Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Scanner - Mental Reservation (1995)

"New Album! Melodic Power Metal. The come-back of '95!" proclaims a sticker on the cover of this highly attractive album. Was it a comeback? Well, it certainly is a good album, and one I was most pleased to add to my collection. I came upon it in a small local music store, Galaxy, one that specialized in techno and NZ music. It was not a store I visited regularly, its neighbor Echo records had a bigger range of my kinda music, and I was rather surprised to find not one but two copies of this in the bargain section. Turns out, that Scanner were also a techno band - not this Scanner, obviously, and they had ordered them by mistake. Thus they were sitting there, unloved and alone. I bought both, one for myself and one for one of my penfriends.

 A bit of history now - Scanner were a melodic metal band from Germany. My first introduction to their music was through the video Buy or Die, as featured on one of the Doomsday News compilations. They have released five albums - of which this one sits smack-bang in the middle at #3. I also own their first, but for nostalgia's sake, thought I'd spin this baby first.

It is a highly attractive package - the cover is moody and brooding - a city stands like it has been fossilized on the shores of an ocean. A young man, wrapped in a ragged cloak, stands on a cliff, staring out to sea. And above all, in the looming, sanguine clouds, an enormous eye sheds an almighty tear of sorrow. Inside the little booklet, the band have given themselves all starring roles - Axel is the Strongtormenter (guitarist), Haridon Lee the Naked Duke, John ABC Smith is Mr Bassic Instinct (bass) and DD Bucco is Lord of the Drums (guess). This is a concept album - but instead of it being all dragons and wizards and fantasy - it's a dystopic future:
"The past is deleted. What' left are my memories. They threaten to vanish more and more before being told the first time. So I will try to escape out of my MENTAL RESERVATION to record what happend. We lived in peace 'till the day the earth burst open and a dark appearing craeture gave a crystal - key to a little boy called Boris Jay. Boris was taught by the creature how to use the key and to .... .... BREAK THE SEAL."
It opens by the sea with the sussurration of waves and the mournful cries of gulls circling above. It crashes and whips into the frantic and fevered "Break the Seal". The bass line is high, tuned to a pitch that is almost irritating. Vocals are shrill, yet melodic, with an appealing edge to it. The rhythms are complex, the guitar solos raging.

Equipped with powers of destruction and far more confidence and knowledge than someone his age should handle, Boris returns to his home to achieve political ascendency. He succeeds and leads his people into worship of an "Upright Liar". It starts with a dire warning, before the vocals come rampaging on, in full shrill glory. Again, more melodic choruses. I'm getting used to the bass now.

Slower now, as Boris's homeland is at war with  seven nations as he expands through diabolical and nuclear means. "After the Storm" is like a storm itself - roiling clouds swell over the post-nuclear wasteland, whilst the survivors struggle trying to last another day.
"After the storm, we'd watch the new sunrise. But the sun is obscured in sight doesn't heave."
Slower, tortured, bitter. The PoV is now through the eyes of one of the survivors, he and his sister struggled through the wasteland, seeking sanctuary. She is sent to support a medical convoy and is eventually brought back, dying. Our protagonist mourns her, and "Her Infallible Smile" in this melodic and surprisingly beautiful ballad. The vocals are softer, gentler, with only the slightest edge of the shrill. They are filled instead with sorrow, regret and bittersweet memories.

Another faster, more technical piece. After the eventual execution of the evil tyrant, the few survivors have found partial sanctuary in the subway tunnels. But most suffer from mental disorders caused by war. Thus a Mental Healer appears on the scene with his "Conception of a Cure".

Resisting  his offers, our protagonist departs, heading to a place called STONEDHENGE. He returns to St. Clinton island some two years later and "reveals" in his life, taking a look "Into a Brave Man's Mind". This is another slower piece, combined with elements of anger and containing choirs, chanting in Latin. The vocals have an echoing, otherworldly edge to them now.

Alone in a population of 200, on Clinton Island, our protagonist mourns his solitude and wishes to share it with someone. He wants to come "Out of Nowhere" in another melancholic piece fueled with desperation. Despite the somewhat broken English, there are some nifty lines in here:
"I remember... once I believed in God but he left me in the lurch..."
"There's no sun in the shadow of unrequited love"
Peace finally comes to Clinton Island and the children who are born have never seen the war and dictatorship that destroyed their heritage. The people are self sufficient, they're happy. Until the "Nightmare" begins and the children are spirited away one day. The sky hung with volcanic clouds and it might have been a sign of Satanic mights. At night, during the rainy season, strange creatures come out from the volcano and the people follow them back into the volcano, hoping to find the missing children. Another tortured piece with shrill, hopeless vocals and further desperation and loss.

In the heart of the volcano, lives a vicious beast-master. The children are here too - trapped in cages with their brains being fed to the monstrous "Rubberman". The villagers are captured too, and forced to aid him in his cruel rituals. One night this monster chose one of the villagers and gave them the crystal-key, controlling him as though he were now his puppet. The vocals are lower in tone, until they give way to the chorus, with its jerky rhythms and howls that replicate the jerky, mannikin dancing of Albert Truestone, the new "chosen one".

Another time jump now - as our protagonist escapes the monsters of the volcano (leaving several dead in his wake) and escapes from the island to find sanctuary in one of the few remaining cities. Here society returns to a new sort of normal, with the people from the countryside all coming into the city to live. Population is 50 million and 6 million are unemployed. (I'm wondering what they were eating, personally). The government can't do anything to help this. The lyrics are quite hard to follow, I suspect that the song writer's English is rather lacking... It's a heavy piece with some slower moments. It's a "Wrong Lane Society".

Within a year, our protagonist has found employment repairing computer chips and Albert Truestone has become governor, and thus the vicious cycle begins all over again. I am thinking this may be some sort of allegory. Whatever the way "20th Century Crusade" is a racing, speed-esque number with melodic elements.

This Scanner album is an interesting one. It combines the melodic of the European Metal scene with the darker themes (post-apocalyptic social issues) and more aggressive sound and generally more technical, mechanical feel of American Metal. And it is a very good, complex and competent album with an interesting storyline and good contrasts between the heavier and more vicious, with the melodic and melancholic. It is just a shame that it was not, in fact, the comeback album they had hoped for. Also, the plot seems to jump about quite erratically and does not really make a great deal of sense. Still, it's a metal album, not a novel - so who cares?

I'm going to give it 8/10.

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