I’m going to start our time together by putting into writing both a series of praises and a number of blasphemous atrocities. I need to lay the groundwork of how and why I think Masterplan was able to accomplish what they accomplished… and why I find that accomplishment to be surprising and unique. But first a bit of history on my metal journey…
I’ve been a fan of metal since the early-to-mid 80’s, but being a kid and young man of few means, my collection was smallish and static. That is, until a fateful October evening in 2005 at work at the fire station when I stumbled upon a heavy metal station online that changed my life forever. I had thought metal effectively ended with the Alt/Grunge apocalypse in the early 90’s, and my collection reflected that. Suddenly I was hearing Blind Guardian! Rob Rock! Falconer! Kamelot! Iced Earth! Where have these bands been all my life? Turns out they were hiding in the margins, and I only needed to know where to find these treasures. Logically, my CD collection more than quintupled in the next three years. One of the major discoveries that night was Masterplan. Let’s talk about my thoughts on how Masterplan became Masterplan.
Jorn Lande is one of the greatest vocalists of the last 30 years. His voice has the ability to conjure feelings of a kind of warmth. Not cozy suburban space-heater warmth. His is more a warmth found in low-ceilinged, still-cozy-but-dim, fireplace-lit, whiskey-soaked taverns. His voice makes me think of a mixture of the aforementioned whiskey, plus honey, coals and wheat. Wheat? Yes, wheat! Things, in other words, that give off an understated yet powerful sense of home and warmth.
Nevertheless, I’m not a fan at all of about half of the albums Jorn Lande finds himself fronting. I don’t care for his solo projects; I find only about 10% of that work palatable. His cover albums are pretty much on the same level for me. I listen to this material once and find it underwhelming and never return to them again.
I’m also not a fan of his work with Vagabond, Ark or Millenium. Part of this is because I’m not a big fan of the progressive side of metal. But there’s something about the songwriting and melodies that just don’t seem to jibe with his voice. More on this later…
Roland Grapow and Uli Kusch are gods in most metal circles; gods and in a sense grandpas, or at least uncles. They are veterans of the scene and shared time in one of the most important and influential heavy metal bands of all time: the mighty and powerful Helloween. I can distinctly remember seeing their cassettes on the shelves of the department store I shopped and worked at in the 80’s and early 90’s, staring at the cover art, and being fascinated at what kind of music must lie within.
But somehow, once again, I’m not much of a fan of the Grapow/Kusch era Helloween. Laugh out loud, right? I know. Out of this era there’s maybe one album’s worth of songs I enjoy enough to own. They are obviously fantastic musicians, but I’m always left wanting more with the albums during this era. Something’s… off.
That brings me to food. Food combos that should have been obvious forever but are fairly recent “inventions.” Of course Reese’s Cups with its iconic peanut butter and chocolate works, but even that wasn’t always a thing. More recently we’ve been given Maple-bacon donuts! Carrots and cake! French Fries and Ice Cream! Jelly and Steak. Oh, wait! That’s just something my beloved toothless diabetic Great Aunt Philly did to make the steak soft enough to chew. But those other food combos are ones where we all say, “why didn’t I think of that?!” Masterplan: They are the metal combo that, after hearing, seem like it always made sense and makes me ask, “why didn’t they think of that sooner?!”
Masterplan is the self-titled first album of what can truly be called a Super Group. Jorn Lande, Roland Grapow, Uli Kusch and friends combined their efforts to produce a nearly, if not totally perfect, melodic/power metal album. I do not know what happens to Jorn Lande when he teams with other artists, but these pairings cause him to “level-up” and we all benefit. His work with Allen-Lande, Dracula (with Trond Holter), and Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia aren’t just some of his best work, but are amongst the most incredibly powerful and well done metal vocals in our esteemed genre’s history. He is a tour-de-force on these projects.
That tour continues with extreme prejudice on Masterplan. He is given melodies and lyrics to sing to – and with – that allow him to use his voice to its fullest. In fact, his voice is one of those that becomes an instrument unto itself; creating melodies and sounds that a man-made instrument can not hope for. Very few vocalists have this gift. Jorn Lande has found a group of artists he very much jibes with.
The songwriting and arrangements are the result of a group of men at the top of a game they had all been playing for decades. The music is mature, interesting and expertly performed. When they play up-tempo or true power metal they do so with authority and precision. When they slow down they are heavy and/or beautifully melodic, reminding me of prime Dio; a band with the ability to play incredibly powerful and compelling songs at a very slow tempo. Only one song – When Love Comes Close – the original album closer – falls a shade off of the sound, fury and creativity the other ten songs bring.
Through it all I’m brought back to feelings and visions of warmth, coals, whiskey, honey and wheat. This is one of my all-time favorite albums. It’s as close to a “desert-island” disc as one album can possibly be, and the only reason it isn’t is because of the somehow even better follow-up album from Masterplan – Aeronautics. Hopefully we’ll chat about that one in a year or so.
This is Masterplan – Anniversary Edition. Since the original 11 songs of this masterpiece are very well known to most, I’m just going to touch a bit on the bonus tracks found on this edition.
12. The Kid Rocks On – A mid-temp rocker with some 80’s sounding backing vocals. This is one song that I’m glad wasn’t put on the original release of Masterplan. This sounds exactly like something Jorn would have on one of his solo albums. It’s technically well done and everyone is on their game, but the arrangement and performance lacks the Masterplan feel.
13. Through Thick & Thin – Now we’re talking! This sounds much more like it. It still doesn’t sound quite like a Masterplan song, maybe more like Dracula or Allen-Lande, but it’s a hyper-melodic song that is close enough. If it was on the original release it would not sound out of place at all and we’d be none the wiser.
14. Black Dog (Led Zeppelin) – Lots of people have tried. Masterplan comes pretty close to the original vibe and sound, without sounding like a carbon-copy. Covers are tricky: too close and it’s, “what’s the point?” Too far and it’s, “this sounds nothing like the original!” They do a pretty good job of sounding like Masterplan covering Led Zeppelin. Good enough for me!
This album is very, very close to perfect. Just missing; with one song on the original and one bonus track that doesn’t fit the sound and vibe the others produce. That said, when they are on, it’s glorious metal of a kind that was a revelation to me upon first hearing it.
My rating: 9.5/10
01 Spirit Never Die 05:26
02 Enlighten Me 04:38
03 Kind Hearted Light 04:25
04 Crystal Night 05:15
05 Soulburn 06:16
06 Heroes 03:31
07 Sail On 04:36
08 Into The Light 04:36
09 Crawling From Hell 04:12
10 Bleeding Eyes 05:39
11 When Love Comes Close 04:08
12 The Kid Rocks On (Bonus Track) 03:40
13 Through Thick & Thin (Bonus Track) 04:03
14 Black Dog (Bonus Track) 04:34
01 Live in Gothenburg 2003 52:23
02 Masterplan Off Stage 47:42