Released By: Underground Symphony
Release Date: September 21st, 2023
Genre: Power Metal
Stefano Sbrignadello – Vocals & Flute
Jahn Carlini – Guitars
Manuel Menin – Guitars
Giorgio Peccenini – Piano and Keyboards
Massimo David – Bass
Denis Novello – Drums
1. Le Pharaon
2. Back Home
3. The Left Hand Joke
4. Where the Shame Lives
5. I Am the Master
6. Your Fall Will Come
7. Nest of Stone
8. My Name
9. Man from the East
10. The Weak Point
11. Final Revenge
12. On October 5th (Wait and Hope)
Many of my favorite metal albums are concept albums, and I particularly enjoy ones that tell an epic tale from start to finish, hooking me in early and making me feel emotionally invested well before the end. Such is the case with Italian power metal band Great Master and their sixth full-length album, Montecristo, based on the classic novel by French author Alexandre Dumas. I first discovered the band in 2016 with their third album, Lion & Queen, and I’ve been highly impressed by everything they’ve done since, especially their previous release, Thy Harbour Inn, a delightful collection of sea shanty covers, performed in a highly addictive power/folk metal style. Montecristo sees the band returning closer to the style they began one album before that on Skull and Bones: Tales from Over the Seas, if anything going further in that direction for easily their most ambitious, complex, and epic album to date, while still maintaining plenty of the fun and catchiness fans of the genre would expect.
Earlier Great Master albums had a more classic power metal sound and were generally much simpler, largely focused on catchiness and melody, while Skull and Bones saw the band switch to more of an epic heavy/power metal direction, with a large emphasis on folk and symphonic elements, as well as much more complex and ambitious songwriting. This trend continues with Montecristo, an album that may at times seem fairly simple at first glance, but it doesn’t take long to notice a lot is going on musically, with multiple layers of guitars, many different styles of keyboards (some classic sounding keys, some organ effects, some modern synths, plenty of retro sounding synths, etc), as well as tons of symphonic elements thrown into the mix. And yet, everything sounds excellent, with the production being crisp and clean throughout, while performances are fantastic across the board, with dual guitarists Jahn Carlini and Manuel Menin being particularly strong, while keyboardist Giorgio Peccenini is also outstanding, and drummer Denis Novello does an excellent job of maintaining rhythm, constantly changing tempos to fit the mood of the tracks.
Montecristo is at times quite heavy, with some very aggressive and sounding guitars and keys at points, while at other times it’s very upbeat, melodic, and happy sounding, and of course, there are plenty of softer moments as well. There’s quite a lot going on, with the mood often changing multiple times within a track, to fit the lyrics. Songwriting is excellent the whole way through, with the first half being more varied, while the second half largely leans towards high-intensity, all-out symphonic power metal with an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach in terms of how many different sounds the band manages to fit into each track. Likewise, vocalist Stefano Sbrignadello does a fantastic job throughout, displaying his full range as he expertly flows between some very high notes, some very low notes, and a lot of in-between, while simultaneously balancing between more aggressive metal vocals, soaring power metal vocals, and at times some very theatrical sounding, near classical style vocals. He does a fantastic job at all times and is one of the highlights of the album.
Yet another highlight of the album is of course the concept itself, retelling the story of The Count of Montecristo quite well, taking listeners through a tale of hope, defeat, triumph, revenge, tragedy, and redemption. The lyrics are very well written, and Sbrignadello is very emotive with his vocal delivery, which helps make it easy to engage with the story, even for folks like me who are unfamiliar with the original work.
Following a brief intro, the album starts on an emotional high note with “Back Home”, as our protagonist Edmond Dantès is returning home to his family and soon-to-be wife while being promoted as the captain of the merchant ship Le Pharaon. The track has a very lively, upbeat feel to it, moving at a fairly moderate tempo, with some nice folk-tinged guitar work, epic symphonic arrangements, explosive drums, and of course some fantastic vocals. The chorus is very fun, energetic, and catchy, while the song overall is quite epic, making it a great way to start off the album. The final run through the chorus is especially great, effectively using repetition, gradually building up and building up before really going all out, with the high-pitched backing vocals, in particular, giving me chills.
The momentum continues with “The Left Hand Joke”, a much faster-paced track, with a very classic power metal sound to it, along with slight folk influences in the guitars, and some epic chanting vocals, both of which are very commonplace throughout the album. The verses are more relaxed, while the chorus is much more intense and heavy. The song on the whole has a slightly sinister feel to it, foretelling the betrayal of Dantès. This foreboding feeling only becomes stronger on “Where the Shame Lives”, a very dark, melancholic track telling of his days in prison, where he almost loses all hope. The guitars are quite heavy and have a dark, sinister feel to them, while the keys are very ambient and atmospheric, doing a great job of setting the mood. It’s a slower-paced track, very much focused on telling the story, but it still has a fantastic, catchy chorus with excellent vocals both from Sbrignadello and the choirs. It’s one of my favorites on the album, both because of how different it sounds from the rest, and because it does such an amazing job of setting the mood, with each instrument serving its role perfectly. The instrumental section towards the end is especially great.
