Brainstorm – Wall of Skulls Review

Ever since I stumbled upon Brainstorm by way of Symphorce by way of Ivanhoe, I’ve found these German heavy metal masters to be one of the most reliably ass-kicking acts running. And what a run they’ve been on of late. Every album since 2014s Firesoul has been extra-inspired and brimming with fist-pumping, blood-angering metal classics. 2018s Midnight Ghost was the best in a long line of very good to great outings and it gave me everything I crave from a traditional metal album. Led by powerhouse vocalist Andy B. Franck, Brainstorm has long shown a knack for crafting tunes loaded with hook after hook, infused with beefy, muscular riffage in the Nevermore / Iced Earth vein, and few bands can match their ability to craft a monster chorus. On thirteenth opus Wall of Skulls, absolutely nothing has changed, and that my friends, is a good thing. You get one ball-busting anthem after another loaded with heavy riffs, soaring voKILLS, and choruses that will stick in you like a prison shiv enrobed with Gorilla Glue™. What more can you wish for in these uncertain times?

After a throwaway intro, the big stuff rains from the sky starting with “Where Ravens Fly.” This is a classic Brainstorm stomper with fat, heavy riffs and thundering drums punching the song along as Mr. Franck lays down his vocal magic like extra-thick peanut butter. The chorus is yet another example of why Brainstorm is so much damn fun – it’s memorable on first listen and grows like a mutant weed through your brain with subsequent spins. If this one doesn’t get your head nodding and fist hammering, you’re either unconscious or morbidly deceased. From here the hits come in Tekken-esque combos. “Solitude” is a moody mid-tempo monster with another ginormous refrain, and “Escape the Silence” is a thrashy, powerhouse dynamo where Rage‘s Peavy Wagner shows up to add extra punch and metal shavings.

But wait, there’s more! “Turn Off the Light” may sound like the ultimate dad metal ditty, but it’s one of the album’s brightest moments as the band hammers you with a righteously aggressive attitude and Orden Ogan‘s Seeb Levermann makes a winning cameo1 to take it to the next level. The most insidiously catchy number arrives thereafter with “Glory Disappears.” This is the kind of over-the-top, bombastic power ballad you want to mock, but when it’s bonded to your brain stem for weeks and you find yourself singing it in the shower, the office, and the market, the joke’s on you, buckaroo. One joyless wonk on the AMG staff compared the song (and Brainstorm generally) to a metalized Eurovision entry, but I won’t give that deviant the satisfaction of an official retort. So, is this the best Brainstorm album yet? No. The back half is weaker than the front and a few songs toward the end like “My Dystopia” and “Stigmatized (Shadows Fall)” are quite good but not as stupidly catchy as the early cuts. Things end very well however with the one-two punch of earwormy beast “Holding On” and the epic and slightly offbeat “I the Deceiver.”

As usual, Andy Franck is the straw that stirs the Brainstorm. He’s one of the best vocalists in all of metal and he has that rare ability to make any song vastly better. He’s been killing it since the 90s in one band or another but his work with Brainstorm has been so incredibly consistent and solid I’m shocked he isn’t more commonly mentioned among the best in the business. As usual his stellar vocals are supported by impressive musicianship and a collection of bruising riffs courtesy of Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric. This duo knows how to drive a song forward with power and glory and they make smart use of the best elements of acts like Primal Fear and Iced Earth. Add in a powerful backline with Antonio Ieva on bass and Dieter Bernert manning the kit and you have a massively tight, concussive force that amps up the raw force to the sticking point. And did I mention how insanely talented this band is at writing huge choruses?

Is Wall of Skulls as good as Midnight Ghost? Not quite, but it comes really, really close. This makes four albums in a row that are simply killer with little if any filler, and Brainstorm just keeps on rolling like a titanium boulder. If you haven’t partaken of this act’s bounty yet, thou art a fool. Fools need schooling, and Brainstorm is about as good of a metal professor as there is. Get thee to school and study their discography deeply, and perhaps someday your skull can be on their wall too.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM
Releases Worldwide: September 17th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Repleat with spikey alien suit.
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