Masterstroke - Apocalypse
Power Metal
9 songs (46'34)
Release year: 2006
Reviewed by Crims

Another week and another new Power Metal band from Finland to review. It seems lately that Finland has been producing a steady stream of Power Metal bands, perhaps this is due in part to the worldwide success (relative to Metal terms) of Sonata Arctica, or other reasons. Either way Masterstroke is this weeks band in question after releasing 3 demos, this, Apocalypse, is their first full-length.

Masterstroke’s music is heavily influenced by various incarnations of Stratovarius minus the neo-classical elements and its place adding the non-Progressive elements of Pagan's Mind music. This is most notable in the riff department as many riffs found on this CD are similar to what was heard on some of the better Stratovarius releases such as Visions and Episode. Vocally, Niko Rauhala is more mid-ranged than Timo Kotipelto, and has a rough and gruff edge to it that we hear more in Heavy Metal than most Power Metal bands. When Rauhala attempts a more melodic and less rough variation of his voice you can even hear a slight similarity to Nils K. Rue of Pagan’s Mind when Rue sings mid-range. Overall the vocal performance is good with some nice choruses and an unconventional style given the music. My main issue is with a lack of range in the vocal department. A few songs tend to take on an epic approach to the length and structure (which I’ll touch on later) and the somewhat one-dimensional vocals don’t lend themselves well to the longer songs. They work perfectly with the shorter, to the point songs, however.

A main feature of the CD is variation in song styles. Present are two songs that are over the 7 minute mark which offers the listener longer (obviously) and more epic songs to compliment the more straight forward tracks. A driving force in every song, especially the longer ones are keyboards that are very upfront. I wouldn’t go as far as to say they overpower the guitars, but they’re definitely there. This is one part of the band I enjoyed the most as the keyboard playing and melody sometimes are atypical of the Power Metal genre and take on more of a Progressive Metal feel in the vein of bands like Pagan’s Mind (once again) and Dream Theater. The rest of the music never really treads in Progressive Metal territory for long, as the riffs are strictly out of the previously mentioned mid-90’s Stratovarius camp with only a few exceptions. Being a big fan of that era of Stratovarius I can say I enjoyed the guitar playing but found the leads to be uninspired. Yes, they are melodic and well-played but none stood out and even after seven listens I could not remember one song that had a solo I was looking forward to; I did however remember keyboard melodies and riff progression quite easily. Meanwhile, the choruses are hit or miss. Due to the nature of the vocal style I was reminded quite a bit of recent Rage releases in the chorus department (due to the vocal range used, not the bombastic, epic nature of recent Rage choruses). An example of a chorus that works well is Children Of The War thanks to excellent guitar/keyboard melodies played in between chorus repeats and one that doesn’t is Rusty Angel, which had nothing appealing about it and was memorable for the wrong reasons (mainly the awkward melody when the title is sung). Song styles run the gauntlet of atmospheric mid-paced songs with bursts of speed, double bass heavy tracks, to “hard-rocking” mid-paced tempos. Everything you’d expect from a varied Power Metal release is here and done well.

There are a lot of things to like here: the keyboards, riffs, varied and distinct songs; and then there are things not to like: enjoyable but admittedly one-dimensional vocals, hit or miss choruses, and “heard it before” melodies and riffs. This is one of those CDs that’ll likely not stand the test of time. It was a pleasant listening experience every time I played this CD but I can’t see myself returning to it very often if at all after this review is complete and I think that is what separates a very good and an outstanding release. There wasn’t one particular song or chorus I’m going to want to hear over and over again and play four or five years from now. Does that mean this CD is bad? No, but in this day in age when we’ve had two decades of Power Metal releases with varying influences to occupy our CD libraries we perhaps have no choice but to be picky with our repeated listening choices. If this was released in 1995 the style of music would make a bigger splash I’m sure, but alas, it’s 2007 and I can easily recommended this to hardcore European Power Metal fans who also enjoy the various Power/Prog bands out there today, but everyone else you may want to hold off and wait for a release with more lasting appeal.

Killing Songs :
Evil Forces (Never Die), Theater Of Madness, Children Of The War
Crims quoted 74 / 100
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