Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls – Album Review

Artist: Brainstorm

Album Title: Wall Of Skulls

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 17 September 2021

The catch-up continues after my three-month hiatus, with the latest release from German power metal band, Brainstorm. Entitled ‘Wall Of Skulls’, this is the thirteenth full-length album from the Heidenheim-based quintet, and it was released midway through September on the ever-steadfast AFM Records. Having been an on-off fan since the release of ‘Soul Temptation’ in 2005, their last album, ‘Midnight Ghost’ thoroughly impressed me. And so, when I was reminded of their return, I felt sufficiently interested to check out ‘Wall Of Skulls’.

Blessed with one of the most stable line-ups in heavy metal history, I have to say that Andy B. Franck (vocals), Torsten Ihlenfeld (guitars), Milan Loncaric (guitars), Antonio Ieva (bass), Dieter Bernert (drums) have bested their previous endeavours with ‘Wall Of Skulls’. There is something about this album that, from the first listen, is infectious, energetic, and a huge dollop of fun. It continues where ‘Midnight Ghost’ left off in many ways in that this is an album chock full of melody, groove, energy and importantly for a metal band, some heavy riffs accompanied by a hefty dose of fast tempos. It’s as if the band were buoyed by the reaction to ‘Midnight Ghost’ and decided to up the ante even more. I for one am delighted, because ‘Wall Of Skulls’ can only enhance the reputation of a band that has worked hard, but remained a little too deep in the shadows for my liking.

I could end the review right there if I wanted, because I’ve basically described ‘Wall Of Skulls’ in a nutshell: Fast, heavy, melodic, powerful. But that’s not my style, so allow me to delve just a little deeper.

First off, Brainstorm have used Andy B. Franck to his fullest; this is the album where he excels as the frontman. Not that he hasn’t previously, it’s just that the output on this record plays to his strengths, it feels. He is commanding, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining as he belts out the lyrics with his familiar grit and Teutonic inflections. The power and effort that he puts into his performance throughout the eleven tracks (twelve if you include the bonus song on the limited-edition version) is impossible to ignore and easy to enjoy.

And when I said that there is a hefty dose of fast tempos, I wasn’t lying. Buckle up people because ‘Wall Of Skulls’ is a bit of a bruiser. It gets the blood pumping early on, and then rarely lets the heartrate lower. As such, you get galloping rhythms, incessantly fast drumbeats, and riffs that have plenty of pace to them without sacrificing the grunt. And all that, on top of some well-placed theatrics.

Those theatrics begin with the intro, ‘Chamber Thirteen’, where the sound of Gregorian plainchant echoes within a dark, sinister-sounding framework, into which guitar riffs feed atop a rousing cinematic soundtrack, full of bombast.

From there, we’re straight in to ‘Where Ravens Fly’ with no pause for breath. The immediate pace is best described as ‘full throttle’, with pounding drums, wailing vocals, and then a killer chorus that builds upon the orchestration from the intro. I already like what I’m hearing, a sentiment that has not dimmed with repeated listens over the last few days.

The quality continues with ‘Solitude’, that kicks into life via an organ/vocal duet of what, it transpires, is the chorus melody. A really cool guitar lead line accentuates the central melody whilst Franck steps in again to lead the orchestra in perfect harmony. The pace is slightly slower, delivering a stomping power, allowing a little subtle nuance or two to enter the fray within the verses. However, with a chorus this strong, it’s hardly surprising that it remains the focal point.

‘Wall Of Skulls’ offers another layer by virtue of a couple of guest appearances, a first for Brainstorm at any point within their 30+ year career. ‘Escape The Silence’ boasts Rage’s Peavey Wagner, whilst ‘Turn Off The Light’ welcomes Orden Ogan’s Seeb Levermann, who also assumes the role of the album’s producer. The former is a bulldozer of a power metal song, full of double-pedal intensity and an insanely rousing chorus, whilst the latter which immediately follows, shows no let-up in tempo, with more double-pedal drumming and a classic 80s metal feel to some of the central riffs and squealing lead break. It goes without saying that the chorus is another barnstormer, as Brainstorm seem incapable to penning anything substandard, with the muscular groove towards the close a thing of beauty also.

The intro to ‘Glory Disappears’ allows us a few seconds to catch our breath, as indeed does the song in it’s entirety. It’s more of a mid-tempo quasi-ballad with a chorus that’sslightly reminiscent of the likes of Hammerfall or Sabaton, thanks to the unashamed epic ‘call to arms’ quality it possesses.

‘My Dystopia’, thanks to frenetic rhythms and an urgent lead guitar lick returns us to the faster, higher-octane pace, whilst a certain amount of variety is displayed via songs like ‘End Of My Innocence’ and ‘Holding On’. Both have keys within them that hark back to yesteryear, but the latter in particular plays around with more overt melodic hard rock trappings. The chorus veers close to AOR territory thanks to multi-layered vocals, albeit within a more metal framework. But both once again, deliver satisfying choruses that you’ll be humming long after the album has finished.

When I made my return to reviewing recently and asked readers for recommendations of what I needed to check out, Brainstorm were mentioned a couple of times and I can definitely see why. With ‘Wall Of Skulls’, they have surpassed everything that they have previously done, creating a thoroughly engaging melodic power metal album in the process. If ‘Wall Of Skulls’ does not enhance their reputation and pull them a little more from the shadows, then there is simply no justice in the world; if power or melodic metal sits within your sphere of interest, then ‘Wall Of Skulls’ is worthy of your time, attention, and hard-earned cash.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Further reviews from 2021:

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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