Friday, April 15, 2016

Scanner - Hypertrace


I've mentioned before that German speed metal is pretty much unequivocally the greatest short lived subniche of the entire heavy metal family tree, and despite my raging fandom for it, I've never been exactly sure which album to recommend to somebody who has no idea what it sounds like.  Running Wild's seminal Gates to Purgatory is far and away the best album of the style in my eyes, but it's a weird starting point because the lyrical focus stakes itself firmly in the grimy satanism of Venom, while the runner up album, Helloween's Walls of Jericho, fits all the themes and hits all the tropes, but it always felt like an album of two or three magnificent songs and a bunch of merely good ones in accompaniment.  That's why, after six seconds of deliberation, I have decided to bestow the title of "Absolute First Fucking Speed Metal Album You Should Ever Hear" upon Scanner's 1988 debut, Hypertrace.  Why you ask?  Why not something a little more obvious and relatable like the first couple Blind Guardian albums?  Well that's easy.  Scanner may not be as good as Blind Guardian or Running Wild, but let me tell you, they are ten trillion times more awesome.

Really, nothing makes me giddy on the level of a seven year old after his twentieth Oreo like a high speed, spacefaring concept album narrated by a coked up wolverine possessed by the spirit of Udo Dirkschneider caught in a bear trap.  Seriously, I raved for eons about how much I loved the unhinged ridiculousness of Bride's vocals, but Scanner tops even those.  Michael Knoblich's glass shattering wail is used about as liberally as Nutella in a hipster's studio apartment, and I love it.  It's never been a secret that I think subtlety is overrated in the context of metal, and I'm much more prone to loving the shit out of something shamelessly fun and ridiculous.  Hypertrace is that in spades, it's just non stop speed and over the top wailing and blistering fretwork from the get go and it basically never lets up.  But again, none of that matters, listen to the vocals.  They're so over the top ridiculous, so full of overt cheeseball silliness that I seriously can't decide if he's playing it totally straight, stoically imposing his will on the stage like the vocalist of Belphegor while wearing a Terminator mask and Deathworld suit, or if he's this little ball of energy, bounding around everywhere, shooting his toy laser gun into the crowd and swinging the microphone stand like a noob Kilik player, belting his heart out so hard that blood squirts out of his eyes before he passes out at the end of every show with a six foot wide smile rigor mortis'd onto his face.  They're so perfect, I want Knoblich to sing to me on my birthday.  LOCKED! OUT!  uuuWAAAaAaAaAaAAAHH!

So yeah, I could write forty thousand words about how fucking perfect the vocal performance is, but the music and songwriting is pretty much spot on phenomenal as well.  There is basically no album opener as great as "Warp 7" in all of metal.  Really, for the blast of energy it provides, coupled with how obnoxiously infectious it is, it rivals something like "Painkiller" or "Exciter", and most of the album follows suit.  "Terrion", "Locked Out", "Grapes of Fear", "Wizard Force", basically every single song is a high speed burst of enthusiasm that manages to be as ear catching as any 80s anthem.  Despite how fast and over the top the album is, it never actually seems "aggressive", so to speak.  It's not sinister or vicious, it's just fucking fun.  From the explosions and corny sound effects that are sprinkled throughout the album, to the fist pumping singalong monuments, everything hits bullseye in a way that most of their peers would kill to achieve.  Despite the over the top speed taking up a large portion of the album, there are definitely spots where the band shows they aren't afraid to slow down a bit to show off their songwriting skill.  Nothing here really approaches a ballad, per se, but songs like "Killing Fields" and "Across the Universe" tone down the barnburning ridiculousness in favor of arena deafening anthems that are no less over the top and entertaining.  Both of the aforementioned songs have some of the best singalong moments in all of speed metal, rivaling the mighty Blind Guardian in terms of catchiness and complexity.  Early Manowar, despite being kings of this kind of thing, still weep at the fact that they never wrote anything as indisputably immortal as the chorus to "Across the Universe".  So my claims of nothing but non stop speed are slightly facetious, as the band does an excellent job of throwing in an abundance of Screaming for Vengeance-isms.  Despite the variance in tempo and execution, it's never anything less than Evel Kneivel level over the top bombast.  From the screaming guitars to wailing shrieks of the greatest vocalists to ever take the stage, everything is the musical embodiment of a wild haired scientist jumping the entire width of France in a rocket powered Star Wars speeder.

So basically, Hypertrace can be summed up as "charismatic".  It's a goofy sci-fi concept backed by over the top theatrics and a vocalist who sells everything by singing ridiculous nonsense with as much conviction as anybody ever has.  Everything that comes out of his mouth just sounds like the MOST AWESOME THING EVER and I can't find myself arguing against it.  In the grand scheme of things, this was sorta lost in the shuffle and Scanner never reached the heights of Helloween and Blind Guardian, despite being every bit as magical.  The only reason I can think of for this being the case is simply that they were a little late to the party (Speed metal of this specific niche only lasted what, five or six years?  It was basically gone by 1990 and Hypertrace came out in 1988) and missed the intangible of being "influential" instead of just "amazing".  Maybe if they'd've transitioned into full on power metal as their career went on like the genre progenitors did, they'd be remembered by the general populace as one of the greats.  But as it stands, they're just a cult classic, known widely by the people who matter and basically nobody else.  And really, that's probably the way it should be.


(but really, 97%)


  1. Thanks for this entertaining review with interesting perspectives. I like your unpretentious take on it despite your obvious love for the music. I wonder if that specific line you quote as Knoblich though could in fact be Ralf Scheeper's guest appearance on the album. I think that shriek is just out of Knoblich's reach. Forgive me if I'm wrong, I just wanted to mention it so that you could check the album sleeve to make sure if you want to - my own copy isn't ready at hand.

    1. Yeah I somehow had no idea that Scheepers was featured on the album at all. Somebody more knowledgeable than I says he does "most" of the high pitched shrieks and used "Wizard Force" as the example. So hey, even if Scheepers is the one nailing the crazy high notes, it's nice to know he had at least one great performance in his career!