Kansas' third album, Masque, is a lyrically dark effort courtesy of guitarist/keyboardist Kerry Livgren's brooding songwriting. Musically, Masque foreshadows the tight melodies and instrumental interplay on the next two albums, Leftoverture and Point of Know Return, which together serve as the peak of Kansas' vision. The band deserves more respect than it gets for incorporating British hard rock and progressive rock to become the only U.S. progressive rock band of note during the genre's 1970s heyday. Robbie Steinhardt's violin work certainly helped give Kansas a distinctive sound. The liner notes indicate Masque is a "concept album" thanks to the title's definition: "A disguise of reality created through a theatrical or musical performance." Vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh's "It Takes a Woman's Love (To Make a Man)" is the leadoff track, and it's atypical of the rest of the album. The song is a fairly basic yet groovy pop/rock tune about musicians' loneliness on the road, but it is spiced up with some saxophone lines. "Two Cents Worth" addresses guilt, misery, and spiritual longing -- pretty heavy stuff for six guys who were only in their mid-twenties. In "Icarus--Borne on Wings of Steel," Kansas' prog rock ambitions show through the mythology-based lyrics and the densely arranged guitars and keyboards. Walsh and Steinhardt's "All the World" is largely a bleak examination of loneliness and death, although it does end with a glimmer of hope. "Child of Innocence" is a tough blast of hard rock with a soaring chorus. "Mysteries and Mayhem" rocks along, yet it's rich with haunting nightmare imagery and biblical references. The nine-and-a-half-minute epic "The Pinnacle" closes the album.
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AllMusic Review by Bret Adams