Masterplan

Time to Be King

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Virtually no one was foolish enough to dismiss Masterplan as a meager Helloween splinter group when it was founded in 2003 by exiting guitarist Roland Grapow and drummer Uli Kush -- especially because the duo were wise enough to recruit a similarly respected and experienced vocalist like Jørn Lande to front their efforts. But when both Lande and Kush quit due to growing musical differences following just two critically and commercially successful albums, the Masterplan ship was set adrift in a sea of uncertainty, no matter how respectable their subsequent efforts (2007's Lost and Gone EP and MK II album) behind next singer Mike DiMeo, who was merely on loan from Riot, after all. And so, Lande's return in time for Masterplan's fourth album, 2010's Time to Be King, would seem to be a win-win proposition by any measure, wouldn't it; as good as a victory lap for Lande and Grapow (Kush stayed away, incidentally) to bask in the spotlight of their unquestioned, virtuosic talents? Well, surprise, surprise, although both men hardly disappoint in their respective functions, it's actually keyboard player Axel Mackenrott who steals the show here, thanks not only to his equally accomplished musicianship, but primarily his deft arrangements and impeccable taste for giving each song exactly what it calls for. Whether orchestrating a rousing synth-enhanced mid-section for the title track, combining disconcerting piano tickling with synthesizer flourishes for "The Sun Is in Your Hands," or simply framing his bandmates' parts with alternately complementary or contrasting backdrops, Mackenrott's contributions often "make" these songs; and thus bear the greatest responsibility for pushing what might have been a good, but still quite predictable melodic, power metal album to the next level. When did you ever expect to hear that in relation to a heavy metal album? And mind you, this in no way reflects poorly on either Masterplan or Time to Be King's power metal credentials (this is hardly heavy metal's most extreme or inventive subgenre, anyway), but rather makes both more interesting due to the unlikeliest person in the studio. Masterplan's fans will no doubt take this as a win-win situation.

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