Hey look, the weirdest inside joke in all of metal is still going strong. Backstory: Masters of Disguise is a throwback speed metal act living and breathing to pay homage to a particularly obscure band from the 80s called Savage Grace. Who, you ask? Exactly. They were a good band but barely got any traction or notoriety despite a pretty solid outing with 1986s After the Fall From Grace. Now Masters of Disguise (named after Grace‘s debut album) seek to revive their hero’s nonexistent legacy due to some highly tenuous ties to the original singer. I reviewed their 2013 debut Back With a Vengeance and found it a fun, nostalgic nod to the era of speed, but assumed it was a one-off novelty (I mean, how could it NOT be?). Not so, as they’ve since released another full-length of Savage Grace homages called…ahem, The Savage and the Grace, and a fun little EP of 80s metal covers as well. Alpha/Omega is their third album and it’s still plenty savage, and somewhat graceful1. If this all seems a little bonkers conceptually, I’m right there with you, but hey, when in Rome, enjoy of deep speed metal homage and don’t think too much.
The plain truth is these cats are quite adept at recreating the 80s speed metal sound made famous by Agent Steel, Abattoir and their ilk. All the things that made Back With a Vengeance a fun listen are here in equal force, and if you grew up in the speed era, this will likely tickle your nostalgia bone. The essential ingredients for this specific style are frenetic, unhinged guitar-work and a singer who lives life with his scrotum firmly crushed in a vice. Masters of Disguise know this recipe well and liberally season the originality abyss with plenty of both. After the riffy opening instrumental “The Rise (and Fall) of Kingdoms” sets the mood, it’s off to the races with album highlight “Sacrifice” and its commitment to over the top 80s metal cliches. Want to raise a fist? Do it here. Want to bang yer head? This’ll do it. Want to point at things dramatically? You found your huckleberry. Good fun and good, energetic music to go with it.
Songs like “Demons From the Past,” “Killer’s Redemption” and “Witchhammer” blast along on waves of testosterone, PBR and pizza rolls while dragging you along for the joy ride tethered by their enthusiastic hookiness. The title track in particular is an enjoyable shot of adrenaline with some outrageously metal vocals from Alexx Stahl which run the gamut from Daniel Heiman (Lost Horizon) to King Diamond himself. If it’s excessive, it’s available here, folks. Toss in a respectable cover of Exciter‘s “Blackwitch” and you have a righteous boot in the fanny even Australia would respect.
By and large the writing is solid and the songs rock harder than a van full of hippies on Ecstasy and Viagra. The sole weak point is “Knutson III: Nemesis (I Am the Law),” a continuing character story dating back to Savage Grace‘s 1985 debut. It’s just not a particularly strong song to begin with, but it gets completely nuked by highly annoying samples of a woman arguing with the song’s protagonist. It’s a big downer.
The production is a bit on the loud side of things, but it’s not the worst you’ll hear this year. At 46 minutes, it feels about the right length and the material’s high octane energy keeps it all moving and shaking.
Alexx Stahl gets full credit for putting his voice box on the line, wailing, screaming and warbling as the music tears ass through Metalville doing donuts on poser’s lawns. The boy has a set of pipes on him and while he isn’t the most technical vocalist, he was born to sing in a band like this. Guitarists Wolle and Kalli Coldsmith are a potent duo in their own right, plying the listener with speedy riffs, meaty gallops and the kind of hysterical solo-work only heard in metal. The boys know how to keep the energy hot and the pace breathless, and that’s half the battle with 80s speed.
I know this whole act’s existence is a head scratcher, but since they’re determined to stick around and worship a band no one cared much about even when they were around, we can judge them on how well they pay respect to their cult idol. Geezers like your friendly neighborhood (Agent) Steel, who were teenage knuckleheads in 80s are bound to like this kind of stuff, and as retro speed goes, Masters of Disguise is at the top of the three-link food chain. How long they can keep this going I don’t know, but I’m happy to enjoy the ride til the biscuit wheels come off the Grace-y train. Tastes like Zima.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Limb Music
Websites: mastersofdisguise.bandcamp.com | masters-of-disguise.com | facebook.com/MastersOfDisguise
Releases Worldwide: October 20th, 2017