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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Bassinvaders

Hellbassbeaters

Review by Mike Korn

Pity the poor bass! Although it has its loyal devotees, it very much takes a back seat to its big brother, the lead guitar. Not only that, but even the drums draw a more numerous and fanatical following. This state of affairs does not sit well with Markus Grosskopf, the bass player for legendary German metallers Helloween. To correct the injustice, he has put together Bassinvaders...a metal album featuring contributions from the best four-stringers in the metal biz. Not only that, but the debut Bassinvaders effort Hellbassbeaters has no lead or acoustic guitar at all on it. The bass is the only stringed instrument used here! Who exactly are Grosskopf's co-conspirators here? It might be easier to list the bass players who don't play on the album. His main associates are Tom Angelripper of Sodom, Peavy Wagner of Rage and Schmier of Destruction, who each get their own showcase tunes. But also showing up are Billy Sheehan, Rudy Sarzo, Dirk Schlachter, Lee Rocker, and many more maestros of the bass. This could have been a disaster, but instead, the album is enjoyable from start to finish because Grosskopf keeps the emphasis on songs instead of showmanship. Each track is different and has the focus on catchy riffs, strong melodies and compact songwriting. So there is no lengthy widdly-diddly musical masturbation or technicality for technicality's sake. That's what makes Hellbassbeaters one of the strongest albums ever to feature the bass. It goes a long way towards giving dignity to the oft-ignored instrument!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Awakening of the Bassmachine
Spacey/industrial noises form the bulk of this brief intro.
We Live
The first thing you notice on this album is how fat and twangy the bass sounds without guitars getting in the way. This is a fast rocker with a strong 80's feel. The vocals are mostly provided by the excellent Apollo Papathanasio of Firewind, who sounds like a cross between Dio and Joe Lynn Turner. There are also some harsh vocals to provide some contrast. This is a brisk start to the record and already it's obvious that Bassinvaders is about songcraft as opposed to just hitting the listener with a ton of bass licks (though you get a lot of those,too).
Armageddon
This tune features Destruction's Schmier and has a thrashier, more quirky feel than the first cut. One thing for sure, there's no lack of power here despite there being no "real" guitar. I don't know who exactly provides the bass solo here but it smokes from the get-go. This is a good tune, but is too long for its own good. The later Schmier track "Razorblade Romance" is better yet.
Romance In Black
Rage's Peavy Wagner is a great songwriter and here he proves he doesn't have to be working with his main band to create some atmospheric, memorable tunes. This is slower than the first two full songs, but by no means is it a ballad. The morbid lyrics dwell on a tragic love affair that ends in death and the cut has an ominous feel to go along with that theme. The bass playing is really tasteful and tight here, providing a great showcase for the instrument.
Godless Gods
With this powerhouse track, the lid comes off the album. A brutally crunching and ultra-heavy cut featuring Sodom's Tom Angelripper, it's amazing what a crushing, tank-like riff fest this is. Angelripper's vocals are more raw and ravaging than I've heard in quite some time. I'd have to say this cut is more like classic Sodom than anything that appeared on the last overproduced Sodom CD. The bass is so loud here it just about sinks to the center of the Earth and the last third of the cut erupts into a total thrash-out.
Empty Memories (Break Free)
This has more of a standard European power metal feel, with Apollo P.'s excellent vocals again taking the lead. With Helloween, Markus Grosskopf's bass is just part of a machine, but here you can see what a great player he is. The harmony vocals on the chorus are really appealing and remind me a bit of Blind Guardian.
Boiling Blood
This is another fast-paced, power metallish tune, but I don't get the same charge out of it that I do with many of the other tracks. The standard of playing remains outstanding and the cut is adequate, but is stuck in the middle of some real scorchers.
Far Too Late
Another fine Peavy Wagner composition, this one rocks along pretty nicely on the back of a super-fat and bouncy bass groove. As with "Romance In Black," the track is very pessimistic in its outlook ."It's far too late/ Because you've swallowed their lies/It's far too late/Now you watch your children die." There's some more subtle moments here that show how well-balanced Wagner's songwriting is.
The A**hole Song
Befitting the naughty title, this cut has a sleazy 80's metal feel to it. The vocals this time come from Jesper Binze from the cult Danish rockers D.A.D. He's got a rough and raspy approach that fits the spiteful lyrics. The chorus is kinda simple-minded but it will stick in your mind. "It doesn't take one to know one...everybody's got one!" It sounds like there's some slick stand-up bass playing this time around and there's a very jazzy section in the middle. It's a fun, partying kind of song.
Dead From The Eyes Down
I don't know what Tom Angelripper was on when he wrote this, but I'd like to get me some. It's an awesome scorching cut with a strong Motorhead feel to it, like the old Sodom classics "Ausgebombt" and "Bombenhagel." Again, this is better than anything on the self-titled Sodom album and features some thick and brutal slower riffs. The bass here is just so heavy!
Razorblade Romance
I like this Schmier-led cut better than the earlier "Armageddon". It's got some progressive quirkiness to the riffing and Schmier's vocals have more bite. The chorus is oddly poppy and could have almost been on a hair metal album. There's some great bass soloing in this one but I have no idea who the guilty party is.
Voices
Markus Grosskopf's bass here has a pulsing, stalking feel to it, while Apollo's vocals are at their most strident. This is a more mid-tempo tune than most but that gives it a lot of oomph. I also have to compliment the strong drumming. Along with "Godless Gods," this is thickest and "bassiest" of all the cuts on show.
Eagle Fly Free
This is a reworking of the classic Helloween anthem with lead guitar replaced entirely by bass. It's a faithful and fast-flowing version with Apollo almost matching original singer Michael Kiske for melody. It is a very interesting interpretation, but it's hard to beat the original.
To Hell And Back Again
This bonus track is a lot of fun. It's completely rockabilly in approach and features none other than Lee Rocker of the Stray Cats chipping in. There's even some gospel-type backing vocals that give this a unique feeling. I love the jangly feel to the bass here, unlike anything else on the album. A whole record of stuff like this might have been hard to take, but this ends this surprising album on a very pleasant note.
 
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