Saturday, May 8, 2021

Helloween - I Want Out Live (1989)

In 1989, as a steel-struck teenager, I was so hyped up on Helloween that I bought this live cassette the instant I first laid eyes upon it it. I can still recall digging out that $6.99 from my pocket paper route money, happily slapping down on the counter at Record Town in my local mall, striding proudly forth with my new-fangled quasi-mullet and thrusting it straight into my Walkman. It might sound like some stereotypical scene out of one of those awful TV shows or films that tries to thrive off nostalgia for the 80s, but in fact it was our reality back then. At the time, I didn't have a high opinion of live albums per se...Unleashed in the East pretty much brought me into the genre as a tyke, and Live After Death was still in a regular rotation, and when I looked at the track list here I thought it was a little skimpy, but fuck it, this was one of my favorite bands to emerge from my #1 label of the era, Noise Records, I absolutely worshipped at the feet (stalks?) of the debut EP, the first three albums and the Judas single, and I was going to follow them through thick and thin on all their major label adventures, and back again. And I always have...

I even remember at the time knowing that this one was put out under another title overseas, and I think the track list is edited just a bit different, and there's a cool cartoon cover of the band playing live, damnit all if I don't like our version a little better. I believe in Uncle Pumpkin. Well, I listened to this about 3-4 times and then quickly delegated it to the tape rack right beneath Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II, remember those old tape racks where you'd have to move all the tapes each time to keep them in alphabetical and chronological order because you were a huge dork that didn't plan well in advance? I guess it was just me. At any rate, I found the sound quality on this totally acceptable, maybe a fraction clunky in some of the mix, but for the 80s it definitely was clear and professional enough, I had just decided that I'd never listen to this at any point over the studio works that I so adored. It's now about 32 years later, and I'm breaking this thing out for the first time, and the memories of the experience seem to have phased me more than the recording itself.

The distribution of material here is largely on the initial Keeper duology, probably because they wanted to focus on songs with Kiske vocals and promote their RCA material, but they do manage to close out the B-side with an epic rendition of "How Many Tears", and if my ears aren't failing me it even sounds like Kai is doing some faint backups along Kiske's impressive take on it, and the bridge with those airy, open guitar harmonies sounds fucking fantastic. The guitars and drums sound tight, you get a fair helping of Markus' lines in there, and the leads really scorch. Stage banter is fun enough for what you get, silly schlager melodies, definitely sounding like some Germans a bit nervous to get out there in front of the international audiences (this being recorded in Scotland and England), and I don't think any of the tracks stands out as weak at all, from the silly "Dr. Stein" to title track, which was obviously the hotness at the time. Even in my High School, where only a select few of us hanging out on Headbanger's Wall near the cafeteria even knew who names like Armored Saint, Running Wild and Celtic Frost belonged to, almost all of the glam, Ozzy and Metallica-addicted student populace knew this damn song and walked around humming or singing it all the time (of course they all heard it from MTV).

Listening to it so much later, I rather think I missed out on giving this one some more spins when I was young. Helloween has had such a massive legacy since, with a lot of changes, but this brings back the innocence and amazing potential I once felt for these Germans...potential which they mostly lived up to, mind you. I don't know if it's on the level of Live After Death or Live Without Sense, two of the rare lives that I listen to on a fairly regular rotation. There's just not much meat on the bones of this one, but I promise I won't wait three decades before it shows up in the queue again.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Rage - Unity (2002)

I've had plenty of positives to say about the 90s Rage records, even if I had spent that decade mildly disappointed, but come 2002 and the sophomore of its new power trio lineup, I was confronted with what would certainly become my favorite of the Germans' albums outside of the first five. Wagner, Mike Terrana and Victor Smolski had written a storm of a record which accented upon many of the strengths of its predecessor but ramping up the musicianship and arguably the heaviness. Because, make no mistake, while Unity is as varied as some of its neighbors in their catalog, this is one hard hitting effort that absolutely helped redefine this aging act for a whole new generation, while keeping them current and distinct among the other burgeoning Euro power metal acts.

Lead by Peavy's vocals, which are definitely lower and angrier and less ranging than some of the old albums, but still perfectly sculpted to go along with this particular sound, Unity is a positive step forward. Victor's rhythm guitars here are beastly, iron-clad, with a bulky tone that works whether he's firing on the faster material or going into some of his complex grooves. And yet they're supported by loads of little details, from his unending tides of catchy lead-work to an impressive array of synths which serve as a further bolstering to the louder guitar tone. Make no mistake, this album is just as classically-inspired as some of the others which Peavy and Victor wrote together, but it's the way they integrate it here so that it's a part of the whole that really blew me off my seat. Usually, they'd have these pompous multi-track conceptual bits that were kind of a neo-prog-classical style, which little insertions of the Rage we known and love, but here it all blends together seamlessly and helps this one excel on so many levels.

