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Classic Me(n)tal Aberrations Upsetting the Groove - 93%

bayern, October 1st, 2018

I’ll never forget this night, a long time ago in Ireland, when this piece of shit whose name I forgot started dancing, literally, on “Across the Universe” from “Hypertrace”. I was introducing Scanner to a bunch of drunk, or at least half-drunk, metalheads in Dublin when this moron sprang up and started dancing, a traditional Irish folk dance at that, with all its customary steps, leaps and bounds; I swear at some stage he came very close to impersonating Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Fuckin’ Dance. Although we were all amused by his hilarious, over-the-top performance I personally couldn’t help but feel annoyed since he was making a not very apologetic fun of the German legends, or at least it seemed that way to me…

Cause ever since the superb “Terminal Earth” pricked my consciousness some time in 1989, I have been converted to the band’s idea whole-heartedly all these years. Naturally my level of excitement was quite high when the album reviewed here came out, and I saw the same level rising in quite a few other fans I knew. It didn’t diminish when we realized that another “Hypertrace” or “Terminal Earth II” this wasn’t, but we quickly learnt to enjoy this new face that Axel Julius, the band founder and the only permanent member, was offering the masses in the midst of the hostile groovy 90’s…

Or maybe not so hostile, after all, provided that Accept and Mercyful Fate were fully operational once again among other 80’s heroes; in other words, our favourite space explorer(s) had no reasons to worry about an inappropriately chosen time for this second spell with the music industry. I’m not sure whether it was a lack of confidence the reason for the guys’ choice to use these funny pseudonyms (The String'tormentor, Mr. Bassic Instinct, The Naked Duke, Lord of the Drums), but the good news is that the humour ends with them as music-wise this is some serious business we’re talking here. Julius has surrounded himself with very capable musicians one of whom is Leszek Szpigiel, a vocal talent of Halford-esque proportions, previously only heard on the early works of the Polish progressive thrashers Wolf Spider.

To begin with, this is not a full-on speed metal attack; neither were the first two instalments if you think of it, but here the concentration is not on fast-paced pyrotechnics at all. Power metal is the name of the game for a large portion of the time, expertly executed all over, with a grand epic flair and some of the greatest choruses ever heard on a metal album. Julius hasn’t wasted his time during the 6-year hibernation period as we have over one hour of high quality music on offer. Based on the first and the final track alone, this opus could be considered a milestone on the speed metal roster, though, with “Break the Seal” being a rousing hyper-active opener, and “20th Century Crusade” closing the proceedings in a sweeping fast-paced, also more contrived manner recalling “From the Dust of Ages” from “Terminal Earth”.

In-between those two compositions it’s power metal again that dictates things sometimes served with a more epic, nearly progressive flair (“Upright Liar”, “Into a Brave Man's Mind”), sometimes with more belligerent, rowdier (“Out of Nowhere”, “Wrong Lane Society”) rhythms. Speed metal shows its teeth again here and there, like on the impetuous “eagle fly free” hymn “Conception of A Cure” and the thrash-peppered “Nightmare”, but such outbursts are pacified by a couple of very good ballads those never outstaying their welcome due to their brevity. Some cheese inevitably starts sticking out on the sides largely because of these impossibly catchy choruses, but this is cheese of the more bitter German brand, with a Polish starter used for its “production”, and is not as glue-like, leaving neither (hyper)trace nor aftertaste.

Szpigiel carries the album all over and his presence is a major reason why this album can not possibly suck, his outstanding vocal exploits covering a wide range of moods, coming closer to the high-strung, pathos-like performance of Michael Knoblich (“Hypertrace”) than to the more composed, less emotional antics of S.L. Coe (“Terminal Earth”). Julius shreds in a curter, more jarring manner, nearly falling into the thrashy “traps” on occasion, but nothing groovy or grungy mind you, the man well aware of the more belligerent branch of German power metal that had already started shaping up (Brainstorm, Enola Gay, later-period Angel Dust, etc.). Memorable song-writing has always been very high on his list, but here it reaches some kind of a culmination, both music and vocal-wise as the not as big reliance on speed provides opportunities for the weaving of more flexible song-structures.

The formula was repeated to even more positive results on “Ball of the Damned”, and that was it; the second chapter from the Scanner saga was over. This was apparently the Julius way, to release two similarly-styled opuses in quick succession, then to hide from sight, then to spring up to life again for another two efforts, most likely with a new singer… a formula that was put an end with “Scantropolis”, for better or worse. “The Judgement” was an admirable return to the sound of the first two recordings, not as instantly arresting of course, but more than adequate considering the still ongoing old school revival movement. Julius and his ever-changing gang keep looking at the stars… the Universe hasn’t been mapped that fully yet.

