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Markus Grosskopf - the man with the big hair and the bigger smile – has been a bit of an unsung hero in heavy metal for the past 25 years. The only true founding member left in Helloween (going all the way back to the Gentry days), but happy to stay in the shadow of self-appointed band leader Michael Weikath following Kai Hansen's departure, he was essentially the man in the middle of the warring factions that nearly tore the legendary power metal band apart in the early 90s. Following Helloween's resurgence, he has gradually grown as a songwriter, going from the guy responsible for the b-sides, to writing or co-writing some of the best songs on the band's more recent CDs.
With a brief flirtation as a guitarist in his previous side-project, Shockmachine, in 1999, Grosskopf's new venture as primary songwriter comes in the rather unique shape of Bassinvaders – a heavy metal project featuring no 6-string guitars whatsoever.
Recruiting 3 legendary German singing bass players (and several other associates) he has recorded 'Hellbassbeaters', a CD where every song features several bass guitars providing all the lead, rhythm and, of course, low-end, by themselves. A variety of other bassists from across the globe have provided bass solos on every song – with everyone from more 'earthy' players like Nibbs Carter of Saxon, through power metal luminaries like Dirk Schlächter and right the way up to the apparently 20-fingered Billy Sheehan getting in on the act.
It is easy to tell from the variety of styles across the CD that it has been done as a bit of light-hearted fun with no great concept in place. The 3 main associates Grosskopf has recruited to help write and record the CD also contribute heavily to the varied styles. Peavy Wagner of Rage is maybe a predictable presence alongside another power metal mainstay, but Schmier and Tom Angelripper, of the seminal thrash bands Destruction and Sodom, respectively, are more surprising. Each stays close to what they know and there are, as a result, as many thrash-inspired songs as there are more traditional metal ones. If that sounds like a little too much of a screamed vocal-fest for you, it should be noted that Firewind's current vocalist Apollo Papathanasio is on hand to contribute some more melodic vocals from time to time.
The end result is something of a mixed bag, with some songs standing out and others fading into the background. A couple of songs merely seem to be choruses strung together with some admittedly impressive, but ultimately aimless bass sections. However, the only real rotten track is "The asshole song", which is as stupid as it sounds and is sung in a sub-Lemmy drawl by D-A-D's Jesper Binzer in his only contribution to the CD. A far more successful Motorhead-inspired track is the Angelripper-penned album highlight, "Dead from the eyes down", a rampaging speed/thrash song where the lack of guitar is barely noticeable. Despite the juvenile lyrics, Schmier's "Armageddon" is an excellent addition as well, and the monstrous growl of the collected bass guitars really help in making it sound sufficiently evil.
The overall success of a bass-only CD will be a subjective thing for each listener, but I'd wager it would only be a once-in-a-while listen for all but the most ardent 4-string lovers, with all that clunking and clanging eventually becoming a little grating. The recreation of Helloween's classic "Eagle fly free" (right down to the solos) at the end of 'Hellbassbeaters' serves as a pretty good summation of the CD compared to the more conventional approach – it's certainly interesting, it's good fun to listen to from time to time, but in the end it's never going to be as good as the original. 'Hellbassbeaters' is definitely worth a few listens, but its primary function will probably never be more than that of an amusing diversion.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)