Brainstorm - Just Highs No Lows (12 years of persistence) (Metal Blade/Riot)

Like the girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead, this German band can be very, very good but when they are bad – they are rotten! Luckily though the good far outweighs the bad.

Formed twenty years ago by guitarists Torsten Ihlenfeld and Milan Loncaric and drummer Dieter Bernert, Brainstorm kick off this retrospective album with a couple of killer tracks in Falling Spiral Down and Fire Walk With Me that had me thinking “Hell, how come I’ve never heard of these guys?” 

Powerful, driving heavy rock ala Judas Priest and Iron Maiden; I was smiling from ear to ear as I punched the air in support (embarrassing when you’re on a bus, let me tell you). How Do You Feel? crackles with punch and some strong powerful vocals courtesy of Andy B. Franck that remind me of the best moments of Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson, catchy as hell too.

Words Are Coming Through, Inside The Monster – this is heavy metal, forget the tags, the descriptive sales pitch – pure, old school rock, loud, hard and powerful.  The band couldn’t keep up the pace, though, with the next couple of tracks being good, sure, but nothing like the way they’d kicked off.  Maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard of them.  At their best they really hit hard but when they drift into the dreaded keyboard zone the band just sounds naff: Highs Without Lows being one of those tracks. And the power ballads don’t work at all. Heavenly is just a shocker. 

Normally I find best of compilations to be a good introduction to a band but with 32 tracks over two discs I’m not sure here.  There are too many songs and, to be frank, some of the tracks just don’t deserve to be included.  One album’s worth of the band's best moments would have been such a strong selection that you would be going, “how the hell did these guys get past me?” - but interest wanes as the songs roll by and the quality dips and rises.  But just when you start to drift, something like Shiva’s Tears comes along with its Middle Eastern beginnings and you are drawn back in. 

Shadowland sets a furious pace, Bernert really leading the charge. Tear Down The Walls continues in the same vein, while Maharajah Palace brings back that Middle Eastern vibe which surprisingly works incredibly well. 

The bonus rarities include a couple of stunners in Breathe and Drowning as well as a twisted cover of Is This The Way To Amarillo and a shocker called Before The Dawn – there was a reason why that song was a B-side! But, the two live tracks that finish the album show the power and strength of Brainstorm.  Solid, hard hitting, old school metal that kicks arse.

So what am I saying here?  Well, I guess what we’ve got is a band that at their best comes across as a one of the better second-tier metal bands, but when they suck they really suck! Luckily they don’t suck that often though and if they can keep away from the ballads and the keyboards they’ve probably got another anniversary album in their future.

Like I said in the intro, when they are good they are very, very good.  

Brainstorm's Just Highs No Lows is out now on Metal Blade/Riot.