MindMaze – Back From the Edge
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Twenty years ago, a band like Pennsylvania’s MindMaze would not have existed outside the brains and dreams of its members. While technology may have done much to dilute the music scene and derail album sales these last two decades, it has also made it possible for bright talents to get their music more readily heard than ever before. Score one for technology, because MindMaze is a band that deserves to be heard by anyone who appreciates well-crafted melodic metal.
Back from the Edge is the second effort from Mindmaze and the first for its new record label, Inner Wound Recordings. Guitarist Jeff Teets, who also serves as the band’s primary creative force, has done an outstanding job on the album’s eight tracks. The record clocks in right at 50 minutes, with two of the albums tracks serving up 20 minutes of the disc.
Regardless of how good the songs are, it is just as important who brings them to life, and Jeff has had the good fortune to find the perfect voice for MindMaze in his sister Sarah Teets. There is no nepotism at play here: Sarah’s voice blends perfectly and enhances every song. Kalin Schweizerhof masterfully handles the band’s drum work in a manner both substantial yet understated. Symphony X bassist Mike Lepond signed on to handle the low-end, and has become something of an unofficial member of the band: This is high praise given a schedule that also included his own solo record and work on Embrace of Disharmony and Michael Angelo Batio’s albums this year. Add into the mix several guest appearances and MindMaze has a lot to live up to.
Back from the Edge rises to the challenge right out of the gate with the title track, grabbing you with its energy. The song provides an immediate sense of Jeff’s ability to meld stellar fretwork with driving rhythms and big melodies. Sarah wastes no time taking her vocal lines to soaring heights while delivering a message of perseverance and hope.
The melodies on this record are as big as the individual performances and at least five of the tracks are easily suited to radio, without surrendering their souls. “Through the Open Door”, “Moment of Flight” and “Dreamwalker” are prime examples of this, with fast-paced riffing, melodious solo work, propulsive rhythms, and Sarah’s dynamic vocals. The guitar, drums, bass and keyboards serve as unique voices of their own and blend harmoniously. Every one of these tracks is capable of getting stuck in your cranium on an endless loop. Fortuitously, there is always another song vying for dominance to prevent such ear candy hyperpoxy. “Moment of Flight” is the more progressive of the three tracks, and features some eloquent keyboard work from the legendary Jens Johansson (Stratovarious, Yngwie Malmsteen).
Settled into the center of the record is the 10-minute-plus progressive epic, “The Machine Stops”. It is the album’s most diverse track, at once beautiful, majestic and powerful. The first three minutes are instrumental, and during the song’s winding journey fans are treated to a tasty guitar solo from Matt Johnsen of Pharaoh. Some of the album’s most inspired moments are captured here.
A personal favorite is the track, “Consequence of Choice” which showcases some of Sarah’s most uplifting yet poignant vocal work and many of the album’s best individual performances. In particular, Kalin truly shines on this number. Jeff’s guitar work is truly emotive here as well. The band even slips in a few of Morgan Freeman’s famous parole board lines from Shawshank Redemption on the breakdown.
“End of Eternity” begins with a nice acoustic interlude and a bass aperitif from Lepond, who is showcased nicely throughout this track. The song then takes something of a Queensryche-ish turn. The song’s guitar solo sounds like the equivalent of a classic car chase.
The album closer “Onward (Destiny II)”, is arguably among the album’s best songs and a continuation of sorts of the track “Destiny Calls” from the previous album, Mask of Lies. This song is the album’s kitchen sink, with every element that makes the album so good, spread out over nine minutes of auditory bliss. A slow military drumroll begins it all with some backing acoustic guitar. This all builds to Maiden-esque attack of winding guitars and galloping rhythms, and a crescendo-style chorus. This song is Sarah’s vocal opus, taking her through the paces where she delivers with chilling perfection. Midway through there is a Rush 2112 inspired moment (to my ears) and then–guitar-gasm: Some of the album’s most spirited and memorable guitar work is found here. Lord Tim (LORD) adds a decidedly divine guitar solo and Sarah even breaks out her flute near the end to add a touch of folk to the affair.
MindMaze has created an album that is quite cohesive and displays excellent continuity throughout. The Teets have managed an impressive symbiosis of progressive and power metal that hints at traditional roots. Bands like Rush, Dream Theater, Queensryche, Symphony X, Mercyful Fate, Savatage, and Iron Maiden all come to mind at various points on this record. The musicianship is top-notch, and Sarah continues to evolve and develop as a vocalist–finding her signature voice. The only blemish for me on an otherwise brilliant album comes early on the first track: The very first verse of “Back From the Edge” with its almost jazzy feel hits me as disjointed and out-of-place, leaving Sarah’s vocals seeming a bit lost until the rhythm section kicks back in.
With Back from the Edge, MindMaze have recorded one of the best metal albums of 2014. The record delivers one addictive ear nugget after another, laden with infectious melodies, exhilarating vocals, and outstanding musicianship all around. One cannot say enough about Jeff, Kalin and Mike’s instrumental performances, and Sarah has taken ownership of her unique vocal style and taken it to the next level. Back from the Edge is an ambitious effort, and the best part of all is the realization that the band is just getting started.