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Brainstorm - "Memorial Roots" (CD)

Brainstorm - "Memorial Roots" CD cover image

"Memorial Roots" track listing:

1. Forsake What I Believed
2. Shiver
3. The Conjunction Of 7 Planets
4. Cross The Line
5. Nailed Down Dreams
6. Blood Still Stains
7. Ahimsa
8. The Final Stages Of Decay
9. Victim
10. When No One Cares
11. Would You

Reviewed by on January 8, 2010

"Unexpected twists and turns are what make this album a satisfying listen. "

German power metal outfit Brainstorm has certainly been in some sweet situations since they released their first full length back in 1997. To wit: the producers for “Memorial Roots,” Sascha Peath and Miro, have also produced albums for Kamelot, Edguy, and Rhapsody of Fire, among others. Previous album producers also worked with big bands like Gamma Ray and Heaven’s Gate. Once signed to Metal Blade the band was able to get lots of tours and trappings from the likes of Grave Digger, Saxon, and other Metal Blade power luminaries. Their current lead singer, Andy B. Franck, got his start in a little band called Symphorce. Oh, and they are German. So “Memorial Roots” sets up as the perfect storm of power metal nexus activities – the galaxy-spanning light from the top of the pyramid. And it certainly does not disappoint.

Being German power metal, the expectation is for a gargantuan guitar riff to barge in straightaway, but Brainstorm makes you wait. The beginning of album opener “Forsake What I Believe” starts with mildly spooky forest sounds overlaid with a sinister cello melody. As the intro becomes more dramatic it adds horns and other stringed instruments. When the band finally breaks in the riff is slower than expected and very deliberate; it seems like Brainstorm continues to really hold their full force in check. The verse continues the trend, with a subdued vocal line over a subdued bass line. The music grows bit by bit, and by the final seconds the explosion is nigh, but the song ends right before we want it to.

These unexpected twists and turns are what make this album a satisfying listen. This is not rote German power metal with all the accoutrements, but it harkens more to old school prog-style - maybe Iron Maiden combined with some southern-fried thrash, post-metal song structure traits (but not length), and some black metal themes. Examples: to go along with the dramatic introduction and fret board-running solo, “Forsake What I Believe” has a bluesy, syncopated rhythm riff and pinched harmonics. The third song is a very philosophically titled “The Conjunction of 7 Planets.” “Cross the Line” is a speed/thrash metal slam fest. And the eighth track goes on about the combination of love and dead bodies.

Now that isn’t to say Brainstorm casts power metal to the side - they of course do no such thing. Franck’s vocals aren’t constant soaring falsettos, but he has a keen sense of presentation, majesty, and bombast, while guitarists Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric build harmonies that would make the hosts of heaven quite jealous. The key here is that both Ihlenfeld and Loncaric, along with drummer Dieter Bernert, have been with the band since its inception in 1989, and the chemistry is obvious. They are in each other’s heads predicting every move, no matter how unconventional it might be. And Franck has been in for a full ten years now, and his interplay with the guitar melodies is clear - rhythm, mode, and tone all played to complement Franck’s style. And the usual keyboards, gothic atmospherics, neo-classical melodies, and requisite power ballad are all present but not overdone; the gothic keys on “Ahimsa” actually should be used more, for example.

Not everything works, however, as some of the unique aspects go astray. The pop-styled “When No One Cares” is too simple to suit the band’s arrangements and the overdubs just don’t fit. And there are a handful of times the band gets into Savatage rock opera territory which is a bit too cheesy for Brainstorm. Some gang vocals and group chorus sections also become somewhat overwrought, but these are small quibbles.

In a genre like power metal it is often difficult to do anything more than the standard, and execution is often substituted for success. But Brainstorm has added a bit to the more to the quiver. The band bio explains: “After seven successful releases that steadily built the band´s reputation, they thought it was time to modify their sound and try something different here and there, but without losing sight of what Brainstorm stands for.” Often press kits are files of fantasy, but this one is spot on. Hard driving power metal with some unique touches? Sounds like a good idea to me.

Highs: “Forsake What I Believe” and “Ahimsa” are two sterling standouts among many quality tracks.

Lows: The gang vocals could use some work.

Bottom line: German power metal that mixes in some unexpected pieces for an excellent result.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)