Mastermind - Excelsior!

Year of Release: 1999
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 033/SPV 085-31402
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:25:00

With their fifth release, Mastermind pulled out all the stops. They now had the virtuoso talents of Jens Johannson (Stratovarius' keysman) in their clutches, which in effect allowed Bill Berends to concentrate more on the guitar. With this situation, Bill basically went to town expunging every type of note and sound from his instrument of choice. The overall sound is definitely more fusion based and all of the songs - for the first time - are instrumentals. There's a general tendency for the CD to be bombardistic, with occasional mid-tempo tunes. What is missing here are the softer symphonic touches that Tragic Symphony was drenched in. For fans of fusion and power, that may be a good thing; for those who like melody and accessibility, this is not a good place to start.

Track one, "On The Road By Noon" is an all out assault on the senses. The playing is all over the place and gone are the midi sounds of previous Mastermind records. Jens keys adds dense layers to the Frippish angst of Berends playing. Through the symphonic strings of Johansson's keys, a great rhythmic ascension takes us to the peaks of "The Approaching Storm," track two. The whole group smokes on this one. A powerful tune.

"Tokyo Rain," track three, is one of the mid-tempo ones, just rolling along. This one gets better with each play. Rich Berends drumming, more subdued, lays out a nice offbeat rhythm. The short "The Red Hour" is nothing more than organized noise. Angry, loud, atonal, much like King Crimson's Red CD.

I love "Decide For Yourself," track 5. It features some tasty acoustic leads a la Mike Oldfield's "Songs For Distant Earth". Add some distorted lead to the mix and a nice flowing melody and you have a terrific tune. Bill manages to throw in some scorching jazz licks as well.

The power fusion is back with "Sudden Impulse." Again, if you like fusion, you'll like this. The playing is second to none. "Sky Dancer" has xylophone sounds (Jens' keywork, no doubt), and a powerful keys foundation. Johansson's presence is the most pronounced here. It's slow and minimalist, but very atmospheric.

The CD ends with "When The Walls Fall," the album's only epic piece. It begins with acoustic lead, then dabbles in metal riffs, eventually leading to the complex changes that Mastermind does so well.

All in all, I've mixed feelings about Excelsior, easily Mastermind's most proficient recording to date. I miss the lighter textures, the lyrical melodies, the great lyrics, and surprisingly, Bill Berends' voice. Others rightfully see the album as one of the 90's most difficult, complex and fully realized recordings in fusion driven progressive music. I think it's safe to say that with Excelsior!, Bill and company have achieved what they set out to, and with the next album, they were interested in pulling in all the range of styles they've explored, and taking on a new direction. Lisa Bouchelle would be a remarkable part of that.

Also released in Japan, with bonus track (MICY-1073)

On The Road By Noon (6:15) / The Approaching Storm (7:15) / Tokyo Rain (6:36) / The Red Hour (1:36) / Decide For Yourself (5:23) / Sudden Impulse (4:59) / Sky Dancer (5:53) / When The Walls Fell (13:28)

Bill Berends - guitars, midi-guitar, bass
Rich Berends - drums, timpani, percussion
Jens Johansson - keyboard and synthesizer

Volume One (1990)
Volume Two: Brainstorm (1992)
Tragic Symphony (1994)
Until Eternity (1996)
Live In Tokyo (1997)
Excelsior! (1999)
Angel Of The Apocalypse (2000)
Prog, Fusion, Metal, Leather & Sweat (2000)
Broken (ep) (2005)
Insomnia (2010)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: July 1st 2000
Reviewer: Richard Zywotkiewicz

Artist website:
Hits: 2455
Language: english


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