Power / Speed Metal from Germany
Let’s take a trip back in time – Germany, mid to late 80s to be specific. The metal scene was burgeoning globally and Germany was no exception. The Germans played it fast and loud with thrash and speed metal being the flagship scenes at the time. Both scenes were in ways reactions to what was happening in metal globally. The thrashers, spearheaded by bands like Destruction, Sodom, and Kreator, took Venom’s blueprint to the next level when it came to raw, visceral aggression. In the same way that the United States power metal scene was a reaction to the NWOBHM, the Germans followed suit with their brand of speed metal. Heavily inspired by the NWOBHM as well as albums like Restless and Wild by Teutonic legends Accept, bands like Helloween, Running Wild, and Blind Guardian blossomed. As this speed metal scene developed, we began to see the rise of something else entirely – the beginnings of European power metal (EUPM) where bands like Scanner emerged from beneath the fold.
European power metal can be traced back to a singular album – Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. I which released in 1987. There were plenty of German speed metal albums that flirted with power metal in the same way that the Americans did, but Keeper was something else entirely. It was uptempo, keyboards were more prominent, and the choruses were bigger and more emphasized. Scanner picked up on this and were one of the earliest bands to follow in this trend with their release of 1988’s Hypertrace, an album that borrowed heavily from the framework set up by Helloween on Walls of Jericho and Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. I.
Now you may be asking yourself why I’ve spent so much time and effort discussing and framing up the importance of Helloween’s early efforts in a review for Scanner. What I want to make very clear here is that Scanner’s debut is a classic that is more than worthy to be compared to Walls of Jericho and Keeper… , two very well known and cherished albums. In many ways, it surpasses the previously mentioned efforts. However despite being on a relatively large and important label, Noise Records, Scanner didn’t seem to make the splash that they deserved with Hypertrace. Notwithstanding the unfortunate lack of success, I believe that Scanner came in at just the perfect time and with the songwriting/vocal chops to catch lightning in a bottle.
The band’s unique blend of the German speed metal attitude and riffs with the power metal vocal delivery style made for a recipe that very few bands were able to achieve. Every single aspect of Scanner’s performance on Hypertrace is exceptional. Everything. The band heavily utilizes twin guitar melodies and riffs to craft their signature sound. The bass and drums are still fairly prominent here, but less so than most of their peers. Other German speed metal releases in 1988, such as Rage’s Perfect Man and Airwolf’s Victory Bells, featured a louder and more active rhythm section. In contrast, Hypertrace is very much a guitar and vocals driven album. Each song is structured very deliberately and they’re all distinct. You’ll find a good mix of fast paced, speed metal bangers and mid-paced songs structured around vocals and big choruses. It’s all written masterfully. Hypertrace is a notably consistent album with virtually no dips in quality. It’s refreshing to see – even the two bonus tracks are remarkable!
Michael Knoblich is far and away the star of the show here. Even on an album with instrumentation as tight as it is on Hypertrace, his vocal performance stands out to me as truly extraordinary. Knoblich’s wails pack a punch and work to drive the songs forward in a meaningful way. His choruses are huge and catchy as all hell – just try listening to “Terrion” or “Across the Universe” without singing along! It’s also worth noting that Knoblich is responsible for the album’s well-written, sci-fi based lyrics. Michael’s inherent charisma, vocal talent, and stellar lyrics makes for an absolutely deadly combination. I cannot overstate how excellent Hypertrace really is and his contribution to it is massive.
I find myself coming back to this album time and time again. It’s memorable and in the best way possible. I’m sent on an upbeat journey through space with each listen and I can’t help but find myself smiling at the end of it. I’ve come to find a sense of comfort and familiarity from listening to this album – listening to tracks like “Across the Universe” give me the feeling that I’m surrounded by friends and good company. It’s difficult to describe all the feelings I have associated with Hypertrace, but like with all effective pieces of art it evokes a strong and deep emotional response.
Hypertrace came at a crossroads for power metal. It came right at the beginning of EUPM and as the German speed metal scene was beginning to wind down. As a result, you have elements from both worlds mixed in together magnificently. There’s really not much material like this out there. Although Scanner wouldn’t quite replicate their feat, the album’s successor, Terminal Earth, is in a similar style and ascends to nearly the same heights. Both are essential listening for fans of power metal – there’s no doubt in my mind about that.
Album Rating: 97/100
Favorite Track: Across the Universe