Not Fragile - Time to wonder 4/5

Reviewed: 5-13-05





Tracklist:

1. Time to wonder
2. The beast in black
3. Starbreaker
4. Midnight explorer
5. Raised on metal
6. Rough'n'ready man
7. Thousand warriors
8. Miles out to sea
9. Black magic mountain
10. Hellion's dungeon
11. Queen of the sea
12. End of the rainbow
13. Fortress of power
14. Battle-eagle
15. Friends


After 2 decades burrowed deep in the German metal underground, the curiously-monikered Not Fragile remain virtual unknowns. It's a pity, as their infectious brand of traditional speed/power metal richly deserves acclaim. Formed in the mid-80s, Not Fragile had and still have a sound akin to Helloween on their 'Walls of jericho' opus, as both bands shared a penchant for fast tempos, thrash tendencies married to traditional metal sensibilities, melodic dual guitar work, and quirky, rough vocals that were nonetheless soaring, endearing and powerful. Note that Not Fragile were not Helloween "clones" but rather were contemporaries of Kai & Co. As a historical matter, I'm not sure who came first, and would not be at all surprised if both bands independently developed their sound from common influences. Of course, Helloween brought Michael Kiske into the fold, neutered the aggression, amped up the happy sing-a-long factor, polished out all the rough patches, and became platinum-selling superstars. Meanwhile, Not Fragile stayed their original course. Obscurity was the price of an unwavering no-compromise attitude. The band's 80s material was compiled on two overlapping Japanese CD releases in the early 90s, entitled 'Hard to be alive' and 'Lost in a dream', both of which are quivering classics of Teutonic metal at its finest. During the 90s and early 2000s, the band released 3 more CDs of varying quality, with the most noteworthy being 2001's '21st century ballroom', which at least in part rekindled Not Fragile's early magic.

On their new opus, 'Time to wonder', Not Fragile have raised the bar another notch, although they still can't match their 80s glories. This CD worships at the altar of speed, glorious speed, with perhaps a dozen of the 15 cuts being partially or completely 100 mph affairs. To assist with the relentless aural bombardment, the band enlisted the aid of powerhouse drumming god Mike Terrana, who absolutely destroys his drumkit on the 4 tracks featuring his machine-gun precision playing. The production too is jagged, rough'n'ready, not slick and shiny, so the sonic values lean towards thrash. But this is not a thrash metal CD a la Kreator or Sodom. The difference is singer/rhythm guitarist/songwriter/founding member Torsten Buczko. Although Buczko can no longer belt out those piercing high notes and he'll never win any singing awards, his mid-range rasp is quite tuneful and emotive. Moreover, he is clearly enamored of great guitar melodies and catchy choruses judging by their high incidence in his songs. If I had to label 'Time to wonder', I'd call it straightahead old-school German speed/power.

Metal newbies will likely find 'Time to wonder' too primitive and unpolished for their tastes. But those who remember the 80s fondly and think the Kai-fronted incarnation of Helloween was the greatest musical innovation since the distorted guitar will find much to their liking here. Unfortunately, at 15 songs and 61 minutes in length, a few tracks in the 2nd half aren't quite as memorable as they could be. Also, I selfishly wish that Buczko could crank out those divine high-pitched wails like he used to ("One way to glory/Another day, another way" comes to mind as the classic example) and that the band would interweave more use of those brilliant guitar harmonies that characterized their sound in the early days. But Not Fragile have proven that they are undoubtedly still armed and dangerous, and 'Time to wonder' is a compelling lesson in Teutonic speed metal the way it was meant to be.



KIT




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