Company: AFM Records Release: 2007 Reviewer: Etiam Rating: 3
As the story goes, Masterplan was conceived to be the supergroup to end all power metal supergroups, with its members to include Russell Allen and Roy Z in addition to the established core of Uli Kusch and Roland Grapow (each recently departed from Helloween), with keyboardist Janne Warman wrapping up the roster. However, this lineup never gelled properly, and instead the band “settled” on Norway’s Jorn as the vocalist. The band’s first two albums were met enthusiastically by metal fans both old and new, and it appeared that Masterplan, while still admittedly a step down from Helloween’s incomparable heights, would still be a respectable and worthwhile entry in the field of power metal.
After ‘Aeronautics’, though, the group began to splinter off. Janne left after the first album, having never officially joined the group, and Jorn and Uli left in quick succession before the recording of the band’s third album, ‘MK II’. This left Roland as the sole superstar of the band, and some wondered whether the band would still live up to their lofty name and precedent.
To answer the critics, Roland recovered well by finding solid, experienced talent to fill the gaps: Mike Terrana, most well known for his stint in Rage (and wicked Mohawk), filled in on drums while the vocal duties were taken over by ex-Riot member Mike DiMeo. Although neither are quite as popular in today’s scene as their predecessors, they still brought respectability and veterans’ presence back to the name of Masterplan.
Ultimately, though the specific politics of the line-up are secondary—the only thing that really matters is whether the music itself is a success—and on that front Masterplan have succeeded. ‘MK II’ may technically be a departure from the band’s first two releases, but any fan of Grapow’s meaty riffing and anthemic heavy rock will find plenty to enjoy here. The album’s first song, ‘Warrior’s Cry’, after overcoming a tepid first verse from Mike Dimeo, quickly lays out Masterplan’s new modus operandi: thick riffs, stout drums, soulful sing-along vocals, and two fistfuls of catchy choruses that make ‘MK II’ sound like heavy metal’s version of a Broadway revue.
Mike’s vocals, after that forgettable start, soon come into their own and fit right in. His style is an uncanny mixture of Apollo Papathanasio and Chris Cornell, with a few touches of the aforementioned Russell Allen, although Mike not quite as singular a talent. That said, he does show off an impressive range at times and consummate control. For the most part he tends to stick to the middle-high register, which is well-suited to Masterplan’s approach.
It’s difficult to say just what elevates ‘MK II’ beyond similar albums, such as Firewind’s ‘Allegience’ (which received the same rating, but more reluctantly), when they are all so stylistically similar. Perhaps it is because, while Masterplan cater to the same carefree reprisal of 80’s hard rock, they do it with a distinctly metal edge. Whether it is their uplifting, speeding choruses or divebomb solos from Grapow’s axe, ‘MK II’ is unabashedly fun heavy metal and isn’t afraid to show it. Neither is it afraid to show its roots in that 80’s rock era, which can be both an asset and a flaw. Some songs fall a little flat, having reached too far back into the rock ‘n’ roll annals, and the backing keyboards are largely superfluous, but the album as a whole remains engaging.
Now made up of longtime veterans, Masterplan are a group who knows what works and are sticking to it. ‘MK II’ may lack some of the fire of Masterplan’s previous albums and the creative ingenuity of the members’ previous projects, but it is consistent and reliable. It carefully skirts the borders of cock rock while still employing much of its straightforward catchiness, and injects enough driving drumbeats and juicy harmonics to deliver a satisfying crunch. For those looking for some good ol’ fashioned hard rocking metal, something to kick back to or sing along with, ‘MK II’ delivers.
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