Blackwelder_Survival of the FittestA 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.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Goldencore Records/XYZ
Release Dates: Out Worldwide 04.19.2015

Share →
  • Kalsten

    I’ll check this out. I am missing some straight-to-your-face power metal lately.

    However, I am very surprised with the rating 3. I usually read the reviews in this page without scrolling down to the rating, and based on what I read, I try to guess the score. In this one, I was expecting a 4.0 (or a 3.5+ if that existed), but well, it is only a number.

    I’m looking forward to check this out!

    • I almost gave it a 3.5 but it’s definitely closer to good than very good. A fun listen though.

  • brutal_sushi

    Power metal? Of course I’ll check this out!

  • Martin Knap

    Anyone heard the new Gyze record? I know AMG doesn’t do requests but I’d really love to se that album reviewed here.

  • Lasse Momme

    That is the most Steel Druhm cover I’ve seen all year.

    • Anything with a sword and robe gets my attention.

      • Martin Knap

        accidentally the cover on new Gyze album that I’ve mentioned has a very similar cover, just that the figure in the black robe doesn’t have a sword but a flame in it’s hand :-)

        • I don’t recall seeing a promo but I’ll have to check these guys out.

          • Martin Knap

            they are being called “the Japanese Children of Bodom” but they are not that derivative and they have a much more power metal sound with all the cheesiness (a very japanese cheesiness at that) that comes with it. (over)production is really bad here I fear, but anyway I think they are the new hot shit when it comes to metal from Asia.

          • Hmm I did but in the same “melodic death from Japan” vein I think I like Serenity in Murder’s new album more. Although that might be even more overproduced:(

          • Martin Knap

            I don’t know… Gyze seem much more enjoyable to because of the power metal melodies…

          • Martin Knap

            Hey Steel, I’m listening to Nightfall’s Athenian Echoes, that’s some pretty phenomenal stuff, I’ve heard that they then went on to make more mainstream goth only to reemerge later with that sophisticated black/goth style – any thoughts on that record? That seems to be a record you could write about in Yer metal is olde series (+ it came out in 1995 – 20 years ago). Also some guys who left Nightfall founded Snowblind, they play pretty traditional melodic heavy, but it’s really enjoyable – I think you would really be into that.

          • Nightfall has a had a strange history. I liked their old stuff, then disliked their goth era, but loved the newer prog-black death phase. I reviewed their last 2 albums here and I spin Cassiopeia often.
            Neve heard of Snowblind, but I’ll check them out for sure.

          • Martin Knap

            I didn’t hear the Lesbian Show era, I want to check that out, but Athenian Echoes is something else, that one is a really great record, those guys weren’t afraid to experiment at that time (high prices for this baby on Discogs). Snowblind isn’t anything stelar, but it’s solid metal and you can sense the love for what they do coming from those guys.

      • Monsterth Goatom

        Even though the guy with the sword looks like he photobombed the shot, and the guy on horseback is none too happy about it.

        • Kudos to him! Portrait bombing is no easy thing to pull off.

  • Wilhelm

    During my life long metal obsession, I’ve fallen in and out of love with power metal ; Today even Helloween sounds boring, plastic, predictable. I think these bands want to be so catchy that they construct songs like pop anthems and forget the heaviness and darkness of metal. This sounds perfectly fine though, there’s enough crunch, the production sounds good, Scheepers still has his pipes, guitar work is excellent. It’s definitely nothing that hasn’t been done a million times before, but I doubt there’s anything new left to be done within the genre. Good stuff, good review.

    • Andy_0

      I was the same way, but I’ve re-fallen in love with it over the past year. So much good stuff recently: Noble Beast, Lancer, Persuader, Freedom Call…

  • Óðhinn

    Not necessarily my cup of tea, but not the worst thing I’ve ever heard either.

  • kaeru92

    Well I sure hope the album sounds better than that preview SQ wise.
    I don’t think I can take that very sibilant sound (cymbals, I’m looking at you) very long.
    Too bad because I liked the song otherwise.

  • CarvedInStone

    As a big fan of everything Ralf Scheepers has ever done I had to check this out. And it is definitely a good record. Given that so many of these supergroups in metal release lackluster albums I’m happy that this is as good as it is.

    Now someone please convince Kai Hansen that he has to get Ralf back into Gamma Ray. Or Hennig Basse. Anyone who isn’t Kai Hansen would suffice. I can’t stand his singing. People say Andi Deris’ butchering of “I Want Out” or “March Of Time” is bad but Kai is SOOOOO much worse at singing his old Helloween songs.

  • Oooo.. Nice find.

  • Feeblejocks

    Quiet Riot? QUIET RIOT?! A band member from Quiet Riot featuring on a power metal album inspired by Yngwie? Shut up and take my money!!