Album Review: Master - The New Elite / Human Machine / On The Seventh Day...
Reviewed by Gareth Pugh
When it comes to death metal legends and their place in the annals of history, several names come to mind, certainly the Godfathers Chuck Schuldiner, Jeff Becerra, Trey Azagthoth et al, but another name, that should also grace that list is Paul Speckmann, active since 1982 with WAR CRY, who then formed DEATHSTRIKE, which later became MASTER in 1983 and had an album ready to be released in 1985, which was delayed (and incidentally not released for 18 years). After numerous re-recordings and line-up changes, the band finally released their first album proper in 1990 and long after the initial death metal fever had passed. Said self-titled album was very much an album of 5 years earlier, a primitive, almost death/thrash affair, and although songs like 'Pledge of Allegiance' and 'Funeral Bitch' were solid enough, death metal had already moved on somewhat. The band, or should I say Paul was undeterred though, and with a new set of songs (some old, some new) and a completely new line-up moved forward to...
Album number two, and the first of these reissues, the wonderfully titled 'On the Seventh Day God Created... Master', which actually started in the studio without the band having a guitarist, Jim Martinelli having been sacked just before the recording. Death metal production guru, Scott Burns called on his numerous contacts, and soon Paul Masvidal from progressive death metal legends Cynic, was in the studio to learn and also improvise the guitar parts. Rumour has it, he has been a bit dismissive of the record since, which if true is a shame as although the music lacks the technical wizardry of his day job band, this is still a great album and certainly has its part in death metal history.
Starting with the truly primordial ‘What Kind of God’, what is immediately noticeable is the sheer barbaric brutality of the music, this is almost feral like, and yet there is a simple melodic undertone, and the hooks although uncomplicated are certainly present and the songs soon drill themselves into the brain. The production although rudimentary, and has one of Burns’ more filthy sounds, it lacks his normal precision and although the guitars are a bit too compressed and the triggered drums too high in the mix, rendering the bass all but inaudible. Which is a shame as Speckmann is a worthy bass player, it definitely fits the music.
One complaint is that due to the production and intensity, some of the tracks can blur into each other somewhat, the grinding rhythms are all a bit mid-paced, and when the beat varies, either slower or faster, the album certainly benefits from the contrast. Highlights are the pulverising 'Latitudinarian', the equally fast yet chunky 'Whose Left to Decide' and the mocking, sarcastic 'America The Pitiful' where Speckmann’s loathing of humanity can be almost felt in his hatful throaty roar. Arguably their greatest hour, 'On the Seventh Day…’ is certainly the odd one out in the back catalogue, with Masvidal’s leads elevating the whole album to another level, much like James Murphy did with for Obituary’s ‘Cause of Death’ and Cancer’s ‘Death Shall Rise’, they certainly never repeated this one.
And so, we fast forward 19 years, six Master albums (seven if you include the now released 1985 album), numerous line-up changes, not to mention a relocation to the Czech Republic in early 2000, and several side projects and solo works later we get to ‘The Human Machine’ the band’s ninth and the fourth with the now stable ‘new’ Czech line up with Alex Nejezchleba on ‘Guitars’ and Zdeněk Pradlovský on ‘Drums’.
Style wise it's fairly obvious from the opening barres of the title track the band has hardly moved on one iota from 1990, the band utilising the same primeval rhythms and patterns as before, yet the crude and simplistic riffs are just as effective as before. Due to the much-improved production values, despite being recorded, mixed and mastered in only 6 days at Shaark Studios in Bzenec, they provide a real punch to the gut. Songs like ‘It’s What Your Country Can Do for You’ and ‘Twisted Truth’ continue Speckmann's most vicious lyrical attacks on a society “infected by governments and where people cannot think for themselves anymore”, to the backdrop of vicious old school death metal, albeit with modern execution.
Alex ‘93’ is a competent and prolific guitarist, and his churning riff work is as potent and effective as any the band have had previously, and although his leads are more than adequate, they do lack the unique adroitness that Masvidal brought to the table. ‘The Human Machine’ is a more than solid entry in the Master back catalogue, with aggressive fast, thought-provoking songs, augmented by Eliran Kantor's undeniably striking artwork.
10th album ‘The New Elite’ again sees the band record in Shaark Studios with the same line-up which you would think would end up with similar sounding to the previous one, and while there’s not a massive leap in progression, both the production and technical aspects of the band has moved on, granted this is still fast and aggressive dirty, thrash tinged old school death metal, but there are certainly subtle differences, whether this is because Nejezchleba has co-written a few tracks on the album or other reasons, it shows. The opening salvo of 'The New Elite' and 'Rise Up and Fight”,' highlight the fact that the band are on top form, delivering blood-pumping, punishing, politically aware songs that use unrelenting violence to highlight class inequalities and other social injustices of today, with lyrics that are just as valid today, if not more do than they were 10 years ago.
Master is a band well worth checking out, they exist on a different plane to most Death metal bands, they have their own agenda which sees them operate with nothing other than pure conviction and a love for a style of metal which might not be cutting-edge, or particularly modern, style wise but is no less relevant.