Master Of The Rings
Released: 1994, Vevel
This is my 1000th Heavy Metal album review. My first review was Viper’s THEATER OF FATE, which I wrote for this site back in October of 2001. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit proud about writing 1000 reviews, although deep down I know very few people actually care. There are about a dozen Metal writers world-wide who have hit the 1000 reviews mark, led by the unstoppable Martin Popoff of course with over 9000 reviews to his credit. Alex at the Metal Observer and Autothrall over at Metal Archives are both in the 3000+ range. There are a small bunch of writers in the 1500-2000 range, like the good guys over at Metal Crypt and of course Luxi here at Metal-Rules.com is in the ‘1000 Club’.
I wanted to commemorate this milestone by reviewing something a bit different that just a new release. I wanted to discuss an album that meant a lot to me. Originally I had contemplated doing a review of Kiss-DESTROYER, the album that first set me on the road to rock, but the Lord Of The Wasteland had already reviewed that very fine album back in 2003. Normally we don’t go back and review older stuff too much but I hope you will indulge me and allow me this rare exception.
For me, MASTER OF THE RINGS is the album that saved Metal. Bold words but allow me to explain. I was living in Vancouver, Canada in 1994 when this record came out. 1992-1994 were tough years for Metal. The press had been prematurely declaring metal ‘dead’ with the onslaught of grunge and information was sparse about bands. I was getting information about new bands from fanzines like Denis Gulbey’s shot-lived but excellent fanzine Sentinel Steel. Remember this is still pre-internet by one year so information was hard to come by. Albums were expensive and many of our favourite bands had gone underground, experimented in stylistic changes, or now barely existed on smaller labels.
1994 was still just a bit before the massive mid-90’s Power Metal explosion with the debut albums of bands like Nocturnal Rites (’95), Rhapsody (’95), Kamelot (’95), Symphony X (’94), Edguy (’95), Paragon (’95), White Skull (’95), Labyrinth (’95), Pegazus (’95), Nevermore (’95), Skylark (’96), Hammerfall (’97), Iron Savior (’97) and break-out albums by bands that were still quite young such as Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray. To summarize, in 1992-1994, there just wasn’t ton of great Metal that was easily accessible like today and ground-breaking albums were few and far between.
So in the summer of 1994 I borrowed a dubbed cassette copy of MASTER OF THE RINGS from my good buddy Evil Dave and I distinctly recall the day I first heard it. (As a side note: eventually I got the album on cassette, which was released in North America on a tiny, now defunct label, called Vevel, and the great thing was it that it came with seven bonus tracks on side-B. Nice! I still have it.) I had really enjoyed Helloween in the past but had been a bit disappointed in the direction of the previous two albums, PINK BUBBLES GO APE and CHAMELEON. But this was different. A new singer. A new drummer. A new label. A fresh start. Instead of taking the bus home from work, like I usually did, I specifically walked home on that warm and humid day so I could enjoy the album on my Sony Walkman ™ uninterrupted for an hour or so. What I heard blew me away.
I was so happy, that I decided right there and then that I would continue to actively seek out and support Metal as much as I possibly could. This music was just too good to die. That album was a turning point in my life. I had been a Metal fan for a good ten years at that point, but I really dedicated my time, attention, energy and money to supporting Metal because there was no way I was going to let something die that was so enjoyable, despite what the critics and cynics said. If that meant I had to pay $30.00 for an import CD so a new band like Symphony X could register a sale, I would do it. If that meant buying a ticket to see a band live in concert to help support them, I would do it. That particular point in time, as dumb as it sounds, reaffirmed my lifelong dedication and commitment to Metal and MASTER OF THE RINGS was the catalyst and soundtrack.
Well, what is it about that album that reignited my love for Metal? As I sit and listen to it again today for probably the 1000th time as I write my 1000th review it is an album that epitomizes what I enjoy about the genre. The album starts in keeping with Helloween tradition with a quirky, instrumental introduction called ‘Irritation’, building to a great climax leading into the opener ‘Sole Survivor’. There is a swirling drum intro (almost like a second intro to the first song) that showcases the talents of new guy, Uli Kusch. Shortly after, at the 0:24 minute mark, the simple sequence of rapid, single-notes on the keyboard that signal the start of the proper song, always send chills up my spine before the obligatory welcoming scream by Andi Deris. Magnificent!
The album goes from high to high, finding the perfect spot, that sweet-spot blend of melody, heaviness and speed. I could micro-analyze this album to death with what I like about it. I like the simple acoustic guitar strumming in the song, ‘Where The Rain Grows’ It counterpoints things nicely. I like the fun lyrics and sound effects on ‘The Game Is On’, two things that were noticeably absent on CHAMELEON. I like the pensive and questioning lyric and melody line of ‘Why?’ and the tender ballad, ‘In The Middle Of A Heartbeat’. Andi Deris is no Kiske (and no one will ever will be) but he is more than an adequate replacement and his range really shows on this album. I like the strong metallic ending of ‘Still we Go’. There is not one weak song on this album
All the bonus stuff is great as well. The unreleased tunes, the cover tunes and probably my favorite cut , Grapow’s instrumental tribute to Yngwie J. Malmsteen, ‘Grapowski’s Malmsuite 1001’. I wish he played like that all the time! These bonus tracks are essentially the bonus tracks on the four singles that were released. Four singles! That’s very rare for any album, and it shows the confidence in the band and the label. Five songs from this album alone made their 2002, ‘Best Of’ collection, ‘Treasure Chest’ . That’s more album representation than another other Helloween album on that compilation. Indeed it was a huge comeback album.
I play this album probably more than any other Helloween album. It’s fast, heavy, fun, well-produced, well executed; in short one of my favourite albums of all time. Everyone has a few of those albums that has a special place their heart, this is one of mine. Thanks Helloween, and thank you for reading my 1000th record review for Metal-Rules.com.