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Mastermind - Broken

Independent Release
Produced by Bill Berends

Remarkably this is an EP that's longer than most artists' albums. Clocking in at a shade under 45 minutes, classic New Jersey-based prog/power metallers Mastermind are already off to a good start with their "comeback" EP.

Close to a million miles away from the progressive, symphonic pomp of their first four albums from the early '90s, and certainly from their instrumental fusion album Excelsior!, the new look Mastermind are closer to their label-released power metal album Angels of The Apocalypse, their second on InsideOut Records, and their first with a female vocalist. Still led by the Berends brothers Bill (guitars and just about everything else at one time or another) and Rich (drums), and now with Tracy McShane replacing Lisa Bouchelle on vocals and Laura Johnson replacing the deceased Bob Eckman on bass, the band have never been heavier.

They're incredibly heavy on title track Broken, in actual fact. It's laden with bass and crushing guitar, layered with wonderful lead parts. Tracy McShane's powerful vocals are not too dissimilar to Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia and the overriding feel of this awesome single is one of heaviness and groove. The pace isn't that quick, so the guitar solos are the sublime, searing kind you'd find on an Ayreon song, for example.

B-side Break Me Down is also set to feature on the band's new album, and shares the heaviness of Broken. It picks up the pace slightly for the chorus, but otherwise maintains the driving slowness of the a-side cut, while McShane's vocals are even more dynamic. Second b-side Weak And Powerless is a cover of the A Perfect Circle song, and it sounds like it. APC aren't a particularly inspiring band, especially given that they're led by Tool main-man Maynard James Keenan. They just fall so far short of where they should be. The track just isn't a very good song, and despite Mastermind's best efforts, it's still not.

The next three tracks are recorded live and unedited in the studio. Starting with The Queen of Sheba, from 2000's Angels of The Apocalypse album, and in terms of the chorus it's not too impressive. It's a little too nice and sweet. Almost happy-folk. However, wait a couple of minutes and the awesome musicianship of this band knocks you flat. The song becomes an eight-minute marathon of superb playing and singing that really needs to be heard.

Bill Berends continues to demonstrate his skill with a near note perfect run through of the very famous, and very fast William Tell Overture (if you don't recognise the title, you're guaranteed know it when you hear it). Rich Berends and Johnson easily keep up to provide tight and equally competent backing to Bill's lightning fast fret-work.

The sublime returns with A Million Miles, also from Angels of The Apocalypse, which is a slow burner that builds towards the end, allowing McShane to again show what she can do (Berends doesn't let the side down with more excellent lead guitar). Again spinning out to over seven minutes with a Dio-esque breakdown in terms of both vocals and music they slip in a quick bit of Cream's Sunshine of Your Love riff before fading out with plenty of feedback. The Cream theme continues with a strong cover of I'm So Glad, adding much more power than the original had, with McShane and Berends sharing the vocals (Berends is a more than capable vocalist, having handled all lead vocals himself during the late '90s).

The EP closes with an extended mix of the title single, adding a little additional instrumentation (this is probably the version fans of the genre will consider the definitive one, but the shorter version is actually set to appear on the finished album).

At the moment, there probably isn't a melodic power metal band around that are as heavy and utilise as much groove as Mastermind while maintaining this level of technicality. Often the emphasis is on speed to demonstrate prowess, and while that is often impressive, it only remains so for a short time. Bands that are able to play both sides of the pace coin are much more awe-inspiring for a lot longer, and Mastermind have that potential. On the strength this EP, the album should be one of the strongest of the year. It can only be hoped that a friendly label like Nuclear Blast (desperately in need of a replacement for Primal Fear, who's appalling decision making has taken them to Frontiers) picks up the finished record and markets it for what it will undoubtedly be worth.

“ superb playing and singing that really needs to be heard ”

Tracklist: Broken / Break Me Down / Weak & Powerless / The Queen of Sheba (Live) / William Tell Overture (Live) / A Million Miles Away (Live) / I'm So Glad / Broken (extended Mix)

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2006, EPs, Female-fronted, Power Metal, Progressive,

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