Ordinarily, I would not take the time to review a covers EP because they tend to be eminently skippable. However, every rule has an exception, and I would be a fool not to review the new Masters of Disguise covers EP, entitled ‘The Fine Art of Aging Gracefully.’ Not only does this EP avoid the trap of mediocrity, but I would venture to say it is absolutely mandatory for those who appreciate 1980s U.S. melodic speed metal at its finest. The concept is straightforward: Masters of Disguise are an outstanding German power/speed metal band who have dedicated themselves to carrying forward the musical legacy of Savage Grace. Masters of Disguise have released two stellar albums on the Limb Music label. Having just added second guitarist Mr. Wolle to their ranks, the Masters decided to break in the new guy by bashing out some of their favorite US speed metal classics before settling in to work on album #3. Think of it like Metallica recording some classic tunes by their influences in the form of the Garage Days EP to get comfortable with Jason Newsted before hitting the studio for ‘… And Justice for All.’ Same kind of deal here.
There were two distinct ways in which ‘The Fine Art of Aging Gracefully’ demonstrates pure genius on the part of Masters of Disguise. First, the selection of tunes they compiled is simply perfect and beyond reproach. Here’s the tracklist: (1) “Torture Me,” originally recorded by Omen as the lead track on ‘Metal Massacre V;’ (2) “Goblin’s Blade” by Heathen; (3) “Battalions” from the legendary Metal Church debut; (4) “Back to Reign” by Agent Steel; (5) “Master of Disguise” by the aforementioned Savage Grace; and (6) “Frost and Fire” by Cirith Ungol. Wow! Honestly, this is the best, most exciting choice of cover songs I’ve seen in one place since the Powergod ‘That’s Metal Lesson One and Two’ albums were released more than a decade ago. Second, Masters of Disguise display brilliance in their execution of these beloved classic songs. Remarkably, the band capture the spirit of the originals while injecting a certain freshness and vitality to them, all wrapped in a powerful production. It helps, I think, that these guys are experienced in the art of recording covers, not only through the multiple Savage Grace tracks (and let’s not forget their killer version of Flotsam & Jetsam’s “Hammerhead” either) gracing their two studio albums, but also through their involvement in Roxxcalibur. By my count, three members of Savage Grace are also in Roxxcalibur, which has recorded three fantastic albums of mostly obscure NWoBHM covers over the last few years. So the Masters of Disguise know how to do a cover song properly. Vocalist Alexx Stahl probably draws the toughest assignment, having to sing songs originally performed by one-of-a-kind vocal legends like J.D. Kimball, David Godfrey-White, John Cyriis and Tim Baker. He pulls it off wonderfully, not by aping those singers, but simply by being himself and bringing his own passion, considerable skill and enthusiasm to bear.
The catch, if there is one, is that ‘The Fine Art of Aging Gracefully’ does not appear to have been issued by Limb Music or to be widely distributed; rather, it has been self-released for that true “underground” feeling. The copy I ordered directly from the band is hand-numbered too (mine is #035, though I’m not sure what the total print run was). Nonetheless, it’s well worth getting ahold of Masters of Disguise (you can reach them through Facebook or www.masters-of-disguise.com) to order this EP. The 23-minute running time is a nonstop adrenaline rush, a ride you’ll want to take again and again. Each and every song rules, plain and simple. What are you waiting for? Get it now!
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~