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The Judgement

Massacre (2015)
Rating: 9/10

Much of my teenage years – which took place in the 1980s – were spent listening to German heavy metal. I was a sucker for the Teutonic devastation conjured up via the likes of thrash metal gods Kreator, Sodom and Destruction.

However, festering below this genre of intensity was an equally clinical bunch of bands offering up steely precision, as the likes of Helloween, Sinner, Rage, Mania and Grave Digger successfully mixed traditional heavy metal with thrash and power metal nuances. Another clan of German headbangers which could be thrown into this mix were Scanner.

Having formed as Lions Breed in 1982 – releasing their debut album Damn The Night in 1985 – they became Scanner in 1986 before delivering the excellent Hypertrace two years later. This was followed by 1989’s Terminal Death, but sadly album releases have been rather sporadic throughout the band’s career due to several upheavals in personnel. Scanner survived the 90s with two solid albums – Mental Reservation (1995) and Ball Of The Damned (1996) – but following 2002’s Scantropolis it’s taken 13 years for this latest album to appear.

The Judgement is an 11-track outing that reminds me as to why I was such a Scanner fan back in the 1980s; this is very much typical 80s German metal, and there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. With countless new bands trying to replicate this kind of anthemic, blazing brand of galloping metal, it’s down to the likes of Scanner to show just how it’s really executed.

After a short intro, it’s a case of being thrown straight into the metallic frenzy with the sizzling ‘F.T.B.’, and it feels like we’re back in 1988. Hurtling drums from Franz Eichberger (since replaced by the returning Patrick Klose) and that double-edged sword attack of guitarists Axel “A.J.” Julius (the only surviving founding member) and Andreas Zeidler, provide that sort of perfectly executed gallop which was so typical of the 80s and yet still sounds as fresh today as it ever was.

There’s a certain charm with these sort of bands, probably because we know exactly what we’re getting and we know that we’re going to love it. Although the likes of Rage injected heaps of experimentation and progression into their metallic charge, Scanner just goes for the throat with a set of tracks that’ll have you pounding your chest until your ribs splinter through the skin.

‘F.T.B.’ is a straight down the line power thrasher, and for me Greek-born vocalist Efthimios Ioannidis (who joined the band in 2003) is as potent, if not more so than previous howlers; Michael “M.A.J.O.R.” Knoblich (1986-88) and S.L. Coe (1989-91), who marched Scanner through the 80s and early 90s. Ioannidis has a sort of no frills, yet commanding vocal presence; typically 80s by design, his clear yet authoritative croon was made for lyrics such as “Run, fight… fight for your right… fuck the bastards, leave them behind”.

The Judgement begins in typically studded, masculine fashion and doesn’t alter its path whatsoever as ‘Nevermore’ simmers with the sound of a storm and whispered narrative, only to be taken over by an electrical charge of killer guitar melody and thundering drum. Again, it’s that successful marrying of gleaming, cutting thrash metal and head-slamming power metal.

‘Warlord’ is wondrously lethal in its hammering; up there with the likes of Destruction and Sodom with its initial barrage of guitar, bass and drum concoction, and vocally Efthimios puts in his most powerful performance. Forget the latest offering from Sanctuary (2014’s The Year The Sun Died); this is how modern metal should be churned out – the vocals soaring like a banshee above the iron curtain of percussion. These are the sort of songs by which us teenagers lived our life by, such is the precise prowess as the quintet excels itself by way of conjuring up hellish leads, crunching riffs and an overall feel that is at once nostalgic and yet progressive.

‘Eutopia’ takes the potency and mysticism of Dio and cranks it up a notch; the track is strewn with smouldering leads which worm their way through that punishing chug. The almost soulful melodies provided by the backing choir add to the steely atmosphere as the cut builds to a destructive chorus of wailing vocals and sturdy drum battering.

The title track begins with a clanking bell chime and yet musically evolves into one of the album’s most melodic entities with a healthy ingredient of thrash and power metal sprigs. Even so, for me, in spite of its duelling solo, ‘The Judgement’ is probably one of the album’s weakest moments. However, with the epic ‘Battle Of Poseidon’ and mid-tempo moodiness of ‘Pirates’ still to come, any hint of a flaw is soon extinguished as the band rattles off further anthemic gems. The album climaxes with the brilliant strains of ‘The Legionary’, where the vocals take on several different appearances as they cavort effortlessly with the sort of enigmatic power metal passages we’ve become accustomed to over the years with such German rockers.

Scanner is the sort of leviathan that through its struggles has continually churned out high quality metal. Each track on this new platter unfolds through a series of pulverising shifts, with each instrument engaging with one another as if in some epic duel and then spinning off on its own immaculate journey. How such a band has never garnered the attention it so richly deserves is probably down to its own intermittent activity, but when it comes to the crunch – and believe me this is crunch time for Scanner – The Judgement is right up there with those early classics which made German metal seen so dominant.

Neil Arnold

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