Mindmaze - Mask of lies 3.5/5
1. Never look back
2. Breaking the chains
3. This holy war
4. Cosmic overture
5. Fading skies
6. Mask of lies
7. Dark city (Dreaming this life)
9. Destiny calls
The name Mindmaze was unknown to me until a few months ago, when I read a favorable review of one of their live performances on the BW&BK website. The positive words by a friend whose judgment I trust overcame my initial trepidation about the band name (which seems suited for a self-indulgent widdly-diddly prog act) and prompted me to investigate further. After living with the Pennsylvanians’ self-released debut CD, ‘Mask of lies’, for a few weeks, I am mighty glad I did, because Mindmaze are onto something here.
Mindmaze’s stock in trade is catchy, well-written melodic heavy metal featuring the confident, emotive and pleasant lead vocals of Sarah Teets. Fans of female fronted metal will find much to enjoy about ‘Mask of lies’, because Sarah’s voice (somewhat reminiscent of A Sound of Thunder’s Nina Osegueda, Edge of Attack’s Roxanne Gordey and Seven Kingdoms’ Sabrina Valentine) is excellent. The creative force behind Mindmaze is Sarah’s brother, guitarist/keyboardist/producer Jeff Teets. Jeff wears these different hats with a degree of skill and professionalism that belies the band’s youth and unsigned status. The songwriting on ‘Mask of lies’ pulls off the difficult feat of being varied and interesting, while also being memorable and at times epic (one song is 11 minutes long and another approaches the 9-minute mark). Not only are the guitars well-played, but the band adds the nuance of cool acoustic guitar touches that crop up from time to time. And sonically, the CD is definitely up to industry standards in all respects. Add in a couple of noteworthy guest performances from Sinister Realm’s John Gaffney and Lord’s Lord Tim, plus eye-catching cover art courtesy of Monowasp, and you’ve got all the makings of an impressive package.
The band’s promotional materials classify Mindmaze as “female fronted traditional/prog/power metal for fans of Iron Maiden, Queensryche, Dream Theater, Dio and Firewind.” That’s a mouthful. But it’s also accurate. Mindmaze do not anchor themselves to a particular subgenre, but instead drift from one style to the next. The opening salvo of “Never look back” and “Breaking the chains” are very much rooted in traditional metal a la classic Dio, with hooky choruses and straightforward guitar-oriented arrangements. By track 4, the keyboard-laced instrumental “Cosmic overture”, Mindmaze have shifted into full-blown prog, a style in which they further immerse the listener during portions of the meandering 11-minute “Dark city (Dreaming the life)". The title track, “Mask of lies”, goes for more of a power metal vibe. The pompous guitar/keyboard interplay on “Remember” recalls ‘Gutter ballet’-era Savatage. And the 8:45 workout, “Destiny calls”, closes out the proceedings with a Steve Harris-type epic. Songwriting versatility can be a strength, and Jeff Teets proves quite adept at writing convincing tunes in each of these different styles.
Songwriting versatility can also be a weakness, however, if the listener is not enamored of all the styles on display. Unfortunately, such is the case for this reviewer. Had ‘Mask of lies’ been stacked front to back with guitar-driven power/traditional metal tracks in the vein and quality of “Never look back”, “Breaking the chains”, “Destiny calls”, and “Mask of lies”, then I would have been a happy headbanger, indeed. But it isn’t, and I get the distinct impression that the Teets siblings and their bandmates (bassist Rich Pasqualone and drummer Kalin Schweizerhof) would have been dissatisfied had the CD been so narrowly circumscribed. I get that, and I respect it. The trouble is that, as anyone who has attended the ProgPower USA festival can attest, lots of metalheads fall on one side or the other of the power/prog dividing line, without much patience for that which lies on the other side. Trying to reach across the aisle and appease both camps on the same CD is a tricky business, yet that is where Mindmaze find themselves.
Look, none of this is intended to be even remotely negative. Mindmaze have delivered a truly impressive debut CD that has something for everyone who appreciates any part of the power/prog metal spectrum. They do everything so well that a casual listener would never believe this is a debut recording from an unsigned quartet from Pennsylvania. My hat’s off to them. Selfishly, I do wish they’d focus and refine their sound in the power/traditional mold in the future, ditching (or at least deemphasizing) the prog and keys. But Mindmaze can and should be proud of their fine efforts on ‘Mask of lies’. It will be exciting to see where they go from here...
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