BLACKWELDER – Survival Of The Fittest

Blackwelder - Survival Of The FittestPower Metal! That is one genre in the heavy metal community that I have a big problem with. There are lots of bands – mostly German – that plays that kind of music. You know the kind, galloping bass and drums, heavily influenced by Iron Maiden, double bass drums going off very fast, choruses that belongs on soccer arenas and singers with high-pitched voices. Freedom Call, Edguy, Blind Guardian and Grave Digger are but a few examples. However, there’s a big difference between American power metal and European power metal. The American version is way heavier, more aggressive and more, well, metal. But when the term power metal is brought up it is nine out of ten times the European kind that is talked about. More than often, the American kind is just labeled as metal. But there are usually exceptions to every rule and even though there might be a genre one just can’t stand, there are usually the odd band or two that you like any way. Is that the case with power metal then? Well, when Michael Kiske was fronting Helloween, they made a couple of great records and the first Gamma Ray album, Heading For Tomorrow (1990), is really good. Now, Gamma Ray has everything to do with this review. Because the dude who was fronting that band is a bloke named Ralph Sheepers, a guy who once was pretty close to become Judas Priest’s new frontman when Rob Halford jumped the ship. But the job was given to Tim “Ripper” Owens instead. Scheepers was Gamma Ray’s singer for three albums and four years. Since then, Sheepers has released one self titled solo album in 2011, but as for now he’s mostly known as the singer in Primal Fear since 1998. But apparently, Sheepers doesn’t have enough work on his hands so what to do but to form another band. There is never enough metal in this world, I guess. With him he has brought bassist Björn Englen (Dio Disciples, Yngwie Malmsteen), drummer Aquiles Priester (Ex-Angra, Primal Fear) and a dude called Andrew Szucs from a band called Seven Seraphim (I have never heard of neither band nor player) on guitars – and of course, when these guys are involved, power metal is to be expected. So why, review an album by a band that plays music I don’t care for much? Well, first of all, this is a new band and I don’t know – I only assume – that they play power metal. Besides, when I got the download link and the press release, I got curious. Besides, Sheepers happens to be a really great singer, not at all annoying like most power metal singers has a tendency to be.

So I push play and let opener “The Night Of New Moon” blast through my headphones. And sure enough, this is power metal, the European way, but man, this song is good – really good. It’s fast and catchy, but easy on the ears, much to the fact that Sheepers has a very pleasant voice – that sounds a lot like Rob Halford’s here. “Spaceman” is also a real killer that sounds like a mix of Masterplan and early Helloween with a melody to die for. “Adeturi” is an instrumental, an ok song that has a lot of Yngwie Malmsteen over it. A bit weird to put an instrumental so early in the track list. “Freeway Of Life” is a heavy piece, more metal than power dito with a very catchy chorus. “Inner Voice” sounds like Yngwie Malmsteen goes power metal, but the song is really good, better than anything Malmsteen has released in the last 15 years or so. “With Flying Colors” is just awesome. This is melodic metal at its best and this sounds like a snakepit that contains Pretty Maids and Accept with Yngwie Malmsteen joining in with a few pieces. Almost like the bastard child of “Back To Back” and “Fast As A Shark”. “Remember The Time” is a bit of a mold breaker as this fast rocker has a melody that is ballad-like that makes the song unpredictable. “Play Some More” has a title that really says it all, the song is a bit overmuch, a little too much of just about everything and those kind of songs makes me nervous. “Oriental Spell” is a cool one, though. A heavy metal track that sounds like Dream Theater in their more metal moments without the prog and with a good dose of – again – Yngwie. The album ends with “Judgement Day”, a title that should result in a huge fine if it’s ever used again. But the song is good and this melodic metal piece sounds like Helloween when Kiske fronted them.

With Blackwelder, Sheepers has come up with a really good record that, I guess won’t disappoint any of his old fans. However, if listened to by people with an open mind, I think that this could be enjoyed by people – like me – who’s not that impressed by the whole power metal genre. The only thing that annoys me is that the drums can be a bit too much at times, sometimes I wish that Priester would just calm down and let the rhythm speak for itself. Just like many of the shredder guitarists, Priester has a tendency to play a bit too much a bit too often. Still, there is no question that the guy is a really good drummer. That’s a thing that involves the whole band, they are great musicians and what I do like about Szucs is that he does not play too much too often. Very tasteful indeed. Another thing that is a bit worrying is that even though this album only contains songs that goes from good to great, they’re a bit forgettable. While listening to the album, I dig almost every song like crazy, but when the album is finished, I can’t remember anything. Well, maybe the album is a grower – or maybe I’m getting senile. I also want to bring forward a big plus, the fact that the album only contains 10 tracks. Not 14 or 16 or 12 – 10! Ten songs are enough. That said, I believe this lot can have a bright future. With a really good debut album, this band can go far if they improve the small things that needs to be corrected. For both the standard and the die-hard power metal fan, this album is a must.

Jon Wilmenius (7/10)

Tracklist:

01. The Night Of New Moon
02. Spaceman
03. Adeturi
04. Freeway Of Life
05. Inner Voice
06. With Flying Colors
07. Remember The Time
08. Play Some More
09. Oriental Spell
10. Judgement Day

 

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