Have you ever wondered what Helloween would sound like if Michael Kiske sounded more like Michael Sweet of Stryper?
No, you didn’t.
Because why would you? Hell, I adore both bands, and I’ve never once wondered that, never even crossed my mind. But thankfully, now I kinda have an answer…
And while I’ve got you: I’m sure you’ve heard that old adage, about good artists borrowing and great artists stealing? (Yes, you have.)
Germany’s Masters Of Disguise are almost literally picking up where oft-unsung Los Angeles speed metallers Savage Grace left off: Four of the five Masters performed with Savage Grace’s Chris Logue on that band’s 2009-2010 reunion tour (if such a thing can truly be called a “reunion”); the logo typeface is the same; the maniac cop mascot (“Knutson”) is the same. Through three full-lengths now and two EPs, the Masters are still plying the same speed-soaked melodic metal that Savage Grace did so well back then, and of those three full-lengths, and the two EPs amongst them, Alpha / Omega is the first to not feature a Savage Grace cover. (It does feature a bonus cover of Exciter’s “Blackwitch,” though, if you’re still on the hunt for 80s speed metal covers.)
So, to get the obvious out of the way: Masters Of Disguise sounds a hell of a lot like an updated Savage Grace. The production is stouter, slicker, punchier, and that’s a good thing, but overall, the remainder is mostly the same: fast as a shark, the riffs cut out of the dark, and killer they are. Vocalist Alexx Stahl sticks primarily to a robust chest voice, hence the Michael Sweet comparison above – one that’s more prominent when he’s singing about signs of the cross or Heaven or Hell or Jerusalem. He’s got a noticeable German accent, and far more bite in some lower register moments, but still, the likeness is odd and eerie.
The performances and the production are par for the speed metal course – all strong, all suitable, all the expected Helloween-y bombastic bashing – so as with almost all trad metal, the template is set, and it comes down to the songs themselves. I’ll admit that I’ve not spun a single second of any other Masters Of Disguise records, so I can’t compare Alpha / Omega to any of what came before, but I’ll also very readily admit that everything I hear here makes me want to rectify that initial admission post-haste. Put simply: Alpha / Omega pretty much smokes, from top to bottom and side to side. “Demons Of The Past,” “Sign Of The Cross,” the third installment in their Knutson-based series – standouts are hard to come by when the whole of Alpha / Omega is one fifty-five-minute ride through delightfully retro-tinted modern trad metal, reverential and respectful and a rip-roaring good time, with speed in spades and enough catchy melodies to keep you singing along while you air-guitar to riff after glorious riff.
2017 hasn’t been a particularly amazing year for trad metal – the usual stalwarts like Manilla Road and Accept turned in decent, but not stellar efforts. I still haven’t heard the Crystal Viper, and Grave Digger released yet another Grave Digger album, which is what I expect from them. Overall, most of what resonated with me throughout the year was heavier, darker, uglier, and so it’s a more-than-pleasant surprise that here, right at the end of the year, a heretofore unheard band drops in my lap and scratches that melodic metal itch. Here’s to a new favorite born of an old favorite, and one that borrowed well indeed.