There’s a special thrill in coming across a new band whose influences can be heard, yet they still manage to break through walls and present a sound that’s fresh and new. What is even more a delight though is hearing said band’s second effort, and relishing in their growth and development. A great example is Pennsylvanian metal band MindMaze, headed by siblings Jeff (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Sarah (lead vocals) Teets and drummer Kalin Schweizerhof. In there debut album, Mask of Lies, the base influences of Iron Maiden and Dream Theater are very present, with the added twist of the lead female power vocals of Sarah Teets. With their coming second album though, with the expert touch of the hardest working bassist in the metal business, Mike LePond (Symphony X), and a bevy of other contributing artist from the likes of Stratovarius, Pharaoh, LORD, and Draekon, MindMaze has broken through their influences and come into their own.
As to the main players, they hit on all cylinders. Jeff Teets shows an adept hand in all aspects of guitar work, with killer hooks all over the place and searing solos throughout. LePond is, well, LePond. He is a master of his instrument, and doesn’t hold back here. Scheizerhoff nails the drum duties, keeping pace with LePond and Teets, and blasting out on his own when necessary. As to Sarah Teets, there seems to be a fine line between the operatic style metal singers and the full force power metal style singers, and Sarah adeptly walks that line with surety, perfectly rounding out the total sound that is MindMaze.
The album is an eight track tour de force, with melodic sections bridging the diversely yet aggressive metal assault. The power metal influence of Maiden is still present, as is the progressive influences, but both have evolved enough for the band to have left the nest so to speak. Opening with the title track Back from the Edge, we get a face full of the power metal side as Jeff rips off a vicious chord work to set the tone for the furious work of LePond and Schweizerhoff. Then in comes the melodic power vocals of Sarah, with just enough power to match the boys, but enough melodic beauty to still keep them in check, It’s a good balance they have, and continues to show throughout the album. The single of the album, Dreamwalker, has a grand feel to it, exploding on every front. This flows into what for me was easily the best track, the ten plus minute The Machine Stops.
Soft keys bring us into it, but it doesn’t take long for the power chords to pierce through the delicate atmosphere, and we are off and running on a brilliant two and a half minute opening instrumental that highlights what these guys are bringing to the table. A soaring guitar section will surely bring up the Maiden references, but honestly, who fucking cares, it sounds so damn good. They settle down into a mysteriously aggressive beat that is covered by some wonderful bard style singing from Sarah Teets, telling the story deftly while still keeping in pace with the musicians. The song then goes into a kick ass instrumental section worthy of a post musical coitus smoke break. This goes back to a much more subtle and emotionally charged section to finish off, with soulful vocals and bleeding guitars bridging the gap to the explosive finish. Just a great tune, and one that should bring the walls down live (hint-hint).
Three more tracks finish out the album, each sticking to the basic form that holds the album together while still being truly individual tracks. The final track, Onward (Destiny Calls II) is a slightly shorter epic that still carries the weight and impact as The Machine Stops, serving as a breathless closer that should only leave most metal fans yearning for more. There is marked growth and development on all fronts with MindMaze, bringing an album that will have immediate mass appeal, yet is diverse enough to certainly last in the hearts of fans both old and new.