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The blue ribbon goes to the enterprising buyer - 86%

Gutterscream, November 13th, 2008
Written based on this version: 1988, 12" vinyl, Mean Machine

Show me a lousy band name with a boring album cover and I'll show you something most people wouldn't give the time of day even if their dead grandmother was using it to dig her way out of her grave - the debut from Not Fragile. The average record buyer isn't gonna flip over this at any glance. How about the zine writer with a stack of promos Bruce Jenner couldn't hurdle? It's not like it's '82 when underground metal albums were something to behold and be spoken of sacredly if they were any good, so yeah, this is a hard sell. The title sprays a hint of presentiment charm, and it looks guiltily DIY with its back cover black n' whiteness, but in the end the perception is still Who Dares Win what?

Well, I'll tell ya who wins. Past the cosmetic anonymity, past the band's goofy boxing poses and windbreakers, past the fact that they're yet another German band that could offer nothing except a sound-alike tread mark to fellow WWII dirt chewers Warrant or Tyrant, Not Fragile is one of those groups that bends the iron pilings of straightforward speed/thrash on a fulcrum of similarly-paced, catchy, plain 'ol common sense. We all know someone who, just when you think everyone around you is a friggin' idiot, can resuscitate your (short term) confidence in humanity with only a few clever, well put sentences. Well, with a silver-lined riff or two in most songs and some genuine ingenuity, Who Dares Win stands as one of those entities in my book.

At the kickoff this can seem rather simply assembled and one tone, but I think after one spin you'll find its inherent perception for details - its down to earth sensibility - that makes metal of this style really tick. Sure, there's no camouflaging this thing's aggressive, single lane movement that's an invariable building block for most hard-nosed speed and thrash, but it's equally hard to deny its pinches of showmanship and applied diversity, two qualities that pound the asphalt of catchiness heartier than depictions like 'pinch' and 'applied' would disclose. Is this kind of stuff really that hard to do? Well, considering all the poignantly boneheaded stuff out there, I guess so.

Of the five songs that matter, melody nowhere near mathematical hooks curves even while zagging at a full steam that's (often) faster, more intense, and less dirty than countrymen Tyrant, and this melody evolves just enough to awaken the right brainpans that may even bubble to effervescent levels. It's melody so easy to comprehend you wonder why others struggle with it. More bewildering yet is the fun and almost sing-along power metal wisdom you'll clandestinely find in a harmonized chorus or two that're less of a secret in the record's not-so-long duration, something in a Rage, Helloween, and especially Mephisto sense of passion, and the whole she-bang is smacked by a bare-knuckled touch of Holy Terror's intrinsic know-how. Equally important is that the music is charged (and produced well) enough to carry a not-so-special vocalist like Torsten Buczko across the kill zone, though admittedly he and his mostly clean, slightly higher range tenor fail to damage any part of this.

The one not-so-good thing about the disc is that, brand new, you may have been raked for a full-lengther's price. Familiar and phantasmal intro "Rael", fairly intricate and wordless "Opus 7,3", and useless 've-arrre-not-stiff-und-humourless-Geamans' outro "Bbbrrraaa" are the curbing of this thing, stopping the watch a tad over two minutes collectively, though if the instrumental would've taken an extra minute long puff on its inhaler we could've had six action hero tracks instead of only five. Thankfully the song times are listed on the rear cover, unlike a certain Toranaga lp I throw spittle on.

Those of us who thought this might possibly be worthwhile for whatever weird reason are the winners even as we sighed into our wallets and shakily reached for some dough. Sometimes you just never know, and Who Dares Win is a delight to spin.