Rarely does an album feel so all-over-the-place and yet coherent at the same time, but listen through the proggy escape of the instrumental title track finale, or the bombastic choirs woven into "Dies Irae", and how well they collapse into the band's riffing momentum and be stunned. There are literally about 150 or more great riffs on the album, and they're often busy as hell, with a lot going on, developing into one another with a level of foresight you don't hear from many guitar heroes. The first triple combo of tracks here, "All I Want", "Insanity" and "Down" instantly thrust into my top playlist the band has ever written, balancing off this new aggression with some classier hard rock and metal patterns that would have been legendary if they were issued in the 80s. Mike Terrana's muscular framework ensures that everything else proceeds effortlessly, he's arguably the main reason all of this ties together due to his consistent battery even during its more left field moments. The bass also sounds fucking spectacular here, pumping through the depths of the mix.

Not every track here is equally legendary, I grant you, and a few near the latter half of the disc do drag it down just a point, but nothing is bad, and I can promise there's at least somethin catchy on every single cut even if a few of them lag behind. The bio-mechanical Giger-like cover artwork featuring the Soundchaser is pretty awesome, and it's nice to see them bring that mascot back into some prominence, not that they'd ignored him much, but like their classic album covers to Perfect Man and (the real artwork for) Secrets in a Weird World, this one just transports you away into that same realm of imaginative nostalgia their classics have always conjured up. The lyrics are all pretty relatable and in that way it also reminds me of Perfect Man, and this really just has anything I could look for from a power/heavy metal album in the 21st century...a go for the throat attitude, gobs of dizzying musicianship and no sense whatsoever that this scene was anywhere near over. I'd argue Unity sounds modern even by today's standards, two decades later. What a statement.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (I am a real survivor)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Cold Cell - The Greater Evil (2021)

There's a dichotomy on this latest Cold Cell album, on which I find the moments where they drift furthest away from the core considerations of their genre to be its most inspired, interesting and memorable, while a lot of the heavier elements end up feeling repetitive and less capable of putting me into a trance. That's not to say they are weak when they are piling on their largely mid-paced atmospheric black metal, which is likely the dominant force through much of the 49 minutes of material, but every time they drift in and out of some dream-like fugue, I am transported to a place that is more haunting and capable of getting under my skin in a shorter period of time. I think it's just a matter of the actual black metal riffing becoming a bit more commonplace and less able to offer the unexpected.

To be fair, they do balance out these two extremes at several points, but I found that overall my engagement with the material varied, and while we're not dealing with excessively bloated songwriting, most of these are around the 7-minute mark, which is long enough for the tides of tedium to begin to settle in if not to completely overtake you. But listen to that intro to "Scapegoat Season", with the guy singing in just an everyman's voice while the creepy, reverbed acoustic guitars and roiling ambience escalate, or "Open Wound" with the freaky swell of orchestration and desperate, open rasps, these sorts of things set up the band to just deliver an emotional juggernaut, and when it comes to the heavier riffs they just don't really honor the expectations. Sure, the pacing and the retained atmosphere do their job, and sometimes the vocals, when they're pitched at a more tortured intonation, but just as often you're getting these riff patterns that just sort of drone repeatedly and uninterestingly off into the distance.

I'm probably making it out to sound worse than it is, because by no means is this a bad or incompetent effort. In a few spots, it's outright transcendent. There's certainly a consistency to the graying, wasting mood of the album, and the sustained riffs over the busier but almost monotonous blasting backdrop, with its layered and eerie guitars. They set a mood and stick with that, so if you dream of black and white, decaying shores, or can imagine your own being disintegrating into snowy gray flecks in slow-motion, this is an appropriate score. I think, as it is presented, the album passes muster, but there were just a few parts where I thought they were going to absolutely crush my soul with some blazing riff or rhythmic pattern emerging form one of these lushly melancholic ambient-like passages and that just never really came about. But if you're into spacious, dissonant black metal with some surface similarities to the French scene circa Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega, only not quite so twistedly adventurous or potentially explosive, then you could do much worse than to check out Cold Cell.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Necronomicon - The Final Chapter (2021)

