Our esteemed leader touched on Herman Frank’s extensive CV in his review of the man’s last solo outing, 2016’s The Devil Rides Out. So I’m not going to labour the point about just what a Euro metal institution Herr Frank is, was, and always shall be. Far better to concentrate on what the great man is up to now, no? What’s done is done. But should we care about Herman in 2019?
Undoubtedly we should. For, though he chooses to play his game in the same territory as his former employers Accept, on Fight the Fear Frank shows he has more than a little to offer fans of beefy Teutonic metal – at least as much as Wolf Hoffmann and company, in fact.
Sensibly Frank has employed the services of a top notch vocalist on his last three solo records in the shape of former Masterplan alumnus Rick Altzi. Euro metal shriekers are quite literally ten a Euro these days, every last man jack of them a faceless copy of the one before… Altzi, on the other hand offers the listener bags of class on any style that Frank throws at him. The heads down mayhem of Fear? No problem. Mid paced stadium metal stompers such as Terror? All in a day’s work. Smashing, euphoric combinations of the two afore-mentioned styles, in the form of album standout Sinners? Altzi’s yer man. There’s nothing he can’t sing and he sings the arse off it all on Fight the Fear.
And then there’s Frank. Alternately the king of unforgiving chug, arch purveyor of fleet fingered fret fantasias or downright heavy metal hero, like Altzi the man is a versatile guitarist of Swiss Army knife proportions. His unfettered metal assault is a joy at all times. The brooding Hatred is a riff monster and then some, giving the excellent last Primal Fear album a big run for it’s money, that chug bolstered by some monstrous percussive oomph from drummer Andres Hilgers.
Hail & Row sees the band leaving Euro metal territory and heading back in time to the early eighties with a slab of classic metal seemingly directly inspired by Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell; it’s not a copy, though, more a heavily nuanced re-imagining of the style – and it works very well, Altzi giving a bravura performance, the rest of the band backing him to the hilt. And the riffs? Diamond, the lot of ‘em…
Hitman ironically sounds like it might have come from an Accept album that Frank wasn’t involved with – Eat the Heat – whilst Stay Down, Altzi’s smoother vocals notwithstanding, is a hybridised look at Restless and Wild and Balls to the Wall stylings. You can’t blame the bloke for occasionally dipping into his past, and to be, erm, quite frank, the latter track really is another album highlight.
The rocky Rock You is perhaps the weakest track on the album, being a slightly tepid slice of mid-eighties radio metal that might have found it’s way onto a Judas Priest album post Screaming for Vengeance and pre-Painkiller; if it has a saving grace it’s the superb solo from Frank – one of his best on the album – but overall it’s the least satisfying track on offer. That’s relative of course – bad Herman is as good as the best that many of his peers can come up with, but there you go. Don’t Cross the Line is similar stylistically but is pressed forward with more urgency, reminding this listener a bit of Canadian giants Coney Hatch in their prime, whilst the quirky Are You Ready exhumes the ghosts – musically at least – of that legion of bands from the mid eighties (we’re looking at you, Rhino Bucket et al) for whom the Young/Young/Johnson playbook was some sort of bible…
Wings of Destiny is slightly more progressive and features another match winning performance from both the main protagonists, with Hilgers once again giving stoic support behind the kit. It’s the third of the album’s real standouts, and it’s quite marvellous. Final track Lost in Heaven brings the curtain down in epic style, brooding guitars building nicely to crescendo along with the strident chorus and, in the final washup, I’m going to be bold and say that this is Herman Frank’s finest solo work yet. Check it out – I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
AFM Records release Feel the Fear on February 8th.