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Tracklist: 1. On the Road By Noon 6:15 2. The Approaching Storm 7:15 3. Tokyo Rain 6:36 4. The Red Hour 1:36 5. Decide For Yourself 5:23 6. Sudden Impulse 4:59 7. Sky Dancer 5:53 8. When the Walls Tell 13:28 Line-up: Bill Berends - electric & acoustic guitars, midi-guitar, bass Rich Berends - drums & percussion Jens Johansson - synthesizers & midi-keyboard With: Bob Eckman - bass guitar Mike Mironov - hand percussive instruments All music written by Bill Berends. Produced by Bill & Rich Berends. Recorded & mixed by Mastermind at "Trademark Studios", New Jersey, USA. Mastered by Suha Gur at "PolyGram" studios, NJ.
Prologue. Thierry Sportouche, the editor of Acid Dragon magazine, has sent me this CD especially for my review. "Excelsior!" (this is the motto of New York State) is the only all-instrumental album in the Mastermind discography.
The Album. First off, I can't agree with those reviewers who call "Excelsior!" the album of the Prog-Fusion genre (I call it Jazz-Fusion, which means the same as Prog-Fusion: i.e. the fusion of Jazz-related music with anything, which is related to Progressive Music). There are too few of real improvisations (if not at all) on the album. Despite the fact that lots of the high-speed guitar and keyboard solos, that are featured most of the compositions of "Excelsior!" can remind of the jazzy improvisations, all (at least almost all) of them were composed, but not played on the spur of the moment. On the other hand, Fusion has place on the half of the album's compositions, but this is the fusion of the three progressive genres. Two of them are real (Classic Art-Rock and Prog-Metal) and the third one is just pseudo Jazz-Fusion. These four tracks are: On the Road By Noon, The Approaching Storm, Sudden Impulse, and When the Walls Tell (tracks 1, 2, 6, & 8). Art-Rock with a lot of Latin American motives, created mainly by a specific drumming, sounds on Sky Dancer (track 7). All of the said five compositions represent not an extremely complex, but true, vintage and tasteful, Classic Progressive Rock. Each of these compositions contains quite diverse arrangements with masterful, fluid, mid-tempo, and high-speed solos of electric, electric-midi, and semi-acoustic guitars and (digital) keyboards, the interplay between these instruments, changes of basic themes and tempos, etc. As to the moods: while Sudden Impulse and When the Walls Tell (this one has a slight Eastern flavour in places) bring a mixed feel to the listener, On the Road By Noon sounds mostly optimistic, and The Approaching Storm is, on the whole, quite slow composition with a tense atmosphere and a lot of the doom-y riffs and crying guitar solos. All of the remaining three tracks are 'the children' of a pure Art (Symphonic) Rock. Filled mostly with tense passages of semi-acoustic guitar and keyboards and crying solos of electric guitar as well, Tokyo Rain sounds rather dramatic on the whole. Although Decide For Yourself is close to On the Road By Noon both musically and sensitively, there is no heaviness and, what's the main thing, there are no changes of tempos at all on it. In that way, despite the fact that there is enough interesting, fluid and fast, solos of guitars and keyboards, Decide For Yourself sounds more accessible and monotonous than any of the other tracks on the album. Another drawback of "Excelsior!" is the effective The Red Hour, which, however, sounds not unlike ELP from the first to the last note.
Summary. Until now, the only Mastermind album that I haven't heard was "Excelsior!" Well, now being acquainted with all of them, I can conclude that on the whole I like both the first two and both of the latest albums by the band. These, respectively, are "Mastermind", "Brainstorm", "Excelsior!" and "Angels of the Apocalypse", though "Brainstorm" is the only album among them that I regard as a masterpiece. Nevertheless, "Excelsior!" and both of the other albums are excellent. As for the band's third and fourth albums, I find them to be just merely good, at most. Stylistically, though, all of the band's albums are different among themselves and most of them sound original. Most of all, however, I love Mastermind for their incessant search for new forms of music. While "Excelsior!" is one of the best examples of the band's ability to metamorphose, Mastermind, along with Swedish Isildurs Bane, to name just two, are among the most unique chameleon bands in Progressive Rock.
VM. November 29, 2001
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