Meliah Rage - Masquerade 4/5
1. Lost or found
3. History will tell
6. Hour glass
8. Last rites
9. Whatever it takes
As a longtime fan of Boston's 80s metallers Meliah Rage, I had begun to fear that their 2000s reunion was on the verge of being snuffed out based on apathy and lack of inspiration. While the band's reunion years commenced promisingly enough with 2004's fine 'Barely human' effort, things took a notable turn for the worse with 2006's 'The deep and dreamless sleep', a lackluster affair with several excellent songs offset by boring, moody material. Vocalist Paul Souza (himself a replacement for glory days-era singer Mike Munro) abandoned ship shortly thereafter, years passed by with no activity, and it seemed the writing was on the headstone for this long-running New England institution that was known in its heyday as the Metallica of Beantown. But then Munro (long absent from the music scene) rejoined the fold, songwriter/guitarist Tony Nichols tapped into a new vein of refreshed energy, and suddenly Meliah Rage enjoyed a new lease on life. This 'Masquerade' CD was the result. Funny, though, it's actually not a "new" CD as of the time of this writing. The problem was that, until recently, Meliah Rage had elected to distribute 'Masquerade' exclusively through their label's website, and the label charged exorbitant shipping rates (I think something like $6 for one CD). So people either didn't know that the CD had been released (because it was not available at their go-to vendors of choice) or they balked at the confiscatory shipping rates. Either way, the consequence was that most people haven't heard Meliah Rage's latest CD. More's the pity.
Whatever the reason may be, 'Masquerade' finds Meliah Rage at their most exciting, creative, and inspired. There's a fire in the band's belly, a swagger in their step, that hasn't been there for ages, perhaps going back as far as their overlooked 1990 opus, 'Solitary solitude'. Nichols' songwriting is a particularly strong here, as he brings back the thrashy riffage while maintaining the catchy choruses, and melds these elements with an adventurous spirit never before heard in Meliah Rage's material. The band's songs have historically resided firmly in the 3.5 - 5 minute range, yet 6 of the 9 cuts on 'Masquerade' weigh in at 6 minutes or longer. And it works. This isn't just Gary Holt-style milk-a-riff-to-death length either, nosirree, Bob. These songs have dynamics, with neck-snapping thrash parts, midtempo stomps, acoustic passages, and so on, all melded together into a seamless whole. Some of these tracks (especially opener "Lost or found", the high-octane "Chosen", the more commercial "Hour glass", and the jagged galloping "Last rites" with guest lead vocals from Ronny Munroe (ex-Metal Church)) would have to rank among the strongest Meliah Rage material ever recorded. There's even a haunting, acoustic, vocal-showcase tune a la "Deliver me" from the 'Solitary solitude' CD in the form of "Masquerade", although the electric guitars and crashing drums kick in around 4 minutes into the song (ironically, with Munro wailing the lyric "Deliver me" repeatedly).
Aside from the vast improvement in writing, 'Masquerade' is noteworthy for Mike Munro's return the vocalist slot. I was always fond of the charismatic musclebound Munro, and he sounds fantastic here, possessing every bit of the power and perhaps even more melodic range than he did on 'Kill to survive'. Munro is the voice of Meliah Rage, and all seems right with the world to hear him belting out these tunes over the patented Tony Nichols/Jim Koury twin guitar attack. And Rich Spillberg (guitarist from Wargasm and now producer for acts like Steel Assassin) has given Meliah Rage probably the best-sounding production of their entire career.
In short, 'Masquerade' is leaps and bounds better than 'The deep and dreamless sleep' and easily on par with (and perhaps even superior to) their earliest output. I have a theory as to why. Nichols has never concealed his love for (and emulation of) Metallica. It wouldn't surprise me at all if his idols' back-to-the-roots 'Death magnetic' release back in 2008 acted as a shot in the arm to get Nichols fired up about writing music again. And in truth, 'Masquerade' really does sound something like a combination of 'Kill to survive', 'Death magnetic' and maybe 'The dark'-era Metal Church stuck in a blender. If you've ever enjoyed Meliah Rage, or if you appreciate classic U.S. metal with a touch of thrash, 'Masquerade' belongs on your shopping list. Me, I'll cross my fingers that this CD isn't a one-off collaboration with the Nichols/Koury guitar team and Munro. The chemistry among those 3 musicians (plus drummer Stuart Dowie, whose history with the band also dates back to 'Kill to survive') is both undeniable and palpable. I'd love to see them have a go at this, hit the European festivals, record a couple more CDs, and try to get some momentum after all these years. For now, I'll savor 'Masquerade' as a sterling exercise in old-school U.S. metal done right.
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