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A new beginning indeed. - 80%

hells_unicorn, January 5th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2013, 12" vinyl, AFM Records

Masterplan, from its very origin, has been a band defined by instability and flux. This wasn't so much a reflection of their music, but more the circumstances surrounding it, from co-founding members' Uli Kusch and Roland Grapow's sudden ejection from Helloween after about 8 years of relative line up stability, to the continual entry and exodus of membership following their sophomore effort Aeronautics. One might even go so far as to label this band as an extension of Roland's solo career, though keyboardist Axel Mackenrott came into the fold fairly early in the game and has stuck it out 11 years. But whatever the state of affairs behind the scenes, 2013 brought in the fifth album of this ongoing break away from the Helloween family in Novum Initium (Latin for "New Beginning", employing the services of ex-Stratovarius bassist Jari Kainulainen, current Cradle Of Filth drummer Martin Skaroupka, and At Vance/Herman Franck vocalist Rick Altzi, an equally formidable fold in terms of name recognition to the ones they replaced.

Pretty much the greatest strength and fatal flaw of this album (depending on one's expectations) is that this is the ultimate Masterplan album. What is meant by that is that Novum Initium is a pure representation of what this band is about, distilled to the point of all but eliminating a the peripheral moving parts that gave the first two albums their uniquely progressive niche and also toning down a lot of the rocking elements paved the way for the more AOR oriented character of power metal that came into prominence in the mid 2000s, getting the jump on Edguy and several others by a year or two in the process. Likewise, the addition of gravely, power house singer Rick Altzi into the fold has accomplished on here what some might have previously considered impossible, namely making a more metallic album somehow sound even more like Whitesnake than was the case with Jorn Lande at the helm. One wouldn't be wrong in labeling this as a pure power metal album that manages to remain heavy and mid-tempo despite the usual associations of constant speed and campy melodic sweetness normally associated with the label, or in other words, one might call this the sophomore album that Ride The Sky never released.

Despite the heavily streamlined formula at play here, the songwriting has regained some of the luster that started to fade following the release of what some have come to view as Masterplan's seminal album MK II, and the massive production sound actually serves to augment the metallic edge at work rather than hinder it. Heavy hitters such as "Betrayal" and "No Escape" pummel with a set of groovy yet intricate down-tuned riffs as Altzi wails away with a measured display of grit and attitude, whereas things manage to wow in the speed and technique department on "The Game" and "Black Night Of Magic", reminding a bit of Stratovarius between the melodic hooks and prominent keyboards, though more along the lines of the heavier, crunchier character of the post-Timo Tolkki era. "Return From Avalon" manages to break some new territory for the band and introduces a shuffling gallop feel into the mix that rings a bit more closely to a triumphant victory theme than the various deep or mundane versions of human relations that tend to dominate their sound. Pretty much the closest things to balladry that come into play here are found in the 80s revival grooving romp "Through Your Eyes" and the more hard rocking and punchy yet keyboard oriented affair "Earth Is Going Down", though they spend little time in quiet territory.

It's perhaps understandable that this album received a lot of mediocre responses from critics given that in spite of being a lot of fun and loaded with riveting shred solos and lofty keyboard parts, from a big picture view, it's a very safe album stylistically. This is an album that begins thing anew largely by retracing the steps of this band back to their very inception in the early 2000s and places a greater emphasis on the more stylistically uniform aspects of their early works. It isn't hard to hear parallels between such memorable debut album anthems such as "Spirit Never Die", "Kind Hearted Light" and "Soulburn", but many of the left-turns into old school acoustic rock territory on "Into The Light" and "When Love Comes Close" are decidedly absent, along with some of the more intricate and nimble quirks heard on "Crystal Night" and "Crawling From Hell". The strength of this album lay not so much with breaking actual new ground, but more so in masterful execution within grounds already explored, and from my end of things that leaves very little to complain about.

Averageplan - 50%

Andromeda_Unchained, November 3rd, 2013

I was a big fan of the last Masterplan album, and along with the still excellent MK II would put it up there with the finest work this band has ever laid down. Since Time To Be King Masterplan have had another line-up change which seems to be a custom between albums now for these guys. Rick Altzi who some of you guys will recognise from Herman Frank and At Vance is filling in the oft vacant vocal spot of Jorn Lande, (can that guy stay put for more than two seconds?) and further rounding out the band is Jari Kainulainen on bass, and Martin Skaroupka behind the kit who have both done time in countless European acts, from Stratovarius to Symphonity.

Novum Initium is the fifth full-length from Roland Grapow and co, and sadly sees the band running out of steam and going through the motions. If you’re at all familiar with their previous output, particularly the Jorn Lande fronted albums (MK II was always something of an anomaly in their discog) then I can assure you there isn’t anything new or exciting to be found here on. Rick Altzi is a good singer - and particularly proved his worth on the last Herman Frank album – although here he doesn’t really go above or beyond his talents, delivering a standard husky performance, atypical for the hard rock/metal crowd.

As for the music across the board, Masterplan largely keep in check with their genre conventions, dishing out a decidedly trite array of modern power metal. I’m disappointed to say that this feels almost completely bereft of energy, and even amongst the albums stronger tracks such as “No Escape” or “Return From Avalon”; one listen to “Warrior's Cry” from MK II blows them out of the water. There’s nothing all that memorable about Novum Initium either, with the hooks and refrains alike being decidedly unspectacular. Even Roland Grapow’s usually spectacular guitar work takes something of a backseat, and whilst some of these songs have guitar solos I’m hard pressed to remember if they’re even there.

It’s unfortunate having to come off hard on a band you support, and hopefully Novum Initium is the sound of Masterplan coming to terms with a new line-up, maybe next time they’ll be able to put out something a little more special. For now though, this one is without a doubt by the book, and as such a little hard to get excited about or recommend. Okay at best, I could take it or leave it.

Originally written for

Try Again... - 64%

bentolas, September 20th, 2013

On football language it's normal to say "winning team, no changes". Well, Masterplan always were a winning "team", nevertheless the last couple of years were kinda afflicted and we have many hires for this new record. First of all, with Jørn Lande leaving, a dark nebulous fog fell over the band. Rick Altzi would fill the vocal throne a few months later, stopping with the murmur that was created. But the changes were not just in the mike, Jari Kainulainen on bass and Martin Skaroupka on drums compete the new line-up.

Masterplan tell us what they have for us with the title of the album. "Nova Initium" is, in fact, a new beggining, a band trying to find a new path during fifty minutes and some teardrops. We don't have any "Kind Hearted Light" or "Watching the World" here, its changing time and changing is made on safe mode, in a "plastic" way, with the usual cheesy chorus (power metal ones) and a shocking lack of feeling ("Pray on my Soul" or "Through Your Eyes").

Even so, there is lots of interest points in here, songs "Betrayal", "The Game" or "Black Night of Magic" shows Rick Altzi as someone that wants to "come, see and conquer" and he reach some moments of brilliance during the record. We almost forget about Lande. Roland Grapow is on top too! The guitar players was kinda disappeared on the last records, but here he returns to his best, with great solos and some liberty on the guitar, something that was missing on "Time to be King", for instance, and this is probably the most positive thing on this album.

"Nova Initium" joins to Masterplan's discography as transition point. It is not a proud reason on the repertoire of the germans, but is a step that was to be taken and, after all, makes sense. Now fans have to wait for the next record, because just the future will tell if this was indeed a new "initium" or the beggining of the end.

This review was written for:

I can't decide if it's sad or funny yet. - 6%

Empyreal, August 1st, 2013

Masterplan’s last album Time to Be King was just bland as all hell, but give them credit, they DID try to one up themselves with Novum Initium...nothing they've done in the past has ever made me want to stop listening to metal as much as this album did.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more ludicrously patched together, try-hard attempt at every single post-2000s melodic metal cliché. They hit every fucking box. First they got the Latin album title, got to have that. Yeah, did you search Wikipedia for a whole two minutes for that one, guys? Not to mention Novum Initium hits yet another cliché without even getting to the actual music yet…truly an amazing feat. I’m talking about the usual cash-in power metal crap where a band writes lyrics about starting over with a clean slate, doing something fresh, etc. even when it’s clear they’re just regurgitating the innards of a bunch of Hallmark college graduation cards. I think they should start mining the funeral and hospital-visit ones instead; might get some more fitting metaphors for the brain-dead music that way.

The music is even more ridiculous, I mean honestly. They hit every fucking box, yet again – we got Hammond organs, we got poppy keyboards, we got faux “heavy” tracks, we got faux “epic” tracks…hell, they even throw in a short Middle Eastern sounding bit; there isn’t a cliché they missed. If they could work these ideas into catchy, memorable songs it would be less offensive, but the performances are limp and phoned-in, saved only by the crystal clear production, and Rick Altzi’s vocals sound like he smoked a pack of Marlboros before every recording session. There’s another cliché, got to have “gritty” vocals or else people will think the music is gay. The melodies are about as good as your average butt-clenching alt-rock song in the background of the latest Happy Madison movie. The music, while well played, is utterly rote and bereft of ideas.

Opener “The Game” is pretty symptomatