No matter the relative strength of a given year’s metal output, knowing a new Brainstorm album is on the horizon always warms the cockles of my miserly old school heart (ov Steel). They’ve been one of the most consistent and enjoyable metal acts since 2000, releasing album after album of meat n’ taters metal sounding like Nevermore‘s progressive and modern approach jammed through a Judas Priest and Iced Earth accessibility filter. That means loads of thick, crunchy riffage and the powerhouse vocals of Andy B. Franck, one of the best in the business. Most importantly, it means infectious song smithery with myriad hooks and high replay value. While the band doesn’t change their formula much from album to album, they know how to write songs that stick, and 12 albums in, that ability is as strong as ever. Trust is built with consistency, you know.
From the first notes of opener “Devil’s Eye” through to the last notes of closer “The Path,” there’s no mistaking this is a prototypical Brainstorm outing – heavy, aggressive but full of brain catching melodies and vocal hooks. “Devil’s Eye” has everything I’ve come to love about the band, with Franck’s commanding voice soaring over riffs that sound like they escaped This Godless Endeavor only to find themselves forcibly impressed into service on a mid-period Iced Earth album. The slight hints of prog that skitter around the edges are the chrome icing on the sheet metal sheet cake, showing the band is not as easy to pigeonhole as it might seem. “Revealing the Darkness” is better still, sounding like something off their excellent Soul Temptation album. It’s the kind of song you can blast on deadlift day, but still have an outside chances of getting your nonmetal bros to appreciate because the chorus is just so damn big and catchy. This is the kind of top-shelf stuff Brainstorm‘s been churning out since 2000 and it seems their inspiration keg never runs to foam. “Ravenous Minds” is a great case study – it’s such a simple song in structure, but these wily veterans make it so much more than it should be, especially Mr. Franck, who imparts just a touch of the late, great Warell Dane into his delivery at key moments for added anthemic oomph. It’s not an exaggeration to say the chorus will be running through your head for days, possibly weeks.
“Jeanne Boulet (1764)” tells the sad tale of an unfortunate maiden burned at the stake, and as powerful and dramatic as the song is, whenever Franck chants ominously that they must “sacrifice her,” all I can hear is “SacrificeER,” which shows I spend too much time in the AMG comment section. “Divine Inner Ghost” is a classic Brainstorm killer with a chorus that blows the doors off anyone’s battle wagon as Franck outdoes himself on the mic. Elsewhere, “Four Blessing” is a straight forward barn burner that Olde Man Huckster observed would absolutely slay in an arena setting. I concur in this.
Even by Brainstorm‘s high standards this outing seems particularly inspired, without any filler. All ten tracks have a big hook or three and as a whole the album tears right along from victory to victory. As always, Andy Franck’s vocals are the main draw. I’ve loved his singing since his early prog days in Ivanhoe and his run with Symphorce, but Brainstorm is where his metal bread is buttered. The combination of his writing chops and bigger than life vocals is tailor-made for the no-nonsense, “riffs first, riffs last” approach of the band, and after 18 years together, they have a winning blueprint carved in fucking iron. Milan Loncaric and Torsten Ihlenfeld bring the thunder with an endless supply of simple, concussive riffs, managing to be heavy, memorable, and oppressive, yet entirely complimentary to Franck’s vocalizing. This is a band that knows exactly who and what they are and their mastery of this style is beyond debate.
Midnight Ghost is one of the best albums in Brainstorm‘s lengthy catalog, and that’s saying something. In their promo materials the band mentions wanting this to be the album they’re measured against in the future, and that’s a bold position, given the high level of songcraft here. If you love classic heavy metal but desire a more modern edge, Brainstorm is the biggest game in town. Let them in your circle of trust and get your ghost on, stat!