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(44 min, 'Mastermind')
TRACK LIST: 1. Broken 4:22 2. Break Me Down 3:30 3. Weak & Powerless 5:00 4. The Queen of Sheba 9:02 5. William Tell Overture 3:11 6. A Million Miles Away 7:51 7. I'm So Glad 4:58 8. Extended Broken 5:35 LINEUP: Bill Berends - guitar; synthesizer; vocals Laura Johnson - bass; vocals Tracy McShane - lead vocals Rich Berends - drums With: Jens Johansson - keyboards (1, 2)
Prolusion. "Broken" is the first offering from MASTERMIND since their live album "Prog, Fusion, Metal, Leather & Sweat" was released four years ago in 2001. It heralds their upcoming new studio album "Insomnia", scheduled for summer 2006. The lineup has once again undergone some changes, the newcomers being two female musicians: Laura Johnson on bass and backing vocals and Tracy McShane on lead vocals. My rating on each of the band's six full-length studio recordings can be seen here.
Analysis. Although "Broken" runs 44 minutes, Mastermind presents it as an EP. Right decision. The first two tracks, Broken and Break Me Down, are representatives from their forthcoming studio album. The Queen of Sheba, A Million Miles Away and William Tell Overture are just 'live rehearsal' versions of previously released studio tracks which will be familiar to any fan of the band. As to the remaining two tracks, Weak & Powerless and I'm So Glad, I can't remember whether Mastermind performed them before, and yet their sound doesn't seem unfamiliar to me for some reason. Judging by Broken and Break Me Down, Mastermind will go heavy on their new album. The music is slow, dark and hypnotic, filled with a striking gothic sense, the guitar riff structure referring directly to the classic Doom Metal style invented by Black Sabbath. Jens Johansson (who is absent on the subsequent tracks) provides some great string arrangements on each, and his passages on Broken have a light spicing of Oriental music, reminding me a bit of those heard in the background during the refrain of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir. Both are excellent, although the level of progressiveness of Break Me Down is definitely higher. Contrary to its title, Weak & Powerless is a driving energetic Hard Rock with occasional progressive qualities, best of all expressed by Bill in his two interlocking guitar solos, one of which was overdubbed of course. The Queen of Sheba, William Tell Overture and A Million Miles Away are no different from their studio counterparts on a general musical plane, but due to their rehearsal nature, plus the absence of keyboards and overdubs, are certainly poorer in sound. Nevertheless, the former two are among my favorite tracks here - along with the both of those from the future-looming "Insomnia". I'm So Glad and A Million Miles Away are in many ways kindred songs, representing something average between Hard Rock as such and a Hard Rock ballad with latent blues tendencies. The inclusion of Extended Broken in the CD seems to be unnecessary, because it's just the same song with a slightly prolonged refrain.
Conclusion. Both of the new compositions by Mastermind sound very promising to me, displaying that the band is still open to experiment and that stagnation doesn't threaten their creation so far. As for the entire "Broken" EP, the material present is good, but since most of the tracks aren't new it might be of great interest only to the band's faithful fans and completists.
VM: March 21, 2006
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