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Well, Charly Steinhauer finally made it to the top. Boy, did it take a while... He looked well set to walk with the finest back in the late-80's after the release of the brilliant "Heresy", but the genre's fall from grace prevented the appearance of the obligatory third album. Steinhauer waited patiently for the "dark ages" (the 90's, that is) to pass before striking again. "Collision Course" was a great return to form, but for some mysterious reason it was denied an immediate follow-up and it seemed as though the band was going to miss the genre's second golden period.
Then "Electrify" appeared whole 8 years later to "electrify" the fanbase although it hardly did it in the expected way with its adherence to mellower power/speed metal patterns. If nothing else, it kind of paved the way for the coming of the monstrous "Riot Squad" which was a thrashterpiece second to none. It somehow overlooked the technical/progressive tendencies of previous recordings for the sake of more aggressive shredding resulting in the most brutal sounds Steinhauer and his ever-changing gang have ever come up with. Still, something was amiss in the band's now relatively lengthy discography...
You know very well what happened when Dave Mustaine decided to recruit Marty Friedman back in 1990: this was the wisest decision he ever made catapulting Megadeth straight to the very top. Steinhauer follows suit, some 22 years later, by hiring the guitar virtuoso Christian Munzner. This young man has already made quite a name for himself by taking part in some of the finest technical death metal acts of recent times: Obscura, Spawn of Possession, Necrophagist, Defeated Sanity, etc.; and now he has found it appropriate to grace a thrash metal outfit with his presence. And surely Steinhauer hardly has any complaints because with this guy a member of the crew at present Paradox have released their magnum opus...
I know that it would be a "heresy" to call this album better than "Heresy", but this is a fact. The man doesn't shy away from his finest hour (until now) and the resemblances between the two efforts start flowing from the get-go with the haunting acoustic intro of the opening "Tales of the Weird" which will pour speed/thrashing riffs over you to no end for more than 9-min in a way not far removed from the title-track of the aforementioned "Heresy". This great number pretty much sums up what one will come across here: steel precise technical shreds "duel" with direct aggressive outbursts with the casual throw of the more quiet balladic/semi-balladic passage here and there. With Steinhauer finally having a worthy musician to pair with, the man unleashes his creativity going way over the sparkles of technicality heard previously: the band achieve a technical/progressive thrash metal opera last heard in the late-80's/early-90's, bringing nostalgic memories of the best works of acts like Toxik, Realm, Deathrow, Helstar, etc.
Fortunately, not much of the "Riot Squad" primal aggression has been sacrificed: there is a sufficient amount of shorter direct numbers to bang the head. Those cuts alternate with the more complex material all the way to the end as the only relatively quiet moment would be the heavy semi-ballad ""Fragile Alliance" which doesn't quite reach the greatness of the similarly-styled "Nothingness" from "Riot Squad", but is an impressive composition nonetheless. Munzner is absolutely unstoppable effortlessly throwing some of the greatest leads of the past few years: screamy, melodic, technical, surreal, you name it. Steinhauer doesn't betray his expressive semi-declamatory/semi-clean singing style, and along with his impeccable guitar hooks pulls out his best performance ever.
He may only be blamed for the awkward choice to cover Rainbow's "A Light In The Black" at the end. If the version of Scorpions' Dynamite" was more than a fitting end to "Collision Course" 11 years ago this song being one of the first genuine speed metal classics, this mild hard rocker here could have at least been made in a more aggressive manner: its faithful mellow rendition just doesn't fit the speed/thrashing "carnage" experienced earlier, and is the reason why this album doesn't get the perfect score. Still, it doesn't spoil the picture that much, and Steinhauer should be given credit for his attempt to sound more melodic and emotional in order to suit the song's more laid-back tone.
This is truly a masterpiece, easily the best thrash metal album of 2012, and one of the five highest achievements ever since the genre woke up from its dormancy about 10 years ago. Where the band will go from here is just a not very pressing question: with the culmination of their career reached, now they are granted the freedom to branch out into the unexpected: so maybe some really "weird tales" we are to hear coming from their camp next time around...