Master Men – Through the Window (2015)

MasterMen_ThruWindow3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Poland’s Master Men, although typically lumped into the Progressive Rock category at many music-related websites, seems more an AOR/Hard Rock outfit with moderate Prog-Rock leanings, thanks mainly to the prominent use of keyboards.

But the music overall is much more straightforward than most Prog bands, with relatively short tracks (all between three and six minutes) and featuring nearly nothing in the way of complex musical arrangements, only a few modest solos throughout, which seems comparable to groups such as Alias Eye or latter-day Saga.

Generally speaking, the group’s style is rather pleasant, occasionally mellow with some power-bursts, due to the crunchy guitar sound and leads, and includes a recognizable lead singer with a mid-level range.

On Through the Window, there’s nothing to set the world on fire, but the band certainly has potential and the synth-heavy material should appeal to Prog-Rock fans seeking an undemanding listening experience.

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The Edgar Winter Group – Shock Treatment (1974)

EdgarWinter_ShockTreatment3.5 out of 5 Stars!

After 1972’s They Only Come Out at Night, a fairly decent debut album containing the monster hits (pun intended) called “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride,” how did The Edgar Winter Group follow up?

By creating another collection of eclectic tracks—a mix of rockers (“Some Kind of Animal,” “Rock & Roll Woman,” “Queen of My Dreams,” and “River’s Risin'”), and ballads (“Sundown” and “Someone Take My Heart Away”), and miscellaneous bits of Pop (“Miracle of Love” and “Maybe Some Day You’ll Call My Name”), bits of Jazz (“Easy Street”), bits of Funk (“Do Like Me” and “Animal”), and bits of other genres—along with another highly capable guitarist named Rick Derringer, who replaced Ronnie Montrose, that’s how.

Indeed, I actually enjoy Shock Treatment more than the band’s debut, thanks mostly to the talents of the sadly underrated bassist/vocalist Dan Hartman (RIP), the group’s chief songwriter, as well as the killer, sax-wailing tune “Easy Street” (which should have been a #1 hit) and the brutal Zeppelin-inspired “Queen of My Dreams.”

No, Shock Treatment is not a masterpiece in my eyes, as I feel it’s a tad disjointed overall with so many styles included. Nevertheless, I also feel it’s a rather savory, above-average album as it contains some exceptional tracks (“Easy Street” being the unrivaled gem), and a platter I still find myself craving from time to time.

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Leaves’ Eyes – Njord (2009)

LeavesEyes_Njord3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Years ago, when I first discovered groups such as Nightwish, After Forever, and Within Temptation—female-fronted Symphonic/Gothic Metal groups—I also happily stumbled upon Leaves’ Eyes from Germany.

Singer Liv Kristine has a magnificent range and style of delivery. More rock-oriented as opposed to operatic in overall nature, her voice nevertheless soars above the often-grand and occasionally folksy musical arrangements like a songbird in flight. My only pet peeve about this group—the same pet peeve I have with Epica and several other bands in this genre—and the reason I don’t typically rate the band’s releases higher on my scale, is the cheesy, jarring, and annoying-as-hell insertion of undecipherable “growling/beast” male vocals the band continues to employ, which basically destroy much of the beauty that is otherwise to be found on each album.

With that being said, Njord, the band’s third full-length release, still has its moments of greatness, such as on the grand and majestic opening title track, as well as the heavily symphonic compositions “Take the Devil in Me,” “Northbound,” “Emerald Island,” and the lengthy, multi-part “Froya’s Theme.” The band’s lush and dramatic rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair” is also quite special. And despite the silly “beast vocal” garbage that pops up on too many tracks, the album can thankfully be savored without too much difficulty.

But a final note to all Symphonic Metal groups: Please, PLEASE, if you truly need to use these male “growling/beast” vocals to satisfy some deep-seated craving of which I am unaware, I beg of you to do so sparingly and give us fans of actual music a break from this unnecessary and insufferable noise. (And my apologies to anyone who disagrees with me on this point, but that’s just my opinion.)

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