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5.0 out of 5 stars A more direct offering from one of prog rock's best kept secrets, 12 Jun 2013
This review is from: Insomnia (Audio CD)
Returning after an absence of close to 10 years are the American rockers Mastermind. Led by brother guitarist/vocalists Bill and drummer Rich Berends the band have built up an impressive back catalogue before seemingly disappearing from the scene after 2000's "Angels of the Apocalypse" which saw release on Inside Out.

Now the band are back after an self released ep in 2005 with their seventh full length album in "Insomnia" released on Lion Music on Feb 19th. Long time band cohort/guest Jens Johansson (Stratovarius/Malmsteen) provides keyboard solos whilst the album marks the album debut for vocalist Tracy MacShane, a female vocalist with a great ballsy voice. Often labelled as prog rock band the band exhume some prog rock sensibilities on `Insomnia' but mostly this is hard rock covering a wide gamut of styles that fall under the rock banner, all well played written and aided by a nice warm production.

Opener "Desire" sets the ball rolling in fine style, pretty straightforward in style and intent but home to a catchy melody and a thunderous bottom end. "Break Me Down" is more left field, darker, slower, moodier and not without some stoner properties. The riffs are slow, doomy and satisfying, however the band travels into a glorious more up-tempo solo section where Bill gives his vintage Gibson a nice workout with his fluid, liquidy warm tone and the orchestration builds beneath before working its way back to the chorus. "One More Night" sees a nice airy acoustic vibe enter with Bill giving us a lead vocal before the track builds for the chorus. The solo sees Bill build layers of guitar in a more textural way than a typical solo before the dual vocals harmonise nicely. "Meltdown" seems to exhume some dark Seattle alternative flavour and its dark vibe pictures a visual nightmare of sorts. McShane uses her voice in a variety of ways here showing her versatility, the track's icing comes in the guise of a superbly dirty toned solo from Johansson acting like a red rag to Berend's bull guitar - very nice.

"Piggy World" is home to an aggressive spiteful vocal delivery from McShane, which despite its aggressive verses finds some melodic resolve for the chorus. The track does feel a little out of place to the rest of the album but is still likeable enough. "No Answer" is much more laid back, almost introspective in its approach with a great melancholic feel whilst the heavy riffs and more classic melodies return for "Broken" which has a nice exotic feel to it. Being home to an almost trance inducing chant line refrain, the track marks McShane's finest vocal performance on the album along with another fluid solo from Berends, arguably the most accessible track on offer.

"Night Flier" will appease all 70's prog enthusiasts with its instrumental format and fusion/jazz feel. Berend's guitar takes off in a big way here and again Jens Johansson helps build more tension with his keyboard solos. "Nietzsche" comes across as a fusion of Pink Floyd but with a darker, more troubled vibe. Largely thanks to the machine like vibe of the throbbing bass and drums which lead way to more layering from the guitars whilst Johansson's keyboard tone here send shivers down my spine - tantalisingly scared but warm at the same time, the track finds a nice resolve at its conclusion leaving my nerves calmed somewhat. "Last Cigarette" closes the album in more dark style, with a variety of parts laid across its slowish tempo yet is a nice finisher.

With "Insomnia" Mastermind have produced a very solid seventh album with a sound that is unique to the band, yet at the same time classic in its approach. Sonically the band have their own sound happening with the warm production, kudos go to Bill and Rick Berends for producing such a warm and individual sounding album (and McShane for a great vocal performance), which took me back to the days when sound production helped shape an albums character. "Insomnia" is such an album with its own character, its a dark album in a lyrical sense, heck even the album title hints at this and you wonder if the band have slept for the last decade? Perhaps now the album is done they can rest easy in the knowledge they have produced a very enjoyable, individual and skilful release in "Insomnia".

Readers wanting an original slice of rock music that will reward further with each listen check out the album now.

Hot Spots : Desire, One More Night, Night Flier, Nietzsche

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Insomnia
Insomnia by Mastermind (Audio CD - 2010)
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