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(51 min, Art Performance Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. 3-angle 1:21 2. Masquerade Show 10:37 3. Pandora's Box 6:08 4. Dark Matter 4:12 5. Mile by Mile 4:23 6. Mountain of Madness 4:09 7. Next Morning 1:55 8. Mean Messiah 6:55 9. Predator 7:44 10. Humanoid 4:54 LINEUP: Robert Edman – guitars; vocals Jesper Landen – lead vocals Alex Jonsson – keyboards Thomas Nordh – drums Jan Persson – basses Bjorn Ohman – b/v
Prolusion. The ten-track “Masquerade Show” is the third album by Sweden’s MAZE OF TIME, following “Lullaby for Heroes” from 2009 and “Tales from the Maze” from 2006. To learn more of the band’s history, click on the above link and read the first paragraph of the review.
Analysis. Compared to its predecessor, there are some big surprises on this album, both in sound and content, the changes especially apparent on the pieces that actively deploy heavy guitars. Indeed, Robert Edman’s guitar is often much more aggressive and metallic than the band’s fans may expect. While proving that they still aren’t fully devoid of their own ideas, the musicians now also refer back to the ‘90s by recalling structures first presented by Threshold on its debut album, and are at their best at this point. The style is certainly nothing other than progressive Doom Metal, which is of a moderate complexity on the best tracks here, namely Masquerade Show, Predator and Dark Matter, the latter the heaviest tune in the set, an instrumental one, unlike the first two. The title piece is the most varied of these, though, the very best composition here. It begins and develops in a dark and heavy yet, at the same time, symphonic style that evokes classic Threshold (and – partly – Dream Theater too, for sure) before opening into a softer instrumental section with an acoustic guitar at its fore. Later on the piece rather frequently changes in theme and so on, at times revealing symphonic art-rock moves of the Neo variety – think mid-to-late ‘90s Marillion and Porcupine Tree circa 2000. Musically, Predator in many ways follows Masquerade Show, albeit some of its motifs are too melodramatic for my taste. In overall style, Mountain of Madness and Mean Messiah are similar to the title track too, but are more straightforward: vocals-based most of the time, the guitar riffs in both cases much less diverse and inventive than those on the above three. All in all, on each of the five described compositions the band often treads familiar ground, though they do attempt to push the envelope a bit further through vocal arrangements, with singer Jesper Landen performing admirably. I can’t say the vocals are highly varied in delivery, but they’re original, ingenious, still being of a quality that, beginning with its second outing, sets Maze Of Time apart from plenty of contemporary prog-metal outfits. Instrumentally, however, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been seen elsewhere from the myriad prog-metal and related acts plying this or similar territory for the past two decades. To put it in a different way, the band is fronted by your typical guitar, synthesizer, bass and drums instrumentation, but Landen often helps the stuff rise above the average – only when he sings all alone, though, as two more of the members contribute backing vocals on quite a few occasions. The guitar player, Robert Edman, fairly often alternates the heavy metal style of Threshold’s Karl Groom with Eric Clapton’s one (within the softer instrumental sections), rather much in the maestro’s blues-based phrasings. Humanoid is a fairly pleasing complicated ballad, featuring some devices that are atypical for this format, so to speak. The remaining two vocal tracks, Pandora's Box and Mile by Mile, are unremarkable, however, being glaringly radio-friendly. Representing a pop rock tune and a ballad (quite a sugary one) respectively, both of them move predictably, with not enough variety in the arrangements (or, rather, their instrumental background) to keep things from becoming overtly two-dimensional. Well, the first of them at one point gets a little Threshold sounding, but then quickly returns to the quieter melodic style of the ‘intro’ for the ‘outro’. There are also two odd cuts on the album, Next Morning and 3-angle. If the first of them can reluctantly be regarded as a piece for piano, the latter – regardless of what its title suggests – appears as two parallels that, of course, aren’t connected with each other in any way. The point is that there is nothing besides natural effects and a narration.
Conclusion. Stylistically motley, this albums seems designed to satisfy both progressive rock fans and those into mainstream music, which shouldn’t be possible, to my personal way of thinking. Yes, I realize that there are many omnivorous music lovers in the world.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: May 10, 2012
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