Although Necronomicon was once written off as a bit of a lower tier alternative to Destruction, it's amusing that such a comparison has become one of the real strengths of The Final Chapter. Almost from the beginning of this disc, you're belted with these meaty thrash riffs that sound a whole lot like that other band in their modern phase circa All Hell Breaks Loose and The Antichrist, and then the vocals arrive, in particular the chorus which sounds exactly like Schmier, and not a bad way, especially when pitching a chorus like "I am the violence!", which to my dumb American ears sounds like "I am the wiolence!" and just makes the whole thing all the more endearing. And this is actually a template for nearly the entire album, short and muscular tunes that definitely make you want to give or receive a beating.

And I'll tell you...I don't know that anything more is needed? For as aged as this band is, like their better known 'German Big Four' peers, they sound aggressive, driven, and quite far from the nursing home. Riff patterns here are exceedingly simple, and never quite original, but delivered with enough blunt force and then glazed with spurious leads, and even some functional atmospheric melodies as in "Wall of Pain". At some points, like in that same track, they'll graft the melodies even more directly into the verse or chorus riffs (like the intro to "Purgatory" which almost sounds like Running Wild for a second), and it just creates a well-rounded experience that proves there is some mileage left here. The vocals might indeed stay derivative, but if I'm being honest, that style of pinched, constipated snarl is a treat whether it's the original or not. Necronomicon also balances that off with some lower snarls and guttural barks to ramp up the heaviness, and they never sound too cheesy or ill-placed. The rhythm section on this one is just in perfect won't find a lot of interesting bass lines or drum breaks, but in order to drive the important factor of those riffs and vocals, it's 100% effective.

Could the tunes be more nuanced and interesting? Probably, but for what it's worth I listened through the whole album numerous times and never felt any desire to skip past anything, it's one of the more catchy and listenable efforts they've put out over their 30+ years, and nice and loud when the double bass batteries and carnal vocals start firing off in tandem. The cover art isn't the best with that samey sort of skull in the center and the font, but it's a minor complaint once you plug this in and start the headbanging. Necromonicon deserves all the credit for keeping itself alive and finding a consistent stride so late in their career, and of that lesser wave of Teutonic thrashers like Accuser, Darkness, Assassin, Exumer, and Vendetta, they seem to be one who has figured out what works and stuck to it, while leaving themselves just enough room to play around in. Good on them.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Beware the Beach, 2021 edition

Off on another Spring Break, folks. I will return in May to finish up my last few Rage reviews, and come Summer I'll be tackling another lengthy German power metal discography, with some individual albums in the meantime. Forever thanks for stopping by to read the reviews.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Rage - Ghosts (1999)

Some might be hesitant to praise Ghosts for its ballad-heavy, rock opera feel, and the relative lack of speed and heaviness compared to so many of the Germans' records past and future. But damn if this isn't one of the last truly great, and most unique efforts Rage would produce, which took me entirely by surprise, even with the preparedness that XIII offered me. Ghosts is a more distinctly 'symphonic' metal album than the one leading up to it, with a wider variety of both orchestral and synth sounds that create a broader arsenal for them to rock against. It's also a concept album, and really capitalizes on the emotional potential when one is speaking of life, afterlife and the veil between them, and it does this with some of the catchiest anthems the band would weave through their entire 90s catalog.

This is by far the best work Christian Wolff performed for the band in the studio, with a mix of epic, Wagnerian pianos and symphonic swells, and some more proggy synthesizers where it suits. The riff set on this album is likewise incredible, with each of the rhythm guitars playing perfectly off the keys and vice versa...everything shines, nobody smothers anyone else. The drums are great, they sound like they can support an entire in-the-flesh orchestra, and while Peavy is more focused on vocals here, the bass playing is fluid and he pops in a couple cool lines and fills to keep that end of the sound interesting. His voice is still in fine form, not reaching the pitch needed for early screamers, but sustaining quite well in that higher-mid range. There are a couple moments where the lyrics and his voice interact in a mildly goofy way, but I think that's just because you've got this big German dude singing in his second tongue and it's bound to have a few creases. Still, the meaningful lyrics go a long way to compensate for any flaws you'll find there, and he's still doing some harsher howling or lower crooning in here contrasts nicely against the passionate chorus sequences.

