at that lurid, mega-tacky cover and started to turn away in disgust, while another quarter started doing something worse (which results in hair growth in unsightly places). But before you judge this book based on its highly regrettable cover, hear me out. Eden’s Curse is a kind of low-rent “super group” of sorts that’s been puttering around the edges of metaldom since 2007, and despite the absence of household names they’ve released some enjoyably melodic metal albums. The first three of which are rock solid and loaded with numerous earwormy anthems, but their sound changed once singer Michael Eden left and was replaced by Serbian young gun Nikola Mijic for 2013s Symphony of Sin. That platter had a much greater AOR style and it almost seemed they were auditioning to open for Journey circa 1980. Cardinal is a return to their metal roots, but they definitely haven’t shaken their love of radio rock. This makes for a rather scattershot album but hey, diversity is a good thing, right?
Because Eden’s Curse is emotionally attached to several genres, things jump from heavy to light, soft to hard and at times it’s difficult to believe it’s the same band. A lot of this material actually sounds like a teaser for a new Avantasia album, as opener “Prophets of Doom” ably demonstrates. It’s filled to the brim with grandiose power pomp and Nikola does his very best Tobias Sammet impression throughout. The gleefully cheesy theatrics belie the super slick writing which gets under your skin and sticks like tar, and it packs a chorus that pops enough to become instant ear candy for even the most frowny metal fan. And this isn’t a one-off either – “Saints and Sinners” also bears the Mark of Sammet with an over-the-top, quasi-pop delivery you’ll be hard pressed to resist. The high point is epic closer “Jericho,” which is…epic, very Avantasia-like and noodle intensive. If there was a DR-like rating for bombast, this would score an easy 12, but damn if it isn’t rollicking good fun.
Elsewhere, “Messiah Complex” is catchy-as-Hell and sounds like it belongs on an Allen/Lande album with Lord Jorn doing his very best “King of Rock” shtick; and “Utopian Dreams” is very Stratovarius-esque in pacing, structure and keyboard abuse. Then there are the “pretty” compositions like “Sell Your Soul” which could run on any easy rock radio station, “Find My Way” which is power ballad central, and the Diabetes-inducing sweetness of “Unconditional.” The strength of Eden’s Curse is making even these spandex-clad atrocities resonate and gain traction when you’d rather they wouldn’t. Of the lot, only “Kingdom of Solitude” and “This is Our Moment” fail to attach hooks to my dermis.
As per usual, I must take issue with the album length, as Cardinal runs long at 58 minutes, despite the mostly high-level writing. Drop the unsuccessful numbers and you have a tight, mega-hooky platter sans filler rather than one that needs the skip button exercised at times (especially during the craptastical Extreme worship of “Kingdom of Solitude”).
Nikola is definitely the secret weapon making the material as sticky as it is. He has a smooth, versatile voice which can handle power metal and AOR cheddar equally well. I still miss Michael Eden’s vocals but there’s no disputing they upgraded with Nikola. Guitarist Thorsten Kohne (ex-Hardline) and new keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen really get after it on most of the Avantasia-esque cuts, lustily dueling for the title of Wank Master Supreme. Both are very talented and their excess is our reward. This may not be the best known of super groups but their talent and tightness is beyond reproach.
I wasn’t sure which direction Eden’s Curse would go with Cardinal but this is much more of a “metal” album than Symphony of Sin while still featuring slick, catchy songwriting. If you crave something melodic and accessible, this should do the trick. The moral to the story: less Journey, more Jorn.