I’ve been having a think (Steady on – Ed.), and after much cogitation, I’m wracking my brains to come up with a more perfect sounding modern heavy metal album than Air Raid‘s new offering, Fatal Encounter.

When I say ‘modern’, I don’t actually mean, well, modern; far from it in fact, because Fatal Encounter mixes the German power metal sound made so timeless by the likes of Axel Rudi Pell with something similar yet more overtly Scandinavian – Mean Streak, say, or HammerFall at their heads-down best – and fuses that with the glorious late eighties names like Riot and Yngwie Malmsteen.

And then it takes those components to the next level.

That’s a pretty heady mix, I’m sure you’ll agree; My neighbours certainly did as I treated them to the neoclassical strains of second track Lionheart the other evening, and I’m sure they also enjoyed the more stately, although no less impactful, strains of the album’s standout cut Let The Kingdom Burn, which takes the Dio-period Rainbow blueprint and wrings every last drop of drama and headbanging potential out of what’s sure to be one of my songs of the year come December.

Talking of Rainbow, the superb In Solitude sounds like something that band might have come up with to, mixed perhaps with Jeff Scott Soto‘s Takara; again, a heady mix, and it’s success is in large part down to the frankly astounding vocal performance of Fredrik Werner who, the instrumental bagatelle Sinfonia aside, is the star of every track.

That’s not to say the other band members are lurking about living off of Werner’s exertions; Andy Johansson and Magnus Mild are an endlessly inventive guitar pairing (their work on Edge of a Dream is frankly spinetingling), whilst rhythm section Jan Ekberg (bass) and drummer William Seidl lock everything together with poise and ruthless efficiency.

Without wishing to over-Egg the pudding too much, it’s hard to be calm about this record. Save for One By One, which flies a little too close to Primal Fear‘s Angel In Black for my liking, there are no other points on Fatal Encounter that could be described as ‘weak’. In the world of traditional metal, where values like freshness and vitality are often at a premium, that’s an astonishing thing to report. But then Fatal Encounter is a pretty astonishing album. Get involved, people!

Fatal Encounter releases on February 24th.