Blackwelder - Survival of the Fittest (GoldenCore Records/ZYX Music)

Band or project? Who knows and, frankly, when the music is this good who cares?
Release Date: 
24 Apr 2015 (All day)

Power metal supergroup alert!! 

Maybe I shouldn’t have started like that, as doubtless many readers have probably nicked off without wanting to discover more, but it’s hard to know how to label Blackwelder in any other way. They play power metal, and they feature members of acts like Gamma Ray, Primal Fear, Yngwie Malmsteen and Angra – what else am I gonna call them?

I’ve no idea whether this is a ‘project’ type of supergroup, or a ‘band’ one – though after repeated exposure to Survival of the Fittest I fervently hope the latter is the case – but what I do know is that Blackwelder have come up with an absolutely stunning debut effort.

Opening with your heaviest cut isn’t always the best idea – where to go after that? – but Night of the New Moon starts matters off in superb fashion nonetheless. Liberally quoting from Master of Puppets and featuring a solo from guitarist Andrew Szucs that can only really be described as ‘Malmsteenesque’, it’s a rip roaring introduction to the band, giving ample room for megathroat Ralf Scheepers to go about his business, ably backed by some pulsating drumming from Aquiles Priester and bassist Bjorn Englen. But it’s not all aural battery – second track Spaceman features some delicate melodies and Scheepers having a bit of fun with a vocoder on the sweetly-pitched chorus, whilst the third track backs up Szucs’ shred credentials in the shape of the highly classically-inclined Adeturi.

Freeway of Life is in essence a splendid chugger of a song, powered again by Priester’s tireless legwork and Szucs’ frighteningly fast fingering, but it runs out of ideas and ends up outstaying its welcome if truth be told; Next track Inner Voice restores equilibrium on the back of a nicely addictive chorus and some more adulation at the altar of mid-eighties Yngwie – something that’s always welcome in my house.

With Flying Colours can’t quite live with the best of what’s on offer here and just sort of drifts by, but the same can’t be said of Remember the Time. A superb track this, heavily redolent of Dream Theater’s Prophets of War (but a thousand times more metal), it’s easily the standout cut on …Fittest and one of my favourite tracks so far this year. It’s so much more progressive than the rest of the material on the album that it almost doesn’t fit in, save for the continiuity provided by Scheepers and the (that man again) constantly impressive battery of Priester. Whatever, it’s a marvellous track and you need to hear it.

After that little oasis of ‘sensitivity’ Play Some More brings the metal back in spades, all howling vocals, pounding drums and sweet, sweet soloing, the three combining on the back of another nagging chorus to provide a true highlight of the record. This level of quality is maintained by the screaming catchiness of Oriental Spell, which just leaves the superb Judgement Day to round things out in suitably epic fashion. 

Like I said, I’ve no idea of Blackwelder’s intentions past the release of this album, but I’m mighty glad they came together – if even only for a short time – for Survival of the Fittest is an absolutely splendid album in all respects.