I’m a big fan of MindMaze’s Back From the Edge. Similar to Pyramaze‘s excellent Disciples of the Sun, it’s a true grower of a progressive power metal album that I’ve really warmed to over the years. It strikes an admirable balance between prog and power styles, carrying plenty of memorable hooks bolstered by proper prog songwriting in its longest tracks. With the high quality of MindMaze’s most ambitious compositions in mind, I went into Resolve with high expectations despite knowing that, at sixty-seven minutes, it was nearly twenty minutes longer than their last effort. I figured that if anyone could write enough good material to sustain such a mammoth project, it would be a band proven to excel at writing long-form material. Alas, great self-contained epics don’t necessarily translate into a sustainable extra-long-player. While far from bad, Resolve doesn’t have nearly the staying power of its predecessor.
Even without any knowledge of its bloated length, MindMaze‘s ambitions would be clear from the first moments of Resolve. Opener “Reverie” is a stunner of an intro track, a bombastic overture that showcases the album’s uplifting main theme and hints at the record’s darker motifs. The following few tracks exemplify the way MindMaze implements this new, moodier sound within the context of their familiar, riff-centric template. Of particular note are “Fight the Future,” an especially impressive ripper and one of the band’s fastest and most technical tracks to date, and “Sign of Life,” which offers some of the album’s best vocal hooks at a stomping, driving pace. Each track of the record flows naturally into the next, thanks partly to a scattering of unobtrusive and atmospheric interludes, and partly because they were designed to work as chapters of a larger conceptual work. Despite this cohesive nature, most tracks manage to stand out without getting lost in the bigger picture.
The problem that MindMaze runs into with creating a concept album with such a painfully generic message (it’s sixty-seven minutes of a person realizing they’ve wrongly blamed someone for their own mistake) is that it’s seemingly drained the liveliness from their formula. It’s interesting hearing the band take a darker turn, but this shift has come at the cost of MindMaze’s exuberant nature. Back From the Edge‘s songs about sea voyages, intergalactic flight and technological dystopias were accompanied by a sense of adventure in their hooky vocal melodies and soaring lead guitars. Now that the entire album revolves around a singular internal struggle, everything feels emotionally monotone, especially without the abundance of fist-pumping guitar harmonies. By the time I reach Resolve‘s ninth track I’ve grown weary of the lack of vivacity, and by that time I still have half an hour left to go. Listening to this entire thing in one session is nothing short of a slog.
The de-emphasis on lead guitar means that singer Sarah Teets is left to pick up the slack in the melody department. I still quite like her smoky, mid-range vocals, but this time around she really pushes her higher register in Resolve’s most emotive moments, and as a result her voice can sound uncomfortably thin and strained. Still, her performance is powerful more often than not, making an excellent fit for the record’s most aggressive moments. Songs like “Shattered Self” are excellent examples of not only her voice at its strongest, but also of the entire band’s ability to engage in Symphony X levels of technicality and adrenaline. The production is suitable for this energetic formula; the guitar tone is sharp and packs a bite despite being mixed a bit too high, the drums pop with clarity without sounding modern and artificial, and the bass presence is prominent and beefy. Though a touch loud, this is a totally acceptable sound for a record that expects you to bear it for nearly seventy consecutive minutes.
Even if it never reaches the heights of MindMaze’s older work, there’s plenty of good material to be found on Resolve, and I respect the band’s desire to branch out even after having established a clearly successful sound. The shift in tone might have actually won me over if Resolve had been more concisely written and tightly paced, but the record’s behemoth structure combined with an absence of the band’s effervescent spirit somehow left me both over and underwhelmed. This is still an album worth checking out for prog-power junkies, but MindMaze fans expecting a repeat in quality might find themselves conflicted.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Inner Wound Recordings
Websites: mindmazeband.com | facebook.com/mindmazeband | mindmazeband.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: April 28th, 2017