Even if I'm throwing on the bonus tracks for this one, that's about 13 tunes, with few that could even be considered weaker than the rest. Maybe I occasionally forget about "Six Feet Under Ground" or "End of Eternity", but they're both fitting to the concept and pretty decent as I revisit them. But the emotional core for this album is the martial, measured "Back in Time", the doomy trudge of "Ghosts" and unforgettable "Love and Fear Unite", with its sweeping synth flutes and strings that erupt into this totally awesome chorus which will make me smile if you have even a faint resemblance of a soul. The album goes a lot deeper than, with stuff like "Vanished in Haze" which is a prom ballad not unlike Bon Jovi's "Never Say Goodbye", only a lot better and with less glam bullshit; or the even more cheesy but heart-punching "Love After Death", yet another of these slower pieces with acoustic guitars in the verse that explode into some nice, climbing riffs and orchestration. There really aren't many complaints I can conjure up over the core 50 minutes of material, it's a ride...provided you're willing to get on...

I mean if you're only familiar with the band's early era as Avenger or the first 7-8 Rage records, you might be a little shocked at what you've got on disc here. There might have been tiny hints on stuff like Reflections of a Shadow, or the fat they obviously liked classical music (i.e. the intro to Secrets in a Weird World), and were quite catchy with it. But Ghosts is that whole side idea manifest into the best the band would ever do it, and while it's probably too accessible for some, there's nothing exactly sellout or commercial about it...this shit just wasn't that popular by the close of the last century. Maybe Therion, maybe the Trans Siberian Orchestra's evolution from traditional bits of Dead Winter Dead era Savatage into an entire band, but most were gettin' their nu-metal on by this time, or we had to suffer major metal bands of the 80s continuing to churn out shit. I'm not saying Ghosts isn't a little too teary-eyed and cheesy, or that hearing Peavy tackle some of this stuff with his style of voice doesn't induce a fraction of loveable cringe, but the sum results are so well written and sincere that this is still a good listen decades later, and certainly the best step Rage ever took outside the comfort zone to which it would, in some capacity, return.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10]

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Rage - XIII (1998)

XIII is one of a few Rage albums at the close of the 90s upon which the group decided to lean very heavily on their symphonic influences and incorporate the 'Lingua Mortis Orchestra' idea directly into their metal albums. As loathe as I was that one of my favorite German acts would submit to impulses of rock opera and Broadway balladry, I'll admit that they did a pretty good job of it on the 'main' releases where the style was implemented, rather than the junky scrap EPs and Lingua Mortis album that had come out a couple years earlier. In fact, the orchestration of Christian Wolff is spun so smoothly into this record that, if you hadn't already gotten history with the Rage catalogue, you might think that this was just the fundamental sound on which they were built.

There's a tradeoff. While the musicianship of the quartet loses nothing in terms of proficiency, it's dialed back a lot to let these horn and string sections breathe. It feels like the band is really playing along with an actual symphony, and unlike other extreme metal bands who would later try and clutter everything up by going overboard, the Germans are restrained and entirely song-focused, and that's what makes this album a cut above. This is not some showboating affair, but an attempt to compose emotional resonance which makes this pleasant to listen to even decades later; a trait that would carry on to following album. Look, I'm all for the shrieking excess and dizzying speed metal licks of their earlier years, but I'll take the tunes on this one over ANYTHING the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has ever released, and I can only image if Rage had decided to focus on covers and not their original fare, they might have achieved some sort of massive stardom the likes of which that post-Savatage project did. But that just goes to show you this was no cheap cash grab on the emerging trends brought about by groups like Therion; these guys were serious about stripping down their sound and adding a new component, tastefully.

It's exceptionally clear and well-produced, with the guitars and symphonic keys in perfect balance above the very audible rhythm section of Wagner's bass and Chris E's drumming. Peavy's vocals actually sound really good hear shifting between his angrier, gritty ravings and the soothing mid-to-high pitched stuff he uses over a lot of the softer or more sentimental parts. I don't know if there's a single song on this album which lacks for something really catchy..."Days of December", "Over and Over", and "Heartblood" are all fine examples of good riffs, memorable vocal lines and keys working in tandem, and they don't have to entirely abandon the energy and heaviness of their former selves. "From the Cradle to the Grave", with its almost goofy symphonic groove, burrows itself straight into your ears and brain, and while "Paint it Black" is a really generic choice for a cover, and my least favorite piece on the album, they actually do well to merge it into this orchestrated metal style and make it blend in seamlessly with the aesthetics of all the originals.

