I think I’m going to make a general rule here at Lady Obscure that any albums coming from bands with “mind” in their title are mine. From Mind Odyssey to Mindgames to Mind Key, it’s a pretty solid run of good stuff. Today’s installment comes from Florida based Mindcage. Now these guys are not new to the music scene, they have been connected in one way or another for over thirty years, honing their skills and sound, but as far as released material, this is their first full length album. Two EPs preceded Our Own Devices, a self titled demo in 1997 and Encapsulation in 2000. Some may consider a 13 year wait rather lengthy, but considering the richness in depth that they put into the story and the whole mystique surrounding this album, it’s rather understandable.
The core members of Mindcage are Brian Howell on bass, Craig Nudo on drums, Dietrick Hardwick on guitar, and the addition of power vocalist Jeff Hignite rounds out the band. Julie Westlake of Hydrogyn makes an appearance as the voice of the albums protagonist, Arabella Vash. Drawing from their years of influences, they paint a picture of a broken world, one which for all intensive purposes has lost its soul. Using dystopian ideals with a steampunk flavor, the world they portray, though still locked on the fantasy side of things, isn’t all that unrealistic. Musically, Mindcage digs deep into their rather respectable bag of musical tricks to present a cohesive concept album rooted in very solid, old school heavy metal.
One thing that is for certain, from beginning to end, there is no shortage of technical skill among the musicians. After the brief opening Cadence March, they burst right into the thunderous power chords, opening the album proper with For All Mankind. The core sound is present very quickly, with an authoritative and pounding rhythm section serving to hold up the multi-layered guitar sounds, all reminiscent of the classic metal sound with a progressive edge. Hardwick is a real force on the guitar, in both the rhythm role and as a soloist; he dictates the songs emotional roots. The title track Our Own Devices sets the scene for the concept, using a dramatic flair to take any illusions of hope we have about the world away, bringing their version of the future down hard. Within this track is a wonderfully nostalgic instrumental section that had me headbanging like I was 18 again, racing in my buddy’s El Camino with a keg in the trunk fearing for its life, only the old school thrash bands and the mighty Maiden have that effect on me. Props to the band for bringing that back alone, a feat that their brand of metal does throughout the album.
The core of the story, the rise of Vash, is in The Human Race, an over the top dramatic track where we first hear Westlake’s gentle operatic-like singing. She pairs rather nicely with Hignite, who though has a more than solid voice, tends for me at least to be overly dramatic. I’m all for putting some emotion into the vocals, but he pours it on just a bit too thick for my taste, though it fits the album’s overall concept rather nicely. Firefly is a solid, rocking track, moving with a fiery pace and textured very deeply by Hardwick’s guitar work. The One Constant is a hard, thunderous song that pounds its sound into you with seriously deep power chords. Arabella’s Arc is another quick fire number, hitting hard with Hardwick’s chord work that’s very reminiscent of Ozzy era Randy Rhodes, never a bad comparison if you ask me. The Serenity Sequence is the albums lone ballad, and is where the vocal work of Hignite is really at home, working some wonderful duet work with Westlake. Finishing the album off is The Grand Restoration, doing so in an overly dramatic fashion fitting of the concept’s epic scope, with soaring guitars and epic scale vocals, a fitting finish to this dark tale.
Our Own Devices is a solidly built concept album with a sound that is appealing to any aficionado of an older, more gut driven brand of metal. But it’s that sound that gives even that much more credence and realism to the overall steampunk concept, a futuristic machine running on old school power metal. I’m not sure if this was their exact intentions, but in the end, it works. Now here’s to hoping we don’t have to wait long for another installment from Mindcage.