REVIEW: BRAINSTORM – “Midnight Ghost”
One of the first metal albums I heard was Brainstorm’s ‘Hungry’ when it came out in 1997, courtesy of my older brother and his friend, who were already deeply inserted in the underground. 21 years later, the German quintet captained by the trio Milan Loncaric, Torsten Ihlenfeld and Dieter Bernert have shifted their sound from a speedier and thrashier approach to a full-on power metal act, and the band’s 12th full length, ‘Midnight Ghost’, is yet another chapter of their unique and recognizable sound consolidated in the early 2000’s with albums such as ‘Ambiguity’ (2000) and ‘Soul Temptation’ (2003).
I’ve always had a feeling of safety and reliability when listening to these dudes, and while they have almost completely abandoned the brutality and angriness of their first three albums, the mix of melodic elements with crushing riffs is what makes Brainstorm – and this album – so special. Although ‘Midnight Ghost’ is no concept album in the classic sense, there’s a thematic thread: the fear of ghosts, monsters under your bed, the bogeyman in your wardrobe, etc., are the main course here. Opener “Devil’s Eye” beautifully illustrates this with awesome leads and a heavier verse, only to shift to a singalong softer chorus, showcasing how easy it is for them to channel both aspects of euro power.
“Revealing the Darkness” continues in the same vein, this time around with pivotal support from Antonio Ieva (bass) and Bernert (drums) and some kickass atmosphere reminiscing songs like “Under Lights” and “Surrounding Walls”. The atmosphere is revisited throughout the album in tracks such as “Divine Inner Ghost” and “When Pain Becomes Real”.
“Ravenous Minds”, the most commercial bit here, follows and while is a good track, quickly falls in a common place. Lacking in power and suffering from a simplistic approach (well, it is a commercial song), this could be traced back to ‘Inside the Monster’ (2005) as being overly melodic and too cheesy for its own sake.
What comes next, though, antagonizes the radio-friendly vibe and is probably the best one in the record: “The Pyre” completely obliterates every bit of sticky, smelly cheese that got stuck in your brain with a fast-pace assault stacked with killer riffs and powerful performance by Andy B. Franck (vocals); this motherfucker’s chords get better by the day, I shit you not.
Brainstorm occasionally plays around with more pompous, epic tracks, and “Jeanne Boulet (1764)” is exactly that. It tells the story of the assassination of French girl Jeanne Boulet by the Beast of Gévaudan, a beast who terrorized the province of Gévaudan and is said to had formidable teeth and immense tails, somewhat similar to a Werewolf. The song’s sorrowful and painful aura successfully depicts Jeanne’s last moments, making the final product an interesting one.
“Divine Inner Ghost” and “When Pain Becomes Real” evoke the days of ‘Soul Temptation’ with lots of choirs and a more cadenced approach. The first has a cool, light chorus while the second bets on a more emotional feel, but with strong verses and bridge. These particular two feature ace playing by Loncaric and Ihlenfeld, whose synergy is one of Brainstorm’s best assets.
While I think “The Pyre” may be the best track of the album, my favorite part of it is definitely the double-trouble “Four Blessings” and “Haunting Voices”. Both are carefully crafted to be an epitome of Brainstorm’s entire discography, featuring strong and heavy elements akin of ‘Ambiguity’, catchy and punchy choruses that could have easily been written for ‘Inside the Monster’ or ‘Downburst’ (2008) and even denser, darker parts that would fit ‘Metus Mortis’ (2001) and ‘Firesoul’ (2014). The downside of the last portion of the album, though, is closer “The Path”, a bland, rather uninspired semi-ballad that seems like a filler and doesn’t quite add anything spectacular or noteworthy.
If the great dynamic and overall quality of the record weren’t enough, Sebastian ‘Seeb’ Levermann (Orden Ogan) took care of the production, giving every instrument special attention and lifting the riffs to a special position. Stellar production is always a good thing when it comes to power metal, and this is no exception; every note sounds organic, Andy’s screams are crystal clear and the background elements are easily audible.
‘Midnight Ghost’ may be not as impactful as ‘Firesoul’ or frantic like its predecessor ‘Scary Creatures’ (2016), but it’ll stand in the top shelf as far as the latest Brainstorm entries go. The whole effort transpires with enthusiasm and honesty, and it helps that these guys have a lot of experience and know what the hell they’re doing, so the overall product is great. Brainstorm is one of the most iconic and reliable bands of the European power metal scene, and they have always delivered; highly recommended.