Year of Release: 1998
Label: Music Is Intelligence/WMMS
Catalog Number: WMMS 130
Total Time: 44:58:00
Matter OOf Taste's second release, Jack Of Spades, is far more progressive metal based than the neo-prog of their first and wears its influences on its sleeve. And yet, there are fewer in your face moments than lyrical and melodic passages - which sums up one conflict Matter of Taste have: that they can't really decide if they want to be neo-progressive or progressive metal. Can a band be both? In a perfect world, they could be, but this isn't a perfect world. And, here's the irony I suppose - they do better in their melodic progressive moments than in their metal moments.
Jack of Spades doesn't really reveal itself to be a concept album until you spend some time reading the lyrics, and putting them into a context. Obviously, this is dangerous ground because what I read into lyrics in general will be different from someone else, unless the theme is explicitly stated. Well, a scan of the song titles gives one clue, but not the whole story. Now, this isn't laid out in a story-like fashion, but more a suite of songs taking on a similar or related lyrical theme. Obviously, "Evolution" and "The Creation" are related thematically - actually, taking opposing views in a way. A few months ago, I wrote [in an editorial] about how one of the themes for progressive rock in 1998 was "crisis of faith" - this fits in that niche, too.
There are references to war in almost every track - holy war, I wonder? Certainly, being inclined towards early European history, one thing I'm thinking of is the Crusades of the 11th Century. But I'll admit that the lyrics aren't that specific, and certainly not every track has that focus. In fact, the title track gives me a feeling of a time much earlier. But, given how contentious continental Europe has been through the centuries, parallels can be made to almost any time period. I am not a student of Austrian history (though I admit to scanning through it for this review), and thus won't belabor this point too much.
As contextually rich as this is or may be, what about the music itself? Unfortunately, I find it to be just okay. These are able musicians, and like on their last release, I see the potential, but I find too much of this album draws on established norms. There's nothing here that you haven't heard before, somewhere. As I said, their apparent influences are on their sleeves. Name a well known metal band, progressive or otherwise, and you will hear elements of them here. But some rather surprising elements, too: keys out of Ambrosia, vocals out of Queen, rhythmic passages out of Bon Jovi. From over my shoulder, this comment comes: "sounds like Sammy Hagar."* Hadn't though of him, but you know, that's exactly it. This has a very late 80s feel to most of it.
The title track is the one that I like least. Overall, it's okay, but typical metal to me. Lyrically, it's quite awkward, that awkwardness that creeps in with non-native English speakers, such as the strange way things get translated. And just what is a jack of spades anyway? Other than a playing card. Okay, here's the chorus that makes me ask that question: "Be my challenger before the sun arrives/Be my Jack of Spades tonight." There is bravado and posturing here - "Torturer attack me, ram the steel into my heart/Please don't stop before my blood is gushing out my veins" the opening lyrics read. Does this guy have a death wish or what? But, you know, I won't spend the whole review picking this song apart.
"Evolution," the second track in, is where their progressive metal sound kicks in - there is a harshness to the track, the vocals take on a sharp edge ... well, like cold steel, really. The sibilants ("s," "z") have a quality like a sword unsheathing (or maybe I'm still focused on the first track, with its "ram the steel into my heart" line). Anyway, there is a coldness to this track.
"Communication" is, to me, one of the better of the tracks. Opening with a tinkling piano, it soon becomes hard edged, guitar and bass chugging in a typical "da dum, da dum," and what sounds like a voiceboxed guitar (a la Bon Jovi). Of course, there are symphonic moments here, more piano interludes and a memorable refrain. It is sort of a sum of everything Matter Of Taste are about. Oh, and here, too, there are keyboard passages reminicent of oft played Ambrosia classics.
"Mute Odyssey" is a weird little track - one part Beastie Boys, one part ... I don't know ... name almost any 80s metal band ... I won't even try to disect the lyrics - they flow better than on "Jack Of Spades," but ... well, on the surface of it, it sounds like a commentary on encroaching upon Greenland - I guess as symbolic of the untamed wilderness.
"Mesmerized" is their "Closet Chronicles" (Kansas) meets "Grendel" (Marillion) meets Queen meets allegory; "Fight To Survive" made me think of Motley Crüe's "Shout At The Devil."
I can't leave this review without mentioning "The Creation" - take another well known classical composition (well known, yes, but wouldn't you know, I can't name it), add some lyrics to it, and you have this epic. Sung as a dialog between, first Fear and Hate, then Fear, Hate, and Man, "The Creation" is exactly what is seems - the Creation.
* By which I mean that there was someone else in the room as I was writing this review.
Jack Of Spades (4:49) / Evolution (5:11) / Communication (7:07) / Mute Odyssey (4:03) / Mesmerized (6:20) / Fight To Survive (4:12) / The Creation (4:15) / Legal Action (3:50) / Into My Dream (5:11)
Joe V?tter, Kurt Strohmeier - lead vocals
Michael Kirschbaum - drums
Kurt Schachner - bass
Robert Schmidt - keyboards
Franz Wetzelberger - keyboards, guitars
Chateau Obscure (1996)
Jack Of Spades (1998)
Genre: Progressive-Power Metal