(Limb Music 2017)
Over the last few years, German speed-obsessed maniacs in Masters of Disguise have emerged as one of the best new bands in continental Europe. Guitarist Kalli Coldsmith and bassist Mario Lang were part of the last Savage Grace lineup backing SG mainman Christian Logue at live appearances in 2009 and 2010. When Logue decided to lay Savage Grace to rest presumably for the final time, Masters of Disguise (whose moniker, mascot and logo were all derived from and an homage to Savage Grace’s first full-length album from 1985) was born. Much more than a cover band, Masters of Disguise have dedicated themselves to preserving the spirit and attitude of the classic Savage Grace sound (and more broadly, the U.S. power/speed style of the 1980s, along with melodic thrash like early Heathen). Alpha/Omega marks the prolific act’s third full-length album since 2013, to go along with an absolutely killer 2016 covers EP entitled The Fine Art of Aging Gracefully.
Masters of Disguise’s motto is “speed metal with class” and those four words beautifully encapsulate what Alpha/Omega is all about. Amidst the widespread old-school heavy metal revival of today, somehow the 1980s American speed metal style has been largely overlooked, but not if Kalli Coldsmith and his mates have anything to say about it. Much like the band’s previous recordings, Alpha/Omega is packed to the gills with pure, glorious, unadulterated speed metal bliss. With the exceptions of the more midtempo, Manowar-ish “Shadows of Death” and the stellar cover of Exciter’s moody epic “Blackwitch” (the CD bonus track, which some will know from the fantastic Exciter tribute album released earlier in 2017 on Bart Gabriel’s Skol Records), Alpha/Omega is a relentless rush of glorious speed from beginning to end. The performances of Coldsmith and fellow axe-slinger Wolle Buchinger are like a master class in razor-sharp, precision speed metal riffing, somehow never forgetting to be catchy and memorable in addition to being ridiculously fast. The jackhammer rhythm section of Lang and Jens Gellner brings the relentless thunder to match the guitars stride for stride in the high-octane sensory assault. And vocalist Alexx Stahl (also known for his work in Roxxcalibur, Viron and improbably enough Bonfire) is one of the finest unsung talents in metal today, boasting truly impressive power, charisma, range and control, reminding me in spots of a young Hansi Kursch during Blind Guardian’s speed-metal period.
As for the songs, Alpha/Omega is truly an exercise in top-notch, uniformly high-quality melodic speed metal. After a Savage Grace / Iced Earth inspired introductory instrumental “The Rise (and Fall) of Kingdoms,” the band rip into the near-thrash intensity of “Sacrifice,” which showcases Masters of Disguise at their most aggressive. A clear standout track is “Demons from the Past,” which not only includes more glorious speed riffs than you can shake a stick at but also features a brilliant vocal, a magnificent chorus and a clever arrangement at the three-minute mark where the all-out attack pauses and Stahl sings the chorus with just a clean guitar accompaniment before, bang, the hammer comes down and the track breathlessly races to the finish like Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt being shot out of a cannon. Honestly, every song on Alpha/Omega is a highlight, including the somewhat mysterious “Sign of the Cross,” for which Christian Logue receives sole songwriting credit but which never appeared on any Savage Grace LP. I’m guessing this is a “lost” SG song written by Logue for a later incarnation of Savage Grace but never used, much like “The Templars’ Gold” and “Barbarians at the Gate” from previous Masters of Disguise albums. Whatever the back story is, “Sign of the Cross” is a great track. Actually, though, my favorite stretch of Alpha/Omega consists of the last three proper songs, “Witchhammer,” “Knutson III: Nemesis (I am the Law),” and “The Leech,” each of which is absolutely flawless speed metal ecstasy with rocket-fueled riffs, amazing vocals, and hugely memorable melodies. Damn, the dueling Hansen/Weikath-styled guitar solo in “Witchhammer” is worth the price of admission all by itself, giving me goosebumps and bringing to mind some of the best moments on Walls of Jericho.
Honestly, I can’t think of another band today executing this style as well as Masters of Disguise. If you have an affinity for classy speed metal, then Alpha/Omega should be at the very top of your shopping list. And if you’ve already completed your “best of” lists for 2017, you may need to scrap them to make room for Masters of Disguise. I know I will.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~