Since their 2009 debut, Mastercastle have blasted from the blocks by channeling Iron Maiden‘s otherworldly focus on output. The Italians released five albums in six years, intent on spreading their cheesy neo-classicisms far and wide. This shotgun approach has done the band no favors, though; their potency stretched thinner with each new release. With lead axeman Pier Gonella nearing his 30th album, concerns of diminishing creative stores seem all too prescient. Mastercastle‘s sixth release Wine of Heaven reaches the breaking point, shaking the emperor down, stripping him naked, and flogging him through the streets.
Though touted on neo-classical merit, “Drink of Me” clomps past threadbare keyboard melodies and clunky chugs, entirely dependent on Giorgia Gueglio’s trademark vocals. Mastercastle operated at its best as a rich man’s Magica. They shed the symphonics but retain the melodic power of acts like Epica, coupling it with the blistering shred of Symphony X and Yngwie Malmsteen. Wine of Heaven rips the latter out like a weed, eliminating its ability to entice as well as self-moderate. “Drink of Me” and followers “Space of Variations” and “Wine of Heaven” pry open box after box of Velveeta, cramming spongy, plasticky histrionics into the void left by Gonella’s apathetic riffs. The title track reaches new lows, dragging dislocated squeals into a nauseatingly boring direction rife with overwrought backing vocals and do-nothing programming. It’s an offering so bland that Gonella doesn’t even bother to play the solo at full speed.
Mastercastle‘s previous offerings never tore my world asunder, but they were always good for at least a couple catchy tracks per album. The utter absence of spinnable music on Wine of Heaven drags depths even I thought beneath them. “Hot As Blood” starts with a riff that… well, it’s a riff, and at this point, I’ll take what I can get. Yet Mastercastle corrupt even that, leaving it out to mold while out-of-place twangs take its place. Gueglio, as she does across the album, extends a helping hand in the chorus. She never overpowers — though perhaps she should, given how hard she’s been sold down the river. Her vocals have a sugary warmth that elevates her performance past the rest of the mess. Gonella even musters enough energy to put a bit of soul into his solo. It’s this vibrance that Wine of Heaven lacks so desperately, leaving only hollow tones echoing in the album’s deserted opera hall. Absent worthwhile melodies, the Italians offer no soaring Epica builds, no berserk Witherfall solos, not even any stupid fun super cheese tracks. “Shine On Me” tilts toward Nightwish dance metal, but barely reaches standard fare status. “Enlightenment” evokes the mid-ranged effectiveness of Aeternitas and features Gonella’s one solid bout of solo-work on the release; however, even this track smacks of pre-packaged cheese slices.
Putting a cherry on top of the total dearth of material, Wine of Heaven’s original work ends at the half-hour mark. The album closes with covers of the theme to Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky and Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Making Love.” The former was done better by Imaginary Flying Machines, the latter by Swedish Christ Superstar himself. That both tracks still outdo the preceding seven is glaring, but frankly unsurprisingly. Given the black hole level of suck, it’s hard to imagine how this album came together. Mastercastle filled their color-by-the-numbers formula with the mutest, inoffensive shade of off-white they could claw from the crayon box, and everyone was seemingly okay with that. Both Gonella (Labyrinth) and drummer John Macaluso (Yngwie Malmsteen, Jorn) have been around the cheese wheel once or twice, and yet neither manages to liven up the record. Only Gueglio presses the issue, and even then her performance lacks compared to previous efforts. I suspect part of this may be due to a neutered production, but her voice is missing the punch and chutzpah to drag Wine of Heaven towards respectability.
I do not relish laying the hammer down, at least not compared to some of you sadists. But sometimes, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Wine of Heaven stands as the nadir of Mastercastle’s career, landing with a deafening thud and actively discouraging return. Spit this one out before you choke and go find a better wine and cheese outlet.