Masterplan – Novum Initium
Release Date: June 14, 2013
German power metal outfit Masterplan recently released its fifth studio album, Novum Initium. While this title translates into “a new beginning” in Latin, the only new thing about this group is their line-up changes. The new line-up consists of former Cradle of Filth drummer Martin Skaroupka, former Stratovarius bassist Jari Kainulainen, and former Thunderstone vocalist Rick Altzi who join with longstanding keyboardist Axel Mackenrott and founder/guitarist Roland Grapow.
For those not in the know, Masterplan was formed in the 2001 by Uli Kusch and Roland Grapow, the drummer and guitarist of 80’s power metal band Helloween at the time, as a side-project where they would be free to play slightly heavier power-metal under a less ridiculous moniker. Although Uli Kusch has since left the band, Grapow and friends have been intent on keeping the spirit of classic 80’s metal alive while keeping up with their polished contemporaries in the studio.
Aside from the orchestral opening track and the epic closing track, most of the songs on this album run the way that one might expect from a classic power metal band. The verses have basic palm-muted power chord progressions, the choruses are epic, melodic, and a little catchy, and there is a blistering fast guitar solo on nearly every track at the 3-minute mark. Keyboards are prominent and help to fill out the sound and add variety to the mix, ranging from the delicate piano sounds on “Keep Your Dream Alive” to the epic chorale sounds on “Betrayal”, while the guitar, bass, and drums remain sonically the same throughout the album.
Masterplan does tend to be a tiny bit experimental on a few of its intros and bridges such as throwing a cello in the beginning and middle of “Earth Is Going Down”, as well as a sitar in the beginning and middle of “Betrayal”. These foreign elements are just added in for a bit of spice really, as they quickly change gears into their usual guitar chugging and synth layering fashion.
Without straying too much from the formulaic rock template, Masterplan are still able to keep their music heavy and satisfying. De facto opening track “The Game” starts the album off on a good foot with a dark and heavy syncopated guitar riff accompanied by epic synth and plenty of kick drum, which contrasts nicely with the relatively tame verses. Another rocking track, “Black Night of Magic” opens with a busy keyboard riff that is eerily reminiscent of tubular bells while Altzi belts out (for a good 10 seconds), “Yeaaaahhhhoohhh! Rock!” – which then alerts me that I should prepare myself for the imminent rocking. Once the drums hit, I can’t help myself from headbanging, so that was definitely a good moment.
Although most of this album is straight ahead fist pumping, Masterplan isn’t afraid to show their softer side on a few tracks. While they don’t go into a full ballad and pull out an acoustic guitar, tracks like “Keep Your Dream Alive” “Through Your Eyes” and “Pray On My Soul” all deal with relationship problems with a softer, (and at times cheesy), approach from the band. On these songs, the tempo is slower, the guitar solos are more subdued, and their melodies are a little more delicate, but not so much that you’d be tempted to pull out your lighter and rock back and forth with your drunken concert buddies.
After alternate heavy and light songs spanning from 4 to 5 minutes long for most of the album, I was surprised by the closing/title track’s impressive 10 minute running time. Apparently trying to establish a setting, “Novum Initium” starts out with the oh-so-creepy sounds of children and police sirens which are then drowned out by looming piano and distorted guitar. When the vocals finally come in, it sounds like Altzi is doing a duet with Beezlebub, (or one of many demons haunting 80’s musicians), whom then drops off when the expectedly anthemic chorus starts up. After this chorus is probably the most insane and delicious guitar solo/keyboard solo/guitar solo sandwich on the album, which to me serves as a climax for the song, and maybe the album, as it goes slowly downhill from this point. There’s then this clichéd descending chromatic breakdown on the song for good measure to get the crowd moving, (but not moshing, as I’m sure that their prime demographic is a little bit…well…past theirs), which is then followed by some pretty solid and emotional verse and chorus bits chronicling the struggle of a man trying to start life anew.
Overall, this album doesn’t really bring anything new to the table; it’s wearing the same spandex and hair from the 80’s. While the vocals are strong, the mix is solid, and the solos are great, I feel like I’ve heard it all before from other bands and from Masterplan. Considering the line-up from this band, I know that all of these members have the ability to do some outrageous and creative stuff, but I feel like they instead decided to play it a little safe. While this is definitely an album to pick up if you’re a die-hard fan of Masterplan, I wouldn’t tell anyone unfamiliar with this band to go out of their way to listen to it.