Retro-spective Review: Lizzy Borden – Master of Disquise

Released: 1989
Label: Metal Blade

lizzy_borden-master_of_disguiseLizzy Borden was the charming tyke famous for chopping up her folks with an axe (allegedly). Lizzy Borden the band (and the man) are much less famous, and that’s why I’m casting the attention nets back through time to land their magnum opus for your consideration. As part of the wave of slightly glamy hair metal acts that spewed from L.A. in the 80s, Lizzy and W.A.S.P. were basically cut from the same animal print cloth. They wanted to be metal, but sought to incorporate lots of radio friendly hooks and glam, sleaze n’ trash theatrics. While W.A.S.P. proved the more consistent and talented act, Lizzy definitely had their moments too, and none better than their slightly schizophrenic, yet impressive Master of Disguise outing.

Fusing all the melancholy of Queensryche’s Rage for Order with the rock-oriented power of W.A.S.P.’s The Crimson Idol and the rock opera hysteria of Savatage, Master of Disguise paired slick songwriting with metal chops and a surprisingly broad palette of moods and styles. Certainly not a crushingly heavy album, it’s nonetheless full of instantly memorable and very entertaining moments, and some of the songs are absolute metal monsters. Since readers of AMG like metal monsters, it’s a perfect fit!

Important to get out there from the outset, although Lizzy Himself has a cool voice, it was always of the love or hate variety. With a fairly high pitched and thin wail, he sounded metal, but had a propensity for vocal theatrics and also brought a decent amount of cock rock bravado to his delivery. While I know his pipes turned off some peeps, they’re solid gold on the Gutter Ballet-like title track, which takes a simple formula and blows it wide open with bombast and a hint of pomposity. Tack on a super cheesy, but oh so memorable chorus and you have quite the little metal freakshow. Lizzy’s vocals take on a much more serious, somber feel for the album highlight “Sins of the Flesh,” which could easily be a lost track from either Rage for Order or Operation: Mindcrime. It’s here that Lizzy Borden captured lightning in a bottle and released it in the studio. It’s such a great song, it alone validates the entire album.

But wait, there’s more! Almost as compelling is the odd and amorphous rock opera piece “Phantoms” which wanders this way and that before locking into a hard rock groove borrowing equally from Ultimate Sin era Ozzy and Queen, with a cool and somehow cold chorus wrapped in a lot of texture and mood. Of all the songs here, this one always draws me back, though I can’t explain why. Weird and wonderful it is.

SONY DSCThey stay with the Styx meets Savatage at a community theater shtick on “Never Too Young” and “Waiting in the Wings” and though they are clearly good songs, you can’t help but notice it would take only the slightest of tweaks to make them prime Glee material. As the albums plays out, things that shouldn’t work at all, like the inclusion of a horn section in the super cock rocking “Love is a Crime,” somehow end up sounding proper and even essential. Only the short ballad “Under the Rose” falls flat, adding nothing to the album’s flow.

Since Lizzy was the founder and mastermind, it’s no surprise his vocals are the center of attention and for the most part, it works just fine. For all his histrionics and bluster, he makes some great vocal choices and shows off some real versatility as the songs blur genre lines. He’s less over-the-top than on earlier albums and you get the sense he was really trying to make this album his legacy. He gets significant support from David Michael Philips and Ronnie Jude who drop their share of solid and meaty riffs, but more importantly, offer up a good deal of subtle and tasteful flourishes and melodic touches.

A highly entertaining piece of metal, Master of Disguise is far and away Lizzy Borden’s best work with their most mature writing. It also shows a band willing to take chances, roll the dice and be more than a metal band with their hair metal roots showing. Check this out, but be prepared to sing along and rock out in front of a mirror.

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