Blackslash - Lightning Strikes Again

Blackslash Lightning Strikes Again cover
Lightning Strikes Again
Iron Shield Records
“We rise from the Earth to the Sun
Solar winds take us far and beyond
Still, I remember so long ago
Down below, the days were long, the nights were cold
There was no love, there was no life
It was a long way to go but now we’re back up again
We came from the old, the darkness into the light
And so we rally, commanding the night to shine again!”
Oho! Guess who’s just majestically round the bend with a veritable “new wave of traditional heavy metal” masterpiece, which assiduously rocks out to stratospheric heights surpassing my wildest expectations while literally making me tremble in sheer, unadulterated awe.
Hailing from Donaueschingen and Baden-Württemberg, Germany, Blackslash’s third full-length release – and heir apparent to 2015’s commendable yet admittedly shaky sophomore – was unfurled on May 4th without fanfare on both CD under Iron Shield Records (they of the Dark Duck logo) and hand-numbered cassette limited to 100 copies courtesy of Warlord Trinity Productions... by Odin! It’s shocking how far this super diligent albeit largely unrecognized dual guitar quintet has come since its humble 2007 formation and rookie ventures (i.e. a self-titled demo and more extensive official debut imbued with the Orwellian title of “Separate but Equal”, from 2011 and 2013, respectively). Videlicet, as much as I dug past captivating gems such as the band’s flagship single, “Rock n’ Roll”, and equally memorable hard-driving and melodious crackerjack, "Wild and Free“, I felt “Sinister Lightning” was weighed down with an abundance of frustratingly subdued and meandering passages, namely, a good portion of its long-winded, ill-placed opener, “Empire Rising”, and odd, violin strewn “Edge of the World”, along with the awkwardly expunged buzz kill and ironically titled power ballad, “Made of Steel”.
This time around though, I’m thrilled beyond words to announce the opus in question, “Lightning Strikes Again”, is comprised of ten sure-fire finger chafing winners, the first five of which represent rifftastic, bona fide genre staples rife with highly affable but no less passionate vocals (notably, incredibly catchy choruses!), spellbound, downright gripping guitar harmonies, phenomenal, hyper-melodic solos and overall, an intensely congenial atmosphere owing much to the lads’ combination of youthful exuberance and inherent maturity (it’s hard to believe they’re all only around 26 years old!). This isn’t to say the album’s second half runs of steam at any point. In fact, its token “epic” tracks (“Steel Held High”, “Shine On”) and ubiquitous, sentimental soul-dirges (“Save My Heart”, “Unknown Heroes”) equally sizzle with aplomb while continuing to display a Riot V like level of top grade musicianship and seasoned class – also on par with Monument, who’s just launched its third doozy of a release as well (albeit banally titled “Hellhound”) or Enforcer, still holding out on its fifth (majorly!) anticipated album – while projecting a sweetly nostalgic Thin Lizzy meets Praying Mantis aura (further band influences/inspirations include Blue Oyster Cult, Magnum and Randy (!), which I’ll eventually get back to). Best of all, the “righteously” titled “Right to the Top” is as solid a fist-pumping and oh-so-shred-some closer as any – consider it the cherry on the sundae! Suffice to say, Blackslash’s band chemistry, as well as members’ individual skills, have been honed to a razor’s edge while the outfit as a whole has finally fully spread its wings (of steel).
As soon as the lean and mean, throttling titular opener gets under way – following some strange, panicky footstep clomping and heavy breathing brouhaha serving as a warm up pitch for the barn-burning fastball to come – with its teetering triplet based rhythm guitar riff seemingly balanced on the edge of a knife and the idiosyncratically drawling as well as lower mid ranged front man Clemens Haas’ oddly laconic, at times gravely or wistfully languorous delivery, one can readily sense the entire release will be as tightly wound and luxuriously crafted as a Swiss clock. What’s more, the tunes herein are so darn accessible, the band’s energy so frigging infectious, the listener has no choice but to triumphantly soar, abreast, above the clouds. For instance, dig how the gang gleefully yawps “I’m a skyline rider!”, at the beginning of said absurdly fun and liberally engaging third track, as well as top lyrical highlight. Indeed, it’s chock full of hammy but unequivocally engrossing overtures, such as the Iron Maiden evoking “don’t you dare to fly tonight with me like Icarus [dig his quirky but straight-up killer inflection here!], straight to the aun!” and sci-fi-ish, as well as Judas Priest-ly “now you wonder if I’m man or machine/you’ll never know – I’ll never reveal it!”, but like I said, the first five songs and especially brazen and commanding “Right to the Top” take the cake as far as purely distilled heavy metal jubilation and instant/wanton gratification go. The latter’s chorus is particularly memorable as it elevates the track from simply another poetically wistful, however melodic, Thin Lizzy emulation to an aggressively seizing and rocketing mule kicker sure to compel innumerable enraptured returns. More than anything, I dig its ridiculously liberating bent alongside the instrumentation’s perfect symmetry.
