Time To Be King
posted on 5/2010 By:
What does one do after getting sacked from Germany's most instrumental power metal band, Helloween? You march off with head-held-high and cobble together your own crew in hopes of outdoing the bastards, that's what you bloody-well do. In the case of Kai Hansen (who, in his defense, left on his own accord back in the 80's), you plug 'n' chug through the years with Gamma Ray. If you're Roland Grapow und Uli Kusch, bless their hearts, you fire the kiln with Masterplan. Whether or not any of the Hello-off-shoots have successfully out-distanced the original pumpkin-flingers depends on some subtle shading and which album you choose to inspect. In terms of Masterplan's relatively short catalog, I think many fans would agree they hit an ample peak early with their 2003 self-titled debut, but I'd be very comfortable stating they're far from pinching out their own version of Chameleon. The band's fourth album to date, Time to Be King, hits the streets with a sizable amount of anticipation from fans, not only due to the long 3-year wait from the last record, but also because this marks the triumphant return of one of today's most celebrated power metal vocalists, Jørn Lande.
Now that my personal anticipatory dust has settled and I've had the opportunity to sit with the record a couple weeks, I'd have to say it's a very good thing these guys have welcomed Jørn back into the ranks. Not only does he deliver yet another top-notch, heartfelt performance on each tune here, but he literally saves Time to Be King from wafting to an early spot in my dust pile. Perhaps that seems harsh, considering the pedigree behind the band (joining Grapow today are three other instrumentalists whose genealogy spreads through the likes of Iron Savior, Running Wild, Gamma Ray and literally about 20 other bands, thanks to the veritable drumming prowess of Uli's replacement, Mike Terrana), but all the superstars on the planet ain't gonna save a record that falls short in terms of its most basic element: strong songwriting.
The two most striking differences in terms of Masterplan/2010 is the level of simplicity and seriousness attached to the new tunes. What happened to those endlessly blithe hooks? You know, those crudely infectious (and often saccharine) choruses that vaulted mortifying numbers such as "Headbanger's Ballroom" and sappy Whitesnaker's like "Back for my Life" to volume levels that required explanation to friends and family wondering if you'd gone crazy? 2007's MK:II lead the band down a slightly moodier path compared to the previous, but even that record had cuts such as "Keeps Me Burning" and "I'm Gonna Win" to lift spirits and keep the band at the forefront of your mind when the desire to celebrate feeling uplifted crept around. That's essentially gone with Time to Be King. Not entirely, I'll admit, as evidenced by the bounce of the solid opener "Fiddle of Time," but the overall atmosphere of this record is not only simpler than past records, but darker to boot. I suppose that's good for those of you who were too embarrassed by the band's buoyant charm of the past, but that lack of "sunny" is definitely something I feel is missing this time around.
It ain't all bad, however. Like I said, the opener comes out swinging, and despite the fact that it's followed by a complete dud in "Blow Your Winds," the ship is very handily righted once again by one of the album's strongest numbers, "Far from the End of the World." Grapow's snappiest, catchiest riffing gets pasted all over "Blue Europa," and although both "Lonely Winds of War" and "The Dark Road" come across as rather moody, downtrodden tunes, they have a smooth enjoyable flow that extends directly into one another and would actually make them a much better candidate for closing the album rather than the piddle of "Under the Moon." The rest of the fare finds the band keeping so stringently within the lines that you can literally tell what's going to happen from one moment to the next. Not that "predictable" is always awful -- hell, Disney's been doing it for a lifetime -- but in a sea literally teeming with competition fighting for a foothold, veterans don't really get too many "free passes" when it comes to blind-buying their records. As it stands, let's just call Time to Be King Masterplan's "free pass:" There's still enough goodness to keep me aboard, but the next effort needs to find them resetting the bar to a higher level.
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