Album Title: Wall Of Skulls
Label: AFM Records
Date of Release: 17 September 2021
The catch-up continues after my three-month hiatus, with the latest release from German power metal band, Brainstorm. Entitled ‘Wall Of Skulls’, this is the thirteenth full-length album from the Heidenheim-based quintet, and it was released midway through September on the ever-steadfast AFM Records. Having been an on-off fan since the release of ‘Soul Temptation’ in 2005, their last album, ‘Midnight Ghost’ thoroughly impressed me. And so, when I was reminded of their return, I felt sufficiently interested to check out ‘Wall Of Skulls’.
Blessed with one of the most stable line-ups in heavy metal history, I have to say that Andy B. Franck (vocals), Torsten Ihlenfeld (guitars), Milan Loncaric (guitars), Antonio Ieva (bass), Dieter Bernert (drums) have bested their previous endeavours with ‘Wall Of Skulls’. There is something about this album that, from the first listen, is infectious, energetic, and a huge dollop of fun. It continues where ‘Midnight Ghost’ left off in many ways in that this is an album chock full of melody, groove, energy and importantly for a metal band, some heavy riffs accompanied by a hefty dose of fast tempos. It’s as if the band were buoyed by the reaction to ‘Midnight Ghost’ and decided to up the ante even more. I for one am delighted, because ‘Wall Of Skulls’ can only enhance the reputation of a band that has worked hard, but remained a little too deep in the shadows for my liking.
I could end the review right there if I wanted, because I’ve basically described ‘Wall Of Skulls’ in a nutshell: Fast, heavy, melodic, powerful. But that’s not my style, so allow me to delve just a little deeper.
First off, Brainstorm have used Andy B. Franck to his fullest; this is the album where he excels as the frontman. Not that he hasn’t previously, it’s just that the output on this record plays to his strengths, it feels. He is commanding, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining as he belts out the lyrics with his familiar grit and Teutonic inflections. The power and effort that he puts into his performance throughout the eleven tracks (twelve if you include the bonus song on the limited-edition version) is impossible to ignore and easy to enjoy.
And when I said that there is a hefty dose of fast tempos, I wasn’t lying. Buckle up people because ‘Wall Of Skulls’ is a bit of a bruiser. It gets the blood pumping early on, and then rarely lets the heartrate lower. As such, you get galloping rhythms, incessantly fast drumbeats, and riffs that have plenty of pace to them without sacrificing the grunt. And all that, on top of some well-placed theatrics.
Those theatrics begin with the intro, ‘Chamber Thirteen’, where the sound of Gregorian plainchant echoes within a dark, sinister-sounding framework, into which guitar riffs feed atop a rousing cinematic soundtrack, full of bombast.
From there, we’re straight in to ‘Where Ravens Fly’ with no pause for breath. The immediate pace is best described as ‘full throttle’, with pounding drums, wailing vocals, and then a killer chorus that builds upon the orchestration from the intro. I already like what I’m hearing, a sentiment that has not dimmed with repeated listens over the last few days.
The quality continues with ‘Solitude’, that kicks into life via an organ/vocal duet of what, it transpires, is the chorus melody. A really cool guitar lead line accentuates the central melody whilst Franck steps in again to lead the orchestra in perfect harmony. The pace is slightly slower, delivering a stomping power, allowing a little subtle nuance or two to enter the fray within the verses. However, with a chorus this strong, it’s hardly surprising that it remains the focal point.
‘Wall Of Skulls’ offers another layer by virtue of a couple of guest appearances, a first for Brainstorm at any point within their 30+ year career. ‘Escape The Silence’ boasts Rage’s Peavey Wagner, whilst ‘Turn Off The Light’ welcomes Orden Ogan’s Seeb Levermann, who also assumes the role of the album’s producer. The former is a bulldozer of a power metal song, full of double-pedal intensity and an insanely rousing chorus, whilst the latter which immediately follows, shows no let-up in tempo, with more double-pedal drumming and a classic 80s metal feel to some of the central riffs and squealing lead break. It goes without saying that the chorus is another barnstormer, as Brainstorm seem incapable to penning anything substandard, with the muscular groove towards the close a thing of beauty also.
The intro to ‘Glory Disappears’ allows us a few seconds to catch our breath, as indeed does the song in it’s entirety. It’s more of a mid-tempo quasi-ballad with a chorus that’sslightly reminiscent of the likes of Hammerfall or Sabaton, thanks to the unashamed epic ‘call to arms’ quality it possesses.
‘My Dystopia’, thanks to frenetic rhythms and an urgent lead guitar lick returns us to the faster, higher-octane pace, whilst a certain amount of variety is displayed via songs like ‘End Of My Innocence’ and ‘Holding On’. Both have keys within them that hark back to yesteryear, but the latter in particular plays around with more overt melodic hard rock trappings. The chorus veers close to AOR territory thanks to multi-layered vocals, albeit within a more metal framework. But both once again, deliver satisfying choruses that you’ll be humming long after the album has finished.
When I made my return to reviewing recently and asked readers for recommendations of what I needed to check out, Brainstorm were mentioned a couple of times and I can definitely see why. With ‘Wall Of Skulls’, they have surpassed everything that they have previously done, creating a thoroughly engaging melodic power metal album in the process. If ‘Wall Of Skulls’ does not enhance their reputation and pull them a little more from the shadows, then there is simply no justice in the world; if power or melodic metal sits within your sphere of interest, then ‘Wall Of Skulls’ is worthy of your time, attention, and hard-earned cash.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: