Claudio Bergamin sure has a way with apocalyptic imagery. His cover art for Tales of the Weird, the first new album in three years from Germanic thrash/power metal mavens Paradox, is certainly eye-catching, what with the creepy cloaked figures wandering about a wintry, burned-out landscape surveying the destruction as broken pieces of what may be a meteor fall from the sky on what has to be an alien planet.

Were this the 1980s, that sort of scene on a vinyl sleeve would have geeky teenage metal fans that had nothing better to do during the day but hang around record stores frothing at the mouth. This being the digital age, Bergamin’s imaginative, sci-fi/horror vision simply won’t have the impact on sales it would in the dwindling brick-and-mortar universe, but it does accomplish something for Paradox. And that is, it rectifies the cardinal sin of sequencing Paradox commits by opening the record with the 9:19 title track, an unwieldy, power-sapping mish-mash of conflicting and unfulfilled ideas that quickly unravel and fail to gain any real traction – despite some serious guitar shredding and the occasional attention-grabbing riff from Charly Steinhauer and Christian Munzer.

Hardy and fair-minded listeners who’ve crawled through that obstacle course of unlistenable challenges are rewarded with action-packed, dizzying progressive-metal mazes of cinematic arrangements, blinding tempos, pristine production and spectacular melodies. Among the most gripping and frantic tracks are “Escalation,” the multi-layered “Brainwashed,” “The Downward Spiral and “Slashdead” – all of them combining fleet-fingered fretwork, flights of classical bombast and pounding, frenzied rhythms as unstoppable as a runaway train. Heavier than most of Tales of the Weird, but still fast as can be, “Brutalized” is Paradox on steroids, yet floating over this riotous, skull-crushing mayhem going on at street level is this strangely beautiful little guitar melody that somehow avoids being sucked into the tumult. Look for it and don’t miss it, make sure to stop and appreciate the pretty, well-designed acoustic guitar interlude “Zeitgeist” – they shouldn’t get lost in all the blazing firepower Paradox unloads on Tales of the Weird.

Still, it all comes together for Paradox on the expansive and melodic “Fragile Alliance,” a raging river of monstrous, thick riffage, power-metal theatrics and vast, canyon-like vocal choruses. And yet for all of its extraordinary technical brilliance, its racing blend of power and speed, and its sheer immensity, Tales of the Weird suffers somewhat from … well, a paradox. Trying to balance a desire to thrash like there’s no tomorrow with a flair for the dramatic is tricky, especially with a singer whose strength is dynamic expression rather than brute force. Furthermore, the listener fatigue that comes with being bombarded every possible moment with instrumental fireworks is a very real problem. Paradox has the best of intentions with their cover of Rainbow’s “A Light in the Black,” but it’s too much, with the synthesizer whirls competing against a sensory overload of their own creation. And yet Tales of the Weird is a real page-turner once you get past the first chapter.