Masterminds core are the Berends brothers from New Jersey. Bill, who handles guitar, bass and song writing, implements a midi sound to his guitar that is very unique and powerful. Brother Rich keeps a powerful, bombastic drum beat that keeps the sound moving. The band has used a entourage of guest musicians but recently have settled on Swede virtuoso key wizzJens Johansson as a semi-permanent session player who tours with them when his first commitment to Fin prog metal band Stratovarius doesnt hold him back.
Masterminds sound has always been a hybrid of fusion, jazz, symphonic progressive rock and heavy metal. Their third album, "Tragic Symphony" edged them closer to a melodic sound, but with subsequent releases Mastermind has returned to the metal roots that forged their first few albums. "Excelsior", their fifth and previous album was completely instrumental. With long, complex and fusion like passages, the piece was a powerhouse masterpiece, though further from the melodious sounds of "Tragic Symphony".
With "Angels of the Apocalypse", Bill Berends has stepped back completely as singer and allowed the powerful mezzo-soprano vocals of Lisa Bouchelle to take over. Though Bouchelle has the grace to do soft ethereal passages, its her ability to belt it out that really glues her to the sound of Mastermind. She is a worthy addition to the band.
"The End of the World" (10:35) starts things off in the best possible way. This is a brilliant song and one of Masterminds best. It has melody, power and great lyrics. The epic possibilities of progressive hard rock have never been better realized."Perchance to Dream" (6:19) is also very melodic but that is crushed by the bombastic back beat of Rich Berends speed metal drumming. Here is my main complaint with this album. Many songs lack the diversity of softer moments because the rhythms behind the songs seem all wrong.
"2000 years" (6:16), track three also has some softer possibilities but the crushing sound is still there. But Bouchelles powerful voice is able to carry the song beyond its rhythmic repetition. "This Lovers Heart" (6:00) and "Queen of Sheba" (6:20) with their fusion like riffs sound so similar that the album quickly begins to lose its identity. "Queen" has a really catchy chorus that grows with each listening but by this time the album is in need of an abrupt change.
An acoustic intro to "With Dignity and Grace" (3:35) gives us a short breather from the first halfs intensity but the song quickly develops into another metallic speedster. This song is a good instrumental though, with nice twin midi guitars and a surging beat. "A Million Miles Away" has a slow Robin Trower like blues to it, with spacey keys from Johansson and a return to Bouchelles multi-track vocals. A great bridge also helps to make this the second best song on the CD. "The Beast of Babylon" (5:30) is the most fusion like song on the CD and my least favorite. While it displays the vintage Mastermind sound of driving midi guitar, it gets lost in the overall sameness of the CD. It's also quite atonal.
I dont care for Masterminds remake of ELPs "Endless Enigma", the first of two bonus tracks on the North America release. To me the song doesnt sound profoundly different from the original and it makes one wonder why they bothered. The second bonus track "Only in my Dreams" is a very nice song to cap the CD. My third favorite, it starts with piano and a softer vocal intro, plenty of symphonic keys (which in general are too low in the mix on this CD), and then jumps into a crushing guitar which leads the song to a strong ending.
Though "Angels of the Apocalypse" will not disappoint Mastermind fans, it lacks the diversity to make it appealing to those who appreciate the quieter side of prog.