Un-tethered from their moorings, Daniel Hölderle and Christian Haas (Clemens’ bro) duly shine, the former relentlessly stringing together kick-ass, effortlessly cruising riff after riff, not to mention a mind-boggling slew of grandiloquent, syncopating bridges and neo-classical shred explosions like the fluid and gingerly jazzy break midway into the ravishingly enthused, happy-go-lucky urban coming of age wild-oat sower – and High Spirits ingratiating – “Night City Street Lights” or irresistibly sweeping momentum as well as all-around depth of “Eyes of a Stranger”. Although I took to the former like a duck to water, alternatively, the latter is increasingly growing on me as it sounds more and more like something shiny off Riot’s 1988 landmark release, “Thundersteel”, and latest tour-de-force (sadly, sans Mark Reale – RIP), this year’s “Armor of Light”!
As for his confederate and compeer, Haas has constantly demonstrated a knack for high flying, kaleidoscopic minor/pentatonic wizardry, but now takes his dexterity and prowess to a new level as each track is stocked to the brim with wickedly timed, impeccably phrased and powerfully rendered leads which, in the case of the stand-out “Illuminate the Night”, cut from the same magical cloth as “Rock n’ Roll”, I’m repeatedly compelled to savor its combustive, uplifting ardor, rollicking momentum and bad-ass, chromatic “chrome” dome bashing/crotch punching main riff but it’s really Haas’ spectacular fret-works which unfailingly make me leap for joy, to the point of rabidly forcing said virtuously cascading scale runs and penultimate, scorching flare-up of super synchronized notes and furiously finger-tapped finishing flourish on any hapless (albeit fortunate!) soul crossing my path. No kidding, it’s one of the most radical and seizing gasket blower of a solo I’ve ever heard!
Additionally, the battery comprised of bassist/original founder Alec Trojan and drummer David Hofmeier (i.e. “the man behind the machine”), is just as riveting and legit as Clemens’ unique and instantly recognizable vocals (thus ceremoniously setting the band apart from your every-day, garden variety high-pitched/ludicrously upper-ranged formation) and team Hölderle/Haas’ vociferously rendered alpha prime chops. The slightly plump, rotund level of production also lends each component a lively and organic air, while also permeating such festively arresting proceedings with undeniable spunk and spontaneity. Worth noting, “Lightning Strikes Again” is only Blackslash’s second studio recording (succeeding “Sinister Lightning” of course) following numerous gigs, tours and festivals (including opening for Blaze Bailey), which auspiciously introduced its healthy and pro-active, as well as variably extroverted brand of free-spirited yet solidly focused and disciplined, dyed-in-wool hard rocking proficiency to the German and Europeans metal masses.
Now, while the album’s first half poignantly adheres to more of a no-nonsense, right-up-in-your-face kind of non-committal and ineluctably winsome delivery, the latter part subscribes to more introspective and complex arrangements unyielding in their messianic zeal and fervor, starting with “Steel Held High”, the aforementioned, long-winded and masterfully lead-choked odyssey which immensely exonerates the sophomoric albeit lackluster “Empire Rising”, and running right through the radio-friendly emotional hard crooner/pseudo power ballad, “Save Me”, as well as the surprisingly well-conducted next-to-last-number, “Unknown Heroes”, which beautifully emphasizes Clemens’ mercurial and self-taught vocal style. Suffice to say, this last compels me to grant the boys a full pardon for said flop “Made of Steel” (essentially, the sole skip-able cut out of an otherwise stalwart and robust discography). Another wickedly mellifluous game-changer consist of the Riot V/UFO rich “Shine On”, as it incorporates a multitudinous array of dazzling fret board embellishments as well as a downright mind-bending and genuinely “rock-ish” extended lead break, which runs the sonic gauntlet from blistering high-velocity histrionics to intensely soulful wind-downs.
A month prior to releasing “Lightning Strikes Again”, Blackslash collaborated with Spain’s Witchtower to release a split CD, primarily as a sneak preview of new material (i.e. “Night City Street Lights” and “Eyes of a Stranger”) and tribute to Danish heavy metal legend Randy (love the name!) with a raucous, if not outright drippy, cover of “It’s to be Love”. One thing’s for sure: this here scintillating “jewel of the night” has my vote for the album of the year! Highly recommended and then some!
“Run! On the skyline right up to the top!
You’ll never get us out again
We’re never going to stop!”