Starting your new album with a cod Metallica riff circa the Black Album accompanied by what sounds like one of those car horns clowns use when their vehicles are disintegrating around them probably wasn’t the best idea German symphonic metallers Beyond The Black have ever had; however once you’ve got over the shock of what you, the listener, have just been confronted with on pushing play, you’ll realise pretty quickly that, for their fifth full-length, Jennifer Haben and company are deadly serious.

And of course, pop-tinged Euro power metal is a pretty serious business to be in. There’s a mountain of competition out there, so if clown noises give you that vital point of difference, why the hell not?

But all joking aside, Beyond The Black actually hit the bullseye more than they miss it on this self-titled effort. It might just be wishful thinking on my part, but the band seems to have stripped a few of the pop pretensions away from the sound here, preferring to rely a bit more on their skills as songwriters and less on the bells and, indeed the synth-generated whistles. Consequently tracks like Reincarnation, with it’s stomping hair metal feel and huge chorus, built to show just what a great voice Haben has, stand unadorned as genuinely great pieces of pop metal craftwork. The semi-bucolic Free Me is similarly effective; here, perhaps more than anywhere, as the guitars of Tobi Lodes and Chris Hermsdörfer stab dramatically in time with drummer Kai Tschierschky‘s thunderous interjections, you get the sense that maybe this is a band really ready and able to mix it on an equal footing with names like Nightwish and, perhaps more pertinently, Within Temptation

Haben is a true star, with a voice to match; Here, the pop edge remains unshackled – there are times when, if you’re not concentrating fully, you’d swear Andrea Corr (Wide Awake) or even Melanie C (Into the Light) had been lurking around the studios during recording, lending a hand to proceedings – but it never gains the upper hand. Hence crushing metal is softened spectacularly by the voice, which effortlessly becomes the lead instrument – and what an instrument it is.

Wide Awake, Dancing In The Dark and I Remember Dying are all total tours de force as far as Haben is concerned, but she’s consistently impressive throughout, and, if you want to hear what true star quality sounds like, just drop the needle anywhere you like on this highly entertaining album. Apart from those first thirty seconds, obviously…

Beyond The Black releases on January 13th.