Despite the shared DNA of Mr. Wagner, XIII is not the Rage I grew up on, but the way the band threw itself at this challenge showed restraint, nuance and an appreciation for how these styles should be balanced. The result was, at least for me, the best album they had put out since 1990's Reflections of a Shadow, and to think, a year later they'd up the ante even further...

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Friday, March 26, 2021

Mur - Truth EP (2021)

Mur is another of a number of French acts which combine the aesthetics of hardcore with black metal, or perhaps black-gaze, or post-black metal, or really the post-ness is created by this hybridization in the first place. This new Truth EP is an interesting one as the band has found a way to implement synthesizers into the mix which created an entirely other dimension of nostalgia. Their implementation is certainly redolent of the modern era of retro synth, so they're dirty pads you'd usually equate with film scores of the 80s, and the way they fluctuate between breaks in the aggressive metal instruments, or serve to complement them with even more chaotic, spastic tones is fairly fresh and gives this material more life than it might have without.

At the core, the band bowls you over with angry, raucous hardcore barking and faster, blasted beats, as well as the streaming, airy tremolo-picked guitars common to the post-black market, and that provides a nice foundation, but once they throw in those keyboards it gets much more choppy and melodic, and it's almost like the heavy heart of the band is a blunt instrument used to add a little weight to that sort of aggressive synthscape. It's not the only atmospheric trick up their sleeve...there's a passage in "Suicide Summer", for instance, where they let a distorted bass roil out and then layer in the keys to create this really warped, drugged out effect, and that's a brilliant song as it then erupts into the more arpeggiated synth-lines and roaring chorus vocals. The fact that the whole EP is pretty filthy and unwashed only makes it more interesting, they could have gone with a more polished vibe like the popular metalcore bands from the UK that mix in the keys (Architects, Bring Me the Horizon, etc), but I kind of like how it maintains this oppressive, discordant edge to it, interesting to explore.

At over 32 minutes this one feels more like a full-length than an EP. Of course, part of that is devoted to the explosive and crazy cover of Talk Talk's "Such a Shame", which works well within the medium that Mur has built itself, and might not even be too recognizable without the lyrics. There's also this giant 10 minute title track which is basically almost all retro-synthwave/krautrock, and I feel like it almost might have been a mistake to include, because I like it more than most of the band's more directly metallic fare. They still have some drums, guitars and intense sounds there, but it sounds like early M83 on a prog bender while ingesting as much acid as possible, and that's just cool. Overall, though, this is a cool permutation on the core sound they brought their 2019 album Brutalism, and a direction they could certainly improve a lot upon, maybe by ramping up the riff quality to compete more with the synth lines. But even as it stands, an interesting listen.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Rage - End of All Days (1996)

End of All Days might not be able to match Black in Mind or The Missing Link blow for blow with regards to memorable content, but this is at least the album where I think they got that 90s production style down pat. The guitars feel beefier and punchier, but cleaner against the other instruments, and it just sounds great churning out of my car stereo or PC speakers, while keeping that generally more aggressive sound which is a little more low-end-heavy and thrashing than where they were headed at the end of the previous decade. The Andreas Marschall cover art on this was quite cool, I like how they integrated the Soundchaser mascot into a sort of Mayan, apocalyptic aesthetic and this definitely triggers the Aliens and Predator nerd within me. This is also another encouraging example of how so many European bands kept classy while their American counterparts were falling apart. Sure, this is no Perfect Man, but an album like End of All Days is exponentially superior to bullshit like Load, Re-Load, Risk, Demolition, and The Graveyard.

It's a strong effort, perhaps even a little underrated, but it doesn't exactly drip with the then-modern day classics that were present on the others I mentioned at the beginning of the review. For every "Higher Than the Sky", there are a half-dozen songs that few will remember. "End of All Days" is one I really like, the perky little melodies in the riffs and Peavy giving us some sustained Rage range, even if it's obvious from the previous album and this one that his voice was already becoming limited after over a decade of touring and recording. A lot of dark, mysterious, brooding pieces here that maintain the apocalyptic or horrific vibes that the band had been hitting hard in the 90s, and a cut like "Voice from the Vault" is a great manifestation of that. Even as I journey deeper into the track list, everything holds together quite well, but tunes such as "Face Behind the Mask" and "Silent Victory", while competent, varied, and well-produced, just seem to lack a little of that staying star power which would populate set-lists for the ensuing decades. They experiment a little with some other guitar effects, very mild orchestrated feel from Christian Wolff, but even though Lingua Mortis had dropped earlier in the year, it doesn't rub off too much on this.

