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“I see those writings on the wall command the hail to rock n’ roll
We gotta fight, we gotta stand tall
So we’re out tonight and fight to see the city light by night
Ride on ‘til there’s a new dawn”…
When I first heard Blackslash’s stand out cut “Rock N’ Roll”, whose iconic yet no less engaging NWOBHM riff single handedly rolls out the red carpet for the Germans as far as the revival scene goes, I immediately felt the urge, no make that the need to acquire their second full-length album, Sinister Lightning, released in 2015 under Iron Shield Records (whose logo resembles a sinister Howard The Duck). It cost an arm and a leg but along with Forensick’s second full-length release, “The Prophecy”, a copy of this nine track offering crossed an ocean as well as two continents to fall into my hands.
Now, I can’t stress how much of a hold “Rock N ’Roll” (the fifth track), has on me. No disrespect to Led Zeppelin, as the British rock legends have stood the test of time but now forty years later comes a fresh, super melodic and equally hard-driving take on the term which defined the musical revolution of the 1960s (and was also the precursor to heavy metal). While Jimmy Page cooked up a classic and unforgettably lewd blues riff back in the day, these contemporary guitar heroes weave exhilarating minor-key riffs into a highly fluid and meticulous playback loop that will make you feel robbed when it ends all too soon, the creative mind-bending solos not withstanding. It’s definitely a modern day classic in my book.
Chances are if you dig the NWOBHM and present day “traditional” heavy metal bands such as Enforcer, Holy Grail, Monument, Sin Starlett, Striker and (early) White Wizzard, you too will likely revel in what Blackslash’s has to offer, which is namely a disciplined and professional musical approach along with a clear understanding of what makes a great metal album. This consists of unlimited enthusiasm and high-caliber musicianship which features commanding, even-timbered vocals, crafty galloping bass lines, saber rattling percussions, energetic twin guitar harmonies and nicely phrased lead playing. That said, I guarantee you’ll freak out on “Rock N’ Roll” and “Wild and Free”, along with “Lucifer’s Reign” and “Stellar Master”. Countless listens later and the novelty have yet to wear off - not by a long shot! I just love their cheerful “metal or death!” Striker-like optimism. Take the sublime opening line to the chorus of “Rock N’Roll”:”Can you do me the Rock? I’m gonna do you the roll!” From a purely musical perspective, you can’t beat the estheticism and symmetry of the dual guitar harmony dominating “Rock N’ Roll” or the classical Blackmore-esque leads highlighting “Wild and Free”. For emphasis, I’d say this album’s worth purchasing for these tracks alone.
“Steel Stallions” and album closer “Don’t Touch Me” roll with the punches, but ultimately lack the oomph of the dominant tracks, which are also the shortest. Curiously, the track lengths are somewhat inversely proportional to their output and appeal. “Lucifer’s Reign”, at 3:48 is perhaps the ballsiest track here. It’s also the shortest, followed by “Wild and Free” (4:10) and Blackslash’s finest hour, the oft mentioned “Rock N’ Roll” (4:22). By contrast, the longer numbers – the ones exceeding five minutes - happen to be the least memorable (as we’ll soon see). Either way, all of the above exhibit utmost class – they’re the jewels of the band’s live set.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about Sinister Lightning’s lackadaisical opener, “Empire Rising”, the awkward violin intro to the bland and predictable “Edge of the World” (despite a mournfully sublime lead break divided between Christian Haas and Daniel Hoelderle), and bleakest of all, the only track I’d eliminate from this otherwise commendable release, the sappy, gag-reflex inducing ballad, “Made Of Steel”. (Nothing could be further from the truth!) Treacherously, the sweet initial harmony lulls the listener face first into the usually energetic singer’s cringe-inducing wails slightly over a minute in before effectively demonstrating why Blackslash should avoid ballads altogether and stick to their usual fare. While front man Clemens Haas unmistakably attains true metal godliness without missing a beat on “Rock N’ Roll” – the first verse is quoted above in all its glory - his uncharacteristic crooning had me desperately fumbling for the track-forward button. To be fair, the poised and unrushed solo section towards the end of the song is the musical equivalent of a honeyed caress, and again puts the guitarists melody at center stage. In spite of the ill-fitting oddity which is “Made Of Steel”, Sinister Lightning is a success. All the necessary elements for a classic heavy metal album are accounted for, not the least of which is Celso Mathias’ grim and arcane artwork, which follows in the tradition of that most celebrated of heavy metal album cover illustrators, Ed Repka.
The rhythm section of Alec Trojan (bass) and David Hofmeier completes the line-up and lay the foundation for the band's momentum and equilibrium. For instance, Trojan’s humble and thumping Rudy Sarzo-ish bass line anchors the long-winded “Edge of the World” while providing a strong backbone to the faster numbers. As far as Hofmeir is concerned, his beats range from dynamic and completely wound up to tribal, as on “Empire Rising”, which isn't a bad track per se. (It would've simply made a fine album closer, thus bumping up “Lucifer’ Reign” and its Herkimer jerkimer guitar antics - clever licks comprised solely of pull-offs and some radically intricate Jake E. Lee style chord constructs - to the opening slot.)
As for the lyrics, they’re admittedly cheesy at times. While musically irreproachable, “Rock N’Roll” and “Wild And Free” aren't particularly deep or profound. For more imaginative refinement, look no further than the sci-fi narrative of “Stellar Master”, as it flourishes with the following opening verse:
“When we’re gazing at the sky, feels like someone’s gazing back at us
Like there’s a Guardian of the Stars
When we’re chasing through the night, we are hunters of a Sun storm
To ride on tonight and on and on
We are the cosmic strangers, travelling all alone in space and time
Waiting for a sign
We are in constant danger, ‘til the lunar rainbows rise and
We make it to the Light”
Also worth mentioning are the crisp, tight riffs serving as its backdrop as well as the dramatic build-up and stratospheric solos three minutes in (although I admit I’m not crazy about the whimsical chorus!)
So, what’s the final word on Blackslash’s Sinister Lightning? It’s solid, it's promising and it's likely to win over your garden-variety metal head. (However, I'd caution fans of extreme genres such as death metal and thrash to look for something a bit harder). Don’t get too excited about this release but do give it the consideration it deserves. As for additional “NWOGHM”, check out the aforementioned Forensick (an absolute beast!), Skullwinx, Spitfire, Stallion and Ymordin, all fellow bands and countrymen listed on the shout-out at the back of the CD booklet. With that, I’m hoping the third Blackslash installment packs an even bigger wallop and to put it aptly, keeps "doing the rock”. I’ll be glad to keep doing the roll.
“Rock N’ Roll”
“Wild and Free”