A new power metal super group? Oh joy! You know how we love super groups around here. This star studded lineup features vocal powerhouse Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear, ex-Gamma Ray) and his Primal Fear band mate Aquiles Priester on drums, rounded out by Bjorn Englen (Yngwie Malmsteen, Quiet Riot) on bass and the brutally unheralded Andrew Szucs on guitar. Andrew is billed as a guitar wunderkind of the highest caliber, but his recording history appears limited to one release with the unknown American act Seven Seraphim and it seems he’s been essentially inactive since 2003. I’ve no idea how this group assembled or how Mr. Szucs became involved, but what they deliver on Survival of the Fittest is traditional Euro-power with a cosmic butt-ton of technical and showboaty guitar wankery, a la Yngwie the Swedish Wanklord himself. If that sounds tired, dated and cheesy, it is. It’s also quite well done, extremely catchy and surprisingly heavy, and though there’s absolutely nothing here you haven’t heard somewhere before, you may just find yourself hooked on this high speed cheddar. If you’re still reading along, welcome to Noodle Town, population: you.
Ralf and company know how to open an album, and “The Night of the New Moon” is a Euro-power dynamo with all the bells and whistles a fan could want. Ralf sounds great and Mr. Szucs shows himself to be a very skilled player with more than a little Yngwie influence. Though he keeps things in check for much of the song’s duration, when he uncorks the noodle tube, it really gets uncorked. In a nutshell, this sounds like a power metal version of Yngwie classics like “I’ll See the Light Tonight” and that’s hardly a bad thing.
From there, Blackwelder borrows from many established acts, with a very Edguy like, tongue-in-cheek sound during “Spaceman” and a Primal Fear-esque approach on songs like “With Flying Colors” and “Play Some More.” I hear traces of old Helloween and Stratovarius during “Remember the Time,” and Riot influences creep in during “Oriental Spell.” Regardless of the influence or style, it all works because the writing is consistently solid and the playing is impressive (especially Mr. Szucs).
Every song is enjoyable and things are kept quite speedy and heavy. The album is refreshingly ballad free and most of the material will warrant a fist in the air and a metal scowl of approval. At 47 minutes it feels like the right amount of metal and it shouldn’t leave you glazed over by the time the last song or two hit.
Ralf sounds as good as always and he even gets more angry than usual on tunes like “With Flying Colors.” He’s always a joy to listen to and he delivers the appropriate amount of punch and edge to the music. The band around him is a talented lot, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise this is a very guitar-driven affair. Mr. Szucs is indeed a guitar phenom, but he admirably keeps the wankery to a bare minimum, only letting his skills run off to South Beach during solo time. But oh, those solos. As the album spins along, Szucs touches more scales than a fish cleaner down on Fulton Street and he even manages to make the nearly four minute instrumental “Adeturi” a compelling listen, just to hear what he’ll do next. Play along on your air guitar if you dare, but be careful of elbow and wrist injuries. After a few songs, you’ll likely wonder where this guy was hiding and why he isn’t in a huge band.
As impressive as the band is musically, whomever did the writing is truly responsible for making this a worthwhile listen. Ten Euro-power tunes with a healthy dose of guitar heroics and it never gets dull or tedious. That’s a rare occurrence and they obviously possess compositional as well as technical chops.
I didn’t really expect to like this as much as I do, but I’d stop just short of calling it an absolute must hear. If you want to know what Primal Fear would sound like with Yngwie manning the six-string, this is as close as you’ll get and it’s a fun ride indeed. I’m certainly anxious to hear what Mr. Szucs does next, and he damn well better do something. That boy can play.