When it comes to power metal, I’m really not difficult to please. My expectations for a good example of the genre are no more elevated than the baseline that Helloween established over three decades ago; the material needs to be fun, energetic, and hooky, and if a band can pull this off, I ask for little else. I don’t think there’s a power metal act out there that fails to identify this recipe for success, yet so very few of them manage to capitalize. The style is plagued by countless bands rehashing watered down pop melodies against toothless power chords, seemingly unable to perceive that they utterly lack the charisma that elevated their influences. Thornbridge sees these pretenders, and says “we can do better.” Are they still rip-offs? Oh, certainly—but Theatrical Masterpiece cements them as the best rip-offs one can hope for in the genre.
Thornbridge succeeds as a derivative act largely because they don’t crib their influences from just one prominent band. From bouncy Gamma Ray leads to the thrashy riffs and tonality of Blind Guardian, these Germans leave few of their country’s finest power metal exports untouched, and do a finer job in the execution than their heroes have on many of their recent records. Not one track on Theatrical Masterpiece could be described as unexciting, with the overall level of enjoyment being greatly bolstered by a respectable level of track to track variety. The purely exhilarating Blind Guardian worship of “Revelation” and the Running Wild-esque “Set the Sails” are personal highlights, but with the level of quality here being so consistently high, I doubt that a consensus could be reached on which is the outright best of the bunch.
If Theatrical Masterpiece‘s variety and limitless energy mold the record’s structure, then its larger than life lead melodies and choruses form its irresistible soul. The choir-backed refrains on this album, while pure cheese, never fail to exude a sense of passion and grandeur; I imagine this is what Powerwolf‘s choruses might sound like, were that band more than a soulless novelty.1 It’s also admirable that Thornbridge often strives to differentiate their opening lead guitar hooks so as not to spoil the incoming chorus, in addition to restructuring verses on the second go-round. The title track is a perfect example of this philosophy, its melodic execution essentially doubling the amount of expected unique melodies, making for a composition that feels leagues smarter and fresher than the average power metal cut.
So, what then to criticize? Considering what Thornbridge set out to accomplish versus what they achieved, not much. Theatrical Masterpiece succeeds so effortlessly as a straightforward power metal album that it feels like nothing was lost in translation from incubation and execution, with its only real flaw being an intentional lack of originality. They even recruited a damned good vocalist, dodging the Achilles’ heel of countless power metal bands. Jörg Naneder isn’t the most distinct vocalist to ever grace the genre, but his wide range is impressive, navigating respectable highs and gritty, growly lows with rock solid control. The lead performances and solos are the string department’s driving force, but the record isn’t wanting for solid riffs, either, which makes it a shame that the rhythm guitars are mixed rather low. The rhythm section in general is rather diminished in the mix, resulting in a sound that is heavy on treble and lacking in punch. This isn’t a bad sounding album by any stretch, but there is definite room for improvement.
There is very little that a power metal band needs to get right in order to excel. But Thornbridge has gone above and beyond the baseline by treating us to a concise record defined by variety and engaging songwriting, never once failing to deliver a slobberknocker of a chorus. They may win no points for originality or nuanced production, but when it comes to musical comfort food, there is little better to be found in the power metal genre within the past few years. If you’re a power metal fan and you try to tell me that you don’t like Theatrical Masterpiece even a little bit, you’re going to have a helluva time convincing me that you’re not just actually deaf.