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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

1025. Masterplan / PumpKings. 2017. 4/5

The past can be a tough thing to break away from. The good memories are there, but so are the bad. In a music sense, this can be exactly the same path. The good memories of bands that you have been a part of in the past will always stay with you, but the ones that leave a bitter taste in your mouth will often also resurface. In deciding to revisit the majority of the songs that he either wrote outright or co-wrote when he was in Helloween, Roland Grapow has taken the plunge that he can convince everyone that these songs deserve a second outing, perhaps completely as he wanted them to be heard than as the band had done so originally. The fact that it comes at a time that Helloween are going out on a world tour with former members Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske, and he didn’t get an invite to join in, perhaps gives this more presence in that regard.

Roland was a member of Helloween for over a decade, and played on some of their better albums, and some of their most divisive. At least half of the songs here comes from albums that many fans have trouble even listening to any more, such as Pink Bubbles Go Ape and Chameleon. That in itself makes this album a brave move, because so many of the songs are not high profile Helloween songs. That in itself doesn’t mean they are bad songs or poor songs, and to be honest in trying to give them a second chance, a new lease of life away from the glaring drudgery of a couple of those original albums, perhaps there was a chance that they could find their own place without that anchor weighing them down. On the other hand, there is a greater danger of doing songs that are well liked and thought of in their original Helloween form, because then these versions are directly competing with those versions, and it would be a very difficult thing to compare the two.
So how does the album go? It is important to put out there from the start that Masterplan the band sounds fantastic once again. New drummer Kevin Kott does a great job, and is well supported by bass guitarist Jari Kainulainen in the rhythm section. Their groundwork is wonderfully solid. All of these songs have a heavier keyboard element in them that the Helloween versions do, which isn’t surprising given the masterplan sound does revolve heavily around founding band member Axel Mackenrott. Roland’s guitaring is as superb as ever, and he really brings it home in the songs off The Dark Ride, as it is where he is at his best both playing and writing. The toughest job falls to vocalist Rick Altzi who not only has to hold together his vocals in these songs, he will inevitably find himself compared against the two original vocalists on these songs, Michael Kiske and Andi Deris. No favours there at all.
The three songs that are drawn from Pink Bubbles Go Ape – “The Chance”, “Someone’s Crying” and “Mankind” – are different in nature. “The Chance” and “Mankind” are two of the better songs on that album, while I never really enjoyed “Someone’s Crying”. Masterplan’s version of “The Chance” here is a good one, and just as jaunty as the original. “Someone’s Crying” still lacks some heart, while “mankind” here suffers a little in the vocals compared to the original. It’s a similar story to the two songs that come from Chameleon – “Step Out of Hell” and “Music”. The version of “Music” actually works better here than the original, but that is perhaps because you couldn’t get much worse than the original version. It is still far too slow and drawn out to gather any momentum. “Step Out of Hell” here equals the original, with Rick getting the right amount of energy into the vocals that the songs deserves.
Into the power songs of the album, and we have three songs from Master of the Rings – “Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)”, “Still We Go” and “Take Me Home” – the title track from The Time of the Oath – “The Time of the Oath” – and two tracks from The Dark Ride – “Escalation 666” and “The Dark Ride”. Each of these versions are wonderful musically, but they all lack what Andi Deris brought to the vocals. There’s no shame in that, as he is fantastic, and Rick actually suits the music that Masterplan writes, but you can notice especially in songs such as “Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)”, “The Time of the Oath” and “The Dark Ride” that they just aren’t the same. Good versions, but just lacking slightly in detail.

So was the motivation for this album purely that Helloween are touring shortly without Roland and he wanted to show that he was also once part of the group, or was it an easy solution to cover the fact that Masterplan has not released a studio album in four years, or was it just a chance to try and put these songs that Roland was a part of in a new light? Whatever the reason was, this album is more than worth the effort for fans of either Masterplan or Helloween to grab and have a listen to. There is still a lot to like about this band, and most of the songs here are still great to listen to, and hearing them in a modern light is not a bad thing at all.

Rating:   “Take a spin on the dark ride, may too far from the other side”.  4/5

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