Master Spy – The Train Review

Today is the culmination of a long, drawn-out chapter in Angry Metal Comment Section™ lore. Years back, a regular reader and commenter began making allusions to their forthcoming album. Virtually any time a record of the heavy or power metal variety was covered, said reader would factor in the ensuing discussion by offering their perspective on the reviewed album…and shamelessly plugging their own project, Master Spy. The claims made by our hero seemed to become bolder by the day, as he asserted that he’d not only written the song of the year, he’d also written what was “surely an Album o’ the Year contender, in all modesty.” Oh, and there was the one time that he said he’d given Gus G. a few pointers on the guitar. Needless to say, these comments raised more than a few eyebrows in the AMG camp, and I’m sure that mine could be found among them. Still, I couldn’t help but be intrigued and impressed by the gumption with which this person promoted their creative endeavor. So when the promo for Master Spy‘s The Train appeared on our doorstep, I felt compelled to grab it and give it a fair shake.

Master Spy plays heavy metal that focuses on “long epics in the vein of Iron Maiden.” At one point in the comments, our friend stated that “it took me two years to find a vocalist on par with the likes of Bruce or Halford.” Bold, bold claim there, but it’s not wrong. In fact, if I’d listened to this without knowing who it was, I would have bet money that Bruce Dickinson was actually singing here. The tone, the vibrato, the range — it’s all nearly a perfect match for latter-day Bruce. Color me impressed. And yes, the music simply oozes year-2000-and-beyond Maiden, along with huge synth flourishes that hint at the Somewhere in Time/Seventh Son era. The embedded title track is a 10-minute anxiety-producing romp with galloping bass, soaring guitars, and stellar vocals. It’s not the song of the year, but it’s certainly good — and the best song on the album.

My promo materials don’t include any information about the band, but I’ve been able to glean some info from our friend’s comments. Apparently, the record was mixed by Roland Grapow (Helloween and Masterplan), who also contributed some guitar parts, and one of the guitarists is named Roman Nemtsev. Aside from songwriting, I’m not sure what our commenting friend did specifically on the record (I’d like to imagine he’s a Steve Harris, lead-from-the-bass type), but I can say that he knows his way around a melody. The songs here are absolutely drenched in cool classic metal textures, and the choruses (especially “Operation Black Veil” and “Alien Encounter”) have been embedded in my mind to the point where I wake up hearing them.

A few issues prevent The Train from pulling into Greatness Station. It’s ok to like long epics, but I’m not sure that crafting long songs should be a goal in and of itself. Not even Maiden can pull it off all the time. You have to walk before you can run, and while “The Train” is good enough to support its long length, the rest of the songs could use a trim. The most egregious example is “Alien Encounter,” ironically the shortest song here at seven minutes. It’s a cool tune, but it would certainly have more impact in the four-to-five minute range. The other problem with the songs all being modeled after Maiden epics is that they can tend to feel a bit homogenous, with only the chorus sticking out to differentiate them. One of the major flaws here is the extremely literal storytelling style of the lyrics. Like painfully literal. It’s really not a problem until you listen closely, since the aesthetic of the songs is so great. But if you really want to immerse yourself into these stories, the lyrical choices here make it pretty tough to do so.

Ultimately, The Train ends up fitting the description of the “mixed” rating to a tee. Aesthetically, the record is beautiful and just about nails the sound for which it is shooting. Unfortunately, the album’s substance doesn’t match the grandeur of its form, and I don’t see myself returning often for anything other than perhaps the title track. That being said, Master Spy has potential. “The Train” proves that our friend has that “x-factor” that all good songwriters must possess, and if he can continue to hone and refine his craft, success is virtually guaranteed.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 270 kbps VBR mp3
Label: Self-released
Releases Worldwide: September 13th, 2021

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