I can listen through End of All Days without ever feeling too bored or disaffected, but it's not adding a lot of new tricks to the Rage legacy, maybe just smoothing over the studio side of things while keeping the general level of competent songwriting high enough. It's not as catchy or experimental as a lot of its neighbors, so I'm not even sure how much enthusiastic the band would have been for this collection of tunes as they had their heads in the ambitions of their symphonic side. I certainly remember grabbing this one while away at University, and being pretty happy that some of my German heroes were holding the fort while the heavy metal genre at large was simultaneously imploding and mutating. In fact, it was this streak of mid 90s power metal staples from overseas, as well as the emergence of stuff like black metal and melodic death, that initially got me interested in writing reviews and doing my old paper fan zine, which eventually led to my tireless devotion to exploring all this stuff well into Middle Age. So a solid album with good production, and a slight sentimental attachment, just not among their best.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Monday, March 22, 2021

Rage - Black in Mind (1995)

Black in Mind is many ways the ultimate '90s Rage album', cognizant of the decade which led to it, but embracing a bit more of a stripped down production and harder grooving sensibility than the previous albums, to keep it current with the heavier trends of its day. I'm not saying the band had set out to create the German proxy for A Vulgar Display of Power, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Peavy and company had sat down and felt the influence of efforts like that as they continued to modernize themselves out of the shrieking excesses of the 80s. The band does not exactly shy away from some faster material, but clearly that is not the focus when writing most of the tracks on this album. I think the places where this still resembles the earlier material the most is in the great lead-work and the distinctive Peavy Wagner vocals.

I have problems with it...the songs on this album are far better than the production, which continue to feel slightly off as it was on The Missing Link. It's the way the vocals are filtered into the mix, or a constant feel that there's an airy wisp or hiss somewhere in the interaction of the drums, guitars and vocals that just doesn't sound as clean as it was meant. Perhaps its my equipment, but I've compared a few of the different masters of this one and while some do well to spiff it up, I still get that nagging sensation, and it does curb some of my enjoyment of what is otherwise a strong Rage effort for a new era. Wagner's vocals are very restrained here, far more focused on angrier, raging verses in "Alive but Dead" or "The Crawling Chaos"; he even woofs out a few harsher barks on the precipice of guttural. He does throw out some higher and more melodic chorus vocals to rein this in, like in "Shadow Out of Time", but he definitely sounds pissed off and constipated through a lot of the run-time...never to the point of caricature, but it's just not my favorite performance. The riffs here are much more chugging and crunchy, not bereft of some dexterity or frenzied pacing like the title track, but just so measured, which actually helps the solos to shine more as they just stick out from the dingy undercurrent like glints of gold spotted in a stream.

Lots of horror-based lyrics, the band has often had a fascination with Lovecraft's cosmic horror and I don't feel as if they've ever gotten enough credit for that, but it certainly runs through this record like a black blood to its angry, beating heart, and of the half-dozen 90s 'classics' here: "Black in Mind", "The Crawling Chaos", "Alive but Dead", "Sent by the Devil", "Shadow Out of Time" and "In a Nameless Time", the theme is strongly represented. A couple other tracks like "The Icecold Hand of Destiny" and "Until I Die", with the latter's screaming, definitely have riffing motifs or overall vibes that remind me a lot of the band's masterworks from the latter half of the 80s, but these too are shaken a bit from the production values, which if I'm being honest, seem to be an issue for me more than others who were probably just getting into the band at the time. Black in Mind is yet another of the Germans' myriad works worthy of respect, and I admire how they were able to make the aesthetic, stylistic shifts of the time without abandoning their identity, but this is one I'd love to hear with a severe remastering unlike those we've already gotten, or even a re-recording. It's not the material itself, as is evident when you hear the live versions of some of these gems, which sound more vital.

I think if you ran them up against a number of their contemporaries of the time, they fared quite well. Of the 9 studio albums to its day, all were very good or better other than the piecemeal Ten Years in Rage. Peavy and his new lineup might have strayed further from their roots than Running Wild, who with Masquerade sounded like a more polished, seasoned version of the same thing (not complaining), but not nearly so much as the 90s Accept. It works though: solid riffs, structures, ideas that were fresh and not terribly derived from their own canon, some aggression, good lyrics. I just don't love how it sounds in my speakers, and the two and a half decades since haven't warmed me up to that aspect.

Verdict: Win [8/10]