Not Fragile - Scratch the surface 4/5

Reviewed: 10-12-07





Tracklist:

1. Speed loader
2. Master machine
3. Scratch the surface
4. Rocket to the moon
5. Power to the universe
6. Centurion
7. Keep your mouth shut
8. Perfect sledgehammer
9. 10000 black demons
10. Holy man
11. Cathedral of power
12. Tear into the weekend
13. Gods of fire


Hey kids, do you like Helloween's 'Walls of Jericho' masterpiece? Do you yearn for more bands that expertly blend the ferocity of primal early thrash with traditional Teutonic steel, all the while utilizing the unerring German ear for catchy hooks? And I don't mean in a Stormwarrior way of aping 'Walls of Jericho' either. Don't get me wrong: I love Stormwarrior, but they sound like a band trying to recreate or pay tribute to a style, rather than a band that helped co-found the style. Maybe it's semantics, but I'm talking about a band that shares the same influences that molded 'Walls of Jericho', a fellow originator, rather than an enthusiastic imitator. Anyway, if this is what you seek, then your quest can end with Not Fragile, a venerable German quartet who were there at the beginning and who continue to release top-notch slabs of speedy 80s metal excellence today while flying below the radars of all but the most avid metallians.

By my count, 'Scratch the surface' marks Not Fragile's 7th studio album, counting the overlapping (and quite rare) classics of yesteryear, 'Hard to be alive' and 'Lost in a dream', as well as the covers'n'originals collection, 'Yesterday's heroes'. Much to my glee and unabashed delight, Not Fragile have not attempted to evolve, progress or expand their musical horizons. They know that their niche lies in the field of hard-as-nails, fast-paced, melody-infused traditional metal, and they make no attempt to push these boundaries, but instead continue to their tireless efforts to perfect their craft. Not Fragile's music remains as pure and true as it was 20 years ago. Thus, 'Scratch the surface' is very close in both quality and sound to the band's last 2 proper studio albums, 2001's '21st century ballroom' and 2005's 'Time to wonder'. That means fast tempos, outstanding riffs, catchy songs, and the unique vocals of Torben Buczko, who is a bit like early Kai Hansen but with perhaps a bit more scratchiness and idiosyncratic timbre (and a touch less tunefulness) to his voice than the Lord God Kai ever had. As a longtime Not Fragile buff, I can't tell you how many times this CD prompted me to break into a big grin because so many passages are such vintage Not Fragile trademarks, whether it be a particular arrangement, a bridge, a vocal line, or a guitar harmony. I cannot imagine any fan of Not Fragile's previous output being anything but overjoyed by 'Scratch the surface'. If stuff like "10000 black demons", "Scratch the surface", and "Gods of fire" (which is actually a cover song originally performed by the legendary Mania in 1989) does not satisfy your fix for old-fashioned German metal, then perhaps you ought to explore different genres.

Much like the last couple of CDs, 'Scratch the surface' suffers from but a single flaw, in that the band has perhaps squeezed a few too many tracks onto the CD. With 13 total songs, listener fatigue is inevitable, especially when the quality level dips on a couple of tracks along the way (the "Centurion" chorus comes to mind). Still, the 10 best songs on 'Scratch the surface' destroy most new music I've heard in 2007. So give Not Fragile a chance. Don't let the silly band name or iffy CD covers steer you away. Not Fragile's recent discography (i.e., from the post-reunion Hellion Records years) is readily available from several U.S. metal purveyors at a reasonable price, so please, for your own sake, check out this overlooked treasure of the German heavy metal scene. The metal gods simply don't make 'em like Not Fragile anymore.



KIT




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