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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.