The tempo picks up again with “I Am The Master”, a track that alternates between being upbeat but the not quite full speed at certain parts, and then suddenly going full throttle at the flip of a coin, especially during the verses, which have a slight stop/start feel to them, but in a very epic way, while the chorus is more consistent, but also very fun and epic. The track also shows Sbrignadello utilizing his lower range expertly, with a very strong theatrical approach as he portrays an Abbot offering to save Dantès. The instrumental section has a slight Sabaton feel to it, which is true of a couple of other tracks here, though the slight folk influence helps give it a unique flavor. Next is “Your Fall Will Come”, one of the most intense tracks on the album, as Dantès escapes prison, becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, and starts plotting his revenge. The track has a classic Maiden feel to it, with the guitars in particular offering up plenty of classic 80’s style galloping riffs, mixed with explosive drum work that keeps the music moving at a high tempo, and the track overall ends up feeling like a perfect mix of classic heavy and power metal, mixed with some sweeping orchestral elements. The chorus in particular is excellent, moving at a frantic pace and having some epic high-pitched vocals, with the last run-through in particular being another case of repetition used effectively, constantly repeating the name of the track until it turns into something truly special.
The lone ballad of the album is “Nest of Stones”, a very soft and beautiful track, though certainly not a happy one as our protagonist laments a perceived betrayal from his bride-to-be, who has since gone on to marry one of the men responsible for his imprisonment. The track has a very melancholic feel to it, but also a slight anger to it, as he continues to plot his revenge. Early on, the track is very soft, with minimal instrumentation, but it grows in intensity over time, with the orchestral arrangements and keys becoming more epic, while the guitar solo in the middle is fantastic, and then the last run through the chorus is awe-inspiring, with a perfect balancing between lead and choral vocals. Next is the more upbeat, happy-sounding “My Name”, which marks the beginning of our hero’s plot for revenge, taking many different forms in an attempt to set things in motion. Musically, it’s one of the calmer tracks on the album, moving at a moderate pace, with a strong folk feeling to it, especially the guitar work, while the symphonic elements are of course used nicely as well. There isn’t an actual chorus as the lyrics change throughout the track, but there is a clear chorus-like section, with some fantastic vocal melodies, and it’s one of the highlights of the track. Overall, it’s more of a mood-setting track and doesn’t stand out as much on its own, but it serves its role nicely.
Moving into the final stretch, the intensity picks up and doesn’t let up until the very end, with a sequence of four consecutive tracks where the band offers up non-stop speedy, epic, melodic power metal, with tons of symphonic arrangements and folk melodies thrown in the mix, as usual. It’s hard to fully describe each track, as each one has so much going on, but they’re all fantastic, and each one has some incredible moments. As a whole, they come together to tell a story of revenge and redemption, told epically.
First up is “Man from the East”, which has a unique flavor to its symphonic and folk elements, while the guitars have a dark sinister feeling, which is matched by the keys, though unlike “Where the Shame Lives”, there’s a slightly triumphant feeling to the track as well, so it makes for quite the epic mix of dark passages and more upbeat passages, with the chorus, in particular, being very upbeat and epic, while the verses are much darker sounding. Next is “The Weak Point”, which initially sounds like a Sabaton track, especially the keys, though it quickly turns into something much more intense and explosive, moving at a frantic pace, while offering up a nice balance between heavy guitars, organs like keyboards and epic symphonic arrangements. The chorus is a highlight, with some epic high notes and amazing vocal melodies, while the solo section once again sounds like Sabaton, but in a super epic way. Perhaps the most explosive track in this batch is “The Final Revenge”, a very classic power metal sounding track, moving at a fast and furious pace throughout, with some of the most aggressive drummings on the album, while the guitars have moments where they take the lead, showcasing some more excellent classic Maiden inspired galloping riffs, followed by the moments where ambient keys take over. Once again, there’s quite a bit going on here. The chorus is super intense, with everything dialed up to the max, in the best way possible. The longest track on the album is “On October 5th (Wait and Hope), and once again, it’s a very fast, explosive track, with a nice blend of heaviness, melody, epic symphonic arrangements, and some folk melodies, with the latter especially taking over towards the end, while early on there’s more of that excellent classic Maiden style guitar work. The chorus is once again very epic, fun, and catchy, sounding equal parts triumphant and somewhat sorrowful in a way, which matches the tone of the lyrics well. It’s a fantastic track overall, and one of the best on the album.
Closing out the album is the title track, one of the lighter, more melodic tracks on the album, as well as one of the most folk-infused tracks, with some excellent folk-infused guitar work throughout, especially during the intro and outro. While it’s not as heavy or intense as any of the previous few tracks, it’s still very epic, with the chorus in particular being a highlight, as we reflect on Dantès and his actions. It’s an excellent track on its own, and it closes out the album perfectly.
Overall, Montecristo is a fantastic concept album and one that shows Great Master continuing to impress with their unique blend of power, heavy, folk, and symphonic metal elements, often blending them all to create something truly special. It’s easily the band’s best album to date, as well as their most ambitious and most complex, while still maintaining much of the fun and catchiness of past albums. Fans of previous albums should love this, while anyone looking for both an excellent power metal album and an excellent concept album would be highly advised to give this album a listen, as it’s easily one of the best of both types I’ve heard so far this year!
Written by: Travis Green
My Global Mind – Staff Writer
Travis Green is a Canadian based writer for My Global Mind, with a particular passion for power metal, as well as an interest metal in all its forms.