MindMaze’s Resolve: Review

I found MindMaze’s last album, Back from the Edge (2013), to be enjoyable for its combination of a sunny power metal vibe and restrained progressive tendencies, but that also meant the general sound was a lot like many second-tier power-prog bands. What set Back from the Edge apart was its musicianship. Bennett, Pasqualone, Teets and Teets perform like they want an invitation to Olympus from Euterpe herself — and Resolve just may turn her head.

On Resolve, guitarist Jeff Teets doesn’t just tear through notes — he invests his blazing with character, delivering licks like a man on a mission to be good godammit! For some reason, I think of James O’Barr, in his basement laboring alone, then ascending into the light to deliver The Crow (1989). The drums are always interesting, and the bass, clearly audible in the mix and occasionally charging into the spotlight, showcases no less dedication. A great example of MindMaze firing on all cylinders is “Fight the Future”:

But despite all this stunning musicianship, what sells me on MindMaze is vocalist Sarah Teets. When I first listened to MindMaze, I immediately liked her vocals. The timber of her voice reminds me of Christiana Hatzimihali of Elysion, but Teets sings with more power, range and technique. Style-wise, instead of operatic vocals à la Nightwish or death growls à la Arch Enemy, Teets opts for a natural singing voice with extra blast — and despite some slightly strained and flat moments, the results are emotionally moving.

All these performances together make for a band that sounds like a group of human beings rather than a sustained inhuman orgasm — like, say, DragonForce. The band members even look and act like human beings, appearing awkward in their videos and promo photos, as if they don’t know how to act in front of a camera or would rather be somewhere else jotting down lyrics, practicing riffs, or doing non-rockstar things.

And on Resolve, the lyrics are human, too. Back from the Edge had lyrics that were at times far-out, but Resolve is a 13-track, 67-minute exploration of personal growth — the struggle to learn forgiveness and take responsibility for one’s own destiny. The empty grandiosity and sterling epic fantasy of much power metal often limits my enjoyment, but here is something emotionally grittier. This is power metal with a heart that bleeds and heals.

The album’s structure lends narrative to its themes. Most of Resolve follows the pattern of an instrumental followed by a rocker or rockers. Then there’s a brief lull with the ballad “Release” and the lengthy finale “The Path to Perseverance.” By the end of the album, you have wrestled with inner demons and won. Whereas much power metal plays like an episode of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe that’s nothing but a loop of the energies of Grayskull infusing He-Man — “I HAVE THE POWERRRRR!!!” — this is an album that rises and falls like the human spirit.

When I first recommended MindMaze to some friends, I described the music as standard power metal but with greater musicianship. I’m pleased to report that “standard” no longer applies. MindMaze has raised its songcraft and albumcraft, allowing its members’ musicianship to shine even more. Back from the Edge was a good 3.0, and Resolve is an even better 3.5, but I expect MindMaze’s next album to be a 4.0.

Rating: 3.5/5 demon-alien skull eyes

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