Stepping down from an interstellar podium - 67%

autothrall, May 7th, 2010

Six years after the kooky charms of Terminal Earth, and well into a decade of counter-cultures, cultures and re-countered cultures that could not care less, Axel Julius would finally accrue himself a new studio lineup for Scanner, and thus release the band's third full length effort through Massacre records, one of the few labels eager to snap up bands performing power and progressive metal during this period, and to a fault (they released some fairly inadequate material, like this album). On the surface, Mental Reservation is actually an only natural progression from the band's prior output. The Andreas Marschall cover art is intriguing, and the style of the band has not much changed. They're still a melodic speed metal, for better or worse, and Julius is still capable of quite a few chops. In fact, he may have technically improved as a player for this album.

As with any Scanner album, one can expect some degree of change in the lineup. But in this case, it's an ENORMOUS difference. Axel is the only remaining member from the first two records, and here enlisted bassist John A.B.C. Smith (At Vance, Gallows Pole), skin beater D.D. Bucco and the third vocalist in three albums, Harridon Lee, who you may also know as Leszek Szpigiel, who has worked with Mekong Delta, Wolf Spider, and Crows. Once again, Julius has made a sound choice. Lee's voice is silken and siren-like, and very much fits into the band's modus operandi. But there unfortunately some measure of charisma lacking here. Whereas Coe and Knoblich had this uncontrolled charm, like lasers dancing across the void, Lee feels more restrained, or rather more careful. Nonetheless, he is still wholly capable of a melodic pairing with the guitar melodies, of which there are a great many.

And that's the real quandary I have with this album. It fires on most of, if not all the cylinders of a Hypertrace or Terminal Earth, but fails to compel me beyond a skim of its surface. "Break the Seal" stirs up a thrash-infused storm of average riffing, before Lee carries us away around 1:30, like a soaring kite over a fairly enthusiastic melodic speed lick. It's difficult to ignore the guitars, because Julius is giving one of the more proficient performances of his career, yet so few of the notes stick outside the solo and perhaps 1-2 of the riffs in the verse and chorus. "Upright Liar" has a more vicious attack, and I enjoyed everything up to the chorus, which is dull, obvious and forgettable, transforming partway through into a more soothing, anthem-tinged power chorus, and equally underwhelming. Again, a lot of intense guitars that cycle through riffs that don't quite carry the burden, and a little frustrating. The slower paced mood of "After the Storm" comes as rather refreshing, and I actually enjoyed the chorus quite a lot, reminding me a great deal of the American band Riot in their more power-framed years.

The rest of the record evokes very mixed reactions. "Your Infallible Smile" is a power ballad, but despite its wealth of atmosphere it never quite impresses, the chorus feeling like some 2nd rate Slaughter song (not the thrash band, eunuchs). Graceful, melodic and just a little empty. Tracks like "Conception of a Cure", "Out of Nowhere" are pretty complex and aggressive by comparison to Scanner's earlier work, but neither manages to squeeze out more than a single decent riff. I feel like the weight of the record rests on the shoulders of the more straight rocking, mid-paced tracks like "Rubberman" and "Wrong Lane Society", which again assert a hint of thrash into their modern crunch. Neither is a truly memorable affair, yet there is a dependable power to their characteristics which does convince the head to bang...a little. The grand finale, "20th Century Crusade" is probably the best of the faster material on the album, with some soaring melodic hooks, a great intro, and a cruel bite to the verse vocals, a decent song that feels like Scanner of the late 80s.

Technically, there are not many faults here. The lyrics here are arguably better than the past, though not nearly as amusing. The guitars feel a little thin in the reverb driven, atmospheric mix, but they compensate through their overall business and cutting delivery. The vocals are versatile and satisfactory, like Szpigiel's performance on any other album, and I am left to wonder how he'd sound on an album of really well written tracks. That's not to say Mental Reservation is a poor effort in the song department, because surely, nothing here deserves the label of 'bad', and even at this height of mediocrity, they still have more to offer than many other bands performing speed or power metal. And at the very least, a band thought long dead had returned from its hibernation, to make a stab for success in a time when so many had forsaken the format.


Mediocrity, thy name is this album - 40%

ElectricEye, March 5th, 2007

This is a record that does zero for me. Nothing. It's got speed, good production, is well-played, and all that German stuff. But in the end, it's a totally unfulfilling waste of time.

The album is just very uninspired. The band is too content to be middle-of-the-pack, although they try really hard not to suck at times, and end up sounding either flat or forced. Songwriting is nonexistent.

It's not uncommon for the music to build up for a big payoff, with endless streams of unthrilling riffs, then just wander off somewhere else as you wait for the punchline, failing to deliver anything but a broken expectation. That is the main complaint here, that apart from the fact that none of the riffs, choruses, or whatever, are interesting enough in themselves, they are also very poorly put together, as the music never leads to a point.

What we end up with is a random hodgepodge of bad ideas, and I feel that I might as well play it backwards, without missing a beat. Maybe then I could also sue the band for the refund (though playing it "as is" is enough of an obvious incentive to DROP DEAD).

