Memorial Roots

Written by: GR on 22/12/2009 15:05:40

Okay - time for another slice of heavy metal from a German band that have been plying their wares for quite some time and have amassed a decent underground following. This time the band in question is Brainstorm; formed in 1989 and fronted since 1999 by Symphorce singer Andy B. Franck, "Memorial Roots" marks their 8th full-length studio outing, 12 years after the release of debut album "Hungry". I must admit that like a number of other bands on this label that I've reviewed, Brainstorm were a band whose name I knew but whose music I had never heard despite being interested in discovering what they had to offer. In this age of Myspace and Youtube that might seem a bit silly, but I'm sure we're all in the same position with regards to certain bands, given the amount of music out there. Other than this fact, the main impetus for taking on this record for review came from seeing the band perform at Metalfest in September of this year. I was keen to watch the band but didn't have particularly high expectations - just another decent-enough power metal band to check out. I was, however, completely blown away by Brainstorm; they put so much energy and passion into every single second of their performance and rocked so damn hard that it stands out as one of the best performances I saw all year.

So does this album manage to impress as much as the Brainstorm live experience? In a word, no, but I guess that's not surprising and certainly isn't an indicator of a bad album. First track "Forsake What I Believed" kicks things off with a suitably epic classical intro before a riff that sounds rather like Dream Evil's "The Book Of Heavy Metal" but a bit more 'tough', for want of a better word. This is actually one of the more memorable songs and makes for a decent start, although it's clear that we're not in for anything original - but at this point in their career that would neither be expected, nor wanted by Brainstorm fans. It's still possible to be somewhat generic sounding and produce an awesome album at the same time, but unfortunately Brainstorm haven't quite hit that nail on the head here.

This is an album for fans of the genre only, then. The genre in question is, broadly speaking, power metal, but whilst this tag can still be applied, Brainstorm's Wikipedia entry isn't lying when it says the band "play a somewhat darker style of music than most power metal groups". The digital fountain of knowledge we all rely on also describes Brainstorm's genre as "sinister power metal" - a label which is a bit vague but does hint at a sound that incorporates straight-up heaviness as well as melody. Whilst the band's sound is pretty much the same across the whole album, there are certain moments that bring to mind particular bands. For instance, the track "The Conjunction of 7 Planets" makes me think of Dance of Death era Iron Maiden as well as Ripper-era Iced Earth/Ripper's solo efforts. Along with the phrasing and tone of the song, this is down to the impressive vocals of Franck who possesses a fairly distinctive voice, with power of Ripper but at a lower register, slightly reminiscent of Blaze Bayley. At times some of what Brainstorm presents here reminds me of a more 'modern' sounding and dark version of bands like Jag Panzer and Twisted Tower Dire. These are both classic American heavy metal acts, which highlights the fact "Memorial Roots" has an American-style power metal feel to it rather than a Euro-metal one, despite the band's Germanic roots. That said; the material is also comparable to the heavier side of bands like Rage, Primal Fear and Nocturnal Rites.

Overall the album is quite a mid-paced affair, with the likes of "Nailed Down Dreams" working a simple and fairly slow riff/melody while the vocals, both lead and backing chorus, drive the song forward. This more measured approach to pacing actually works well in many cases, allowing the songs to retain an emotional feel that isn't often achieved with a high-speed metal attack. This, along with the use of complimenting orchestration, also lends a somewhat epic atmosphere to many of the tracks. There are some moments of speed, the first and most notable being fourth track "Cross The Line", a slice of heavy metal that is very generic but still enjoyable and likely to work well in a live setting.

Each time I listen to the eleven tracks on "Memorial Roots", I generally instantly remember their tunes from previous listens, but only a few manage to stick in my mind once I've taken a break from the music. They're the sort of songs that if someone were to play to you randomly, you'd say "I recognise that" but would probably have a hard time determining just what you were listening to, especially before a chorus kicks in. Whilst the majority of these choruses are decent, with Andy B. Franck's powerful vocals always being enjoyable to listen to, there is a fair amount of generic riffing and I can find my concentration waning at times. Sure, Brainstorm are not trying to be original or progressive, but they need to offer something more to keep the listening interesting and the quality high. This could probably be improved with a simple dose of quality control, as when the songs are a bit shorter, like the 3:19 mins of "When No One Cares", a much more favourable impression is left. The song doesn't offer anything that isn't found elsewhere on the album, but the more limited timeframe means repetition and perceived blandness are kept at bay.

That said, this is a decent listen for fans of the band/style and certainly doesn't contain any songs which could be described as 'bad', but doesn't leave enough of a lasting impression to be bothering the high end of our ratings. With a few songs that do manage to wind their way into your head and an impressive vocal performance, "Memorial Roots" gets a solid but unspectacular

Download: Forsake What I Believed, Cross The Line, Nailed Down Dreams
For the fans of: Rage, Nocturnal Rites, Symphorce
Listen: Myspace

Release date 16.10.2009
AFM Records

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