Released By: Self-Released
Release Date: February 17, 2013
Genre: Melodic Heavy Metal
Sarah Teets – Vocals
Jeff Teets – Guitars, Keyboards
Rich Pasqualone – Bass
Kalin Schweizerhof – Drums
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
It has taken nine years, but finally American melodic heavy metal band MindMaze have released their full length debut, and it was certainly worth the wait. They’re a very young band, with all members being less than 25 years old, and yet they started way back in 2004 under the name Necromance, which means the two original members who are still around, vocalist Sarah Teets and guitarist Jeff Teets, would have been in their early teens when the band started. While under the name Necromance they released a self-titled demo and the EP “Never Look Back”, and then in 2010 they renamed themselves MindMaze.
Which brings us to February 2013 and the release of their official debut “Mask Of Lies”, an album containing 5 new songs and 4 songs from their Necromance days, which I assume have been re-recorded, because they sound just as polished as the new songs. I had high expectations going in, as a friend of mine had me listen to the album version of “Never Look Back”, which the band had posted on their website in advance, and I was so impressed I decided to buy a digital copy as soon as the album was released. I was quite impressed with the album right away, and it has only gotten better with several listens, quickly becoming a very strong early contender for my favorite melodic metal album of the year.
The style of the songs is quite varied, though overall it is a very melodic album, and it certainly has a classic feel to it at points, with a strong Iron Maiden influence on the more heavy metal oriented songs, where the riffs gallop and the rhythm section is very strong, with a very present bass guitar sound. Elsewhere, you can hear some power metal elements on a couple songs, as well as a very strong prog influence on about half of the album, which brings up an interesting point: It seems in their early days they were more focused on the melodies and catchy choruses, as the older songs are certainly more simple and straight-forward, while the newer songs are more complex and progressive, and that’s where you’ll find the most impressive arrangements. Still, even on those older songs the musicianship is still top notch, and there are still some very impressive instrumental sections, they just don’t seem as prevalent as they are on the newer songs. Not that I’m complaining: In fact, this makes for a perfect balance, especially with how the songs are placed on the album, as the first two songs are fun and allow you to get into it quickly, then the middle section is where the more experimental songs come in, while the last two songs are also from their EP, though the closing track is more in line with their newer work. All in all, the album flows very smoothly from beginning to end, and there is no song that isn’t a killer.
A band that relies on melodies always requires a good vocalist, and thankfully Sarah Teets does an excellent job, with a very clear voice that fits the music perfectly, and she can strike the right balance between being very nice and smooth in the melodic parts, and having enough power to make the heavier parts work just as well. She typically sings in a mid-register, though when needed she can go higher, and those parts are pretty spectacular, as first heard at the end of “Never Look Back”.
Speaking of which, while I’ve heard a handful of other songs this year that I’d say are more impressive, “Never Look Back” may be my most played song of 2013 so far, as it’s simply a fun fast-paced song with an incredibly catchy chorus that just never gets old, plus it shows the strengths of Sarah and even has an awesome guitar solo in the middle. I honestly couldn’t ask for more from an album opener, and thankfully “Breaking The Chains” is an excellent mid-tempo heavy metal track which keeps the momentum going. The first of the new songs is “This Holy War”, which starts out very calmly for the first half, playing out like a very nice power ballad, before the solo starts and all of a sudden the band starts playing faster and heavier, and this momentum carries on until the end, resulting in one spectacular final chorus, and turning a very good song into an amazing one.
From there the progressive elements start to take over for a while, with “Cosmic Overture” being an amazing instrumental track that starts out with a nice acoustic section before developing into something much bigger. The song has several movements, and is fairly complex overall, while still being very melodic and easy to follow, and as impressive as everything is on a technical level, it never gets boring and it never feels like they’re showing off. It has some excellent guitar work, though it’s most notable for introducing a strong keyboard presence, which continues throughout the second half of the album. Next is “Fading Skies”, a very progressive song with an offbeat rhythm to it, though it flows very well and has another excellent chorus. The title track is more up-tempo and is probably the most power metal oriented song on the album, which makes it another instant highlight for me.
I always love when a band can pull off an epic length song, as it can help take an excellent album and lift it up to legendary status, and while I was already quite in love with “Mask Of Lies” after the first six songs, I was convinced it was a perfect album when I first heard “Dark City (Dreaming This Life)”. At 11+ minutes, it feels like the ultimate example of everything the band is capable of, with a very complex structure and several movements that stop it from ever getting predictable, but it also has some of the band’s best riffs and even some of their most amazing melodies. As amazing as the long instrumental sections are on this song, as impressive as the arrangements are, the highlight for me is still Sarah, who really gets to shine on the more melodic passages, with her most powerful and emotive vocal work on the whole album, especially during the chorus.
As much as “Dark City” feels like the climax, the last two songs are still awesome as well, with “Remember” being an excellent power ballad, and “Destiny Calls” being an 8 minute mini epic. We get to hear Sarah play the flute near the beginning, which leads in nicely to what is an epic and very melodic closing track. The early parts are very straight-forward and allow the vocals to shine some more, with another very catchy chorus, but in the middle the rest of the band takes over and we get the longest instrumental section of the album, which takes up about half of the song, and as always, the band does a fantastic job of balancing out both the melodic and technical sides of their music so it always stays enjoyable.
Even though I typically prefer either straight power metal or progressive metal over melodic heavy metal, I can’t help but be blown away by what MindMaze has delivered with this album, as they outshine most female fronted melodic metal bands by having such strong musicianship, and by being able to balance it out so nicely so it always stays fresh and exciting without ever becoming overwhelming, but they also manage to outshine most prog bands by being so good at writing melodies and full coherent songs that never disappoint, and of course by having such an excellent singer. “Mask Of Lies” is an early year highlight for me, and is highly recommended for fans of female fronted metal, as well as anyone who likes a mix of classic heavy metal, progressive metal, and modern melodic metal, along with the occasional power metal elements.
Written by Travis