What happened to the confidence? There is not an underline ANYWHERE on the album, saying "Gotcha! Stick THIS up yer turner!". No remotely classic tracks like "Across the universe" or "From the dust of ages" to be found. I can't stay interested to as much as a single song here, no less so the 7-minute "epics", that just go on and on and on. The whole album at ONCE can only be digested while vacuum cleaning.

There's a new singer again, and this is by far the worst one they've ever had. His voice is a bit lower and raspier than the previous two, and as such, cannot really be classified as "power". Unfortunately, his delivery is also rather weak, and without any real personal touch. In the higher registers, he is downright unpleasant. He struggles hard to stay afloat among the nowhere riffs, and might as well be David Reece for all that I care. Loser.

Another point of annoyance is that this album implements the useless wind intros far too many times. Will metal bands ever stop using this crappy device? I mean, just get to the riffs already? Maybe they realized that the rest of the album was so damned boring, they figured that they could just add 20 seconds of unmusic at the beginning of half the songs (6 out of 11, no joke), an no-one would even notice. In the end, it's all filler.

Five years since the last release, and this was all they could muster? Back in these days, Rage punched out new albums almost every year, and they could summon more hooks in any one choice pick on "Black in mind", than this entire record. And it goes on forever too!

Hint to band: If you're gonna suck, at least don't make your album SIXTY THREE minutes long!

"Overpopulation is evil" - Pol Pot

Don't buy "Mental reservation".

They still carry the torch! - 80%

Xeogred, February 9th, 2007

Scanner, quite possibly the greatest European Power Metal band around, sadly gets so overlooked. I was a bit surprised to see this album had no reviews already, so here I am to make it clear. This is still the glorious Scanner that released the epic and flawless masterpieces "Hypertrace" and "Terminal Earth". Not as legendary per se, but this is still an incredible release and example of good power metal with an aggressive edge to it. And honestly, looking at other releases during 1995, besides Gamma Ray's "Land of the Free", or Running Wild's "Black Hand Inn", there just wasn't much out at this time of this calibur. It was definitely a sad time for US Metal. Europe however seemed to keep the metal slightly flowing, this being a perfect cult example.

Scanner is best known for their Sci-Fi fantasy themes and lyrics. Though this album seems a little more straight forward than the previous too, it still retains a lot of dark futuristic atmosphere that filled the others. Definitely making it quite unique and just all around awesome. Their insanely weird progressive, complex structures are still in tact as well. This is easily some of the most original stuff you'll ever hear. They may be thrown in the Power Metal genre, but their buildups, riffs, solo's, and everything are pretty over the top and unique. A lot of metal out there gets mimicked, however I have yet to hear any other band out there sound anything like Scanner.

The lineup here is pretty strong, especially when you look at vocalist Leszek Szpigiel (whom Scanner managed to keep around for this album and the next. They've always had a hard time keeping a consistent lineup, so it was refreshing to see this great vocalist appeared on two of their releases). He really fits their style just perfectly. He has a high range like Michael Knoblich (Hypertrace), though his voice isn't as bouncy. And he's got an aggressive touch to his voice, very much like S.L. Coe (Terminal Earth), though Leszek definitely has a greater range over him. Basically, you could say Leszek is a great combination of both Scanner's previous two vocalists. So far, he's probably the best vocalist Scanner has had.

The production is pretty much just like the previous releases. Its good production, but not over the top, and the sounds and everything to the instruments give off a raw feel to them. This isn't your generic happy, sing along European Power metal. This is truly METAL.

The instant you play this, you'll be hooked. All the way through, its nonstop over the top German speed metal at its finest. You'll gallop to the insane rhythm's, cringe to the incredible choruses, drool over the melodic riffs and solo's, and sit in awe with the futuristic themes and atmosphere. Sadly, there is a single song on here that doesn't belong on here at all. "Wrong Lane Society", completely ruins the moment of perfection. This song sounds completely out of place, sounding way too much like a typical glam metal song. Yes, I just said glam metal. I truly am never too critical when it comes to amazing metal like this, but this song really does not need to be on here. Luckily the next track "20th Century Crusade" crushes it finishing the album off to a great ending.

All in all, this is perfect Power Metal, with enough of an sharp edge to just simply be called Speed Metal. Absolutely do not let the term "Power Metal" shrug this one off, because I know it does for some people. Fans who really enjoyed Helloween's first two Keeper albums and want something more like that, look absolutely no farther. And for cult fans of the great Scanner, if you haven't heard this one yet, then you've got a problem. Get it, now! This would also certainly be a great introduction to the band, but it sits just barely under "Hypertrace" and "Terminal Earth". However, its much better than what would become of their next release, "Ball of the Damned", which seemed to lack consistency. Alright, I'm dragging this out ... what are you doing? GET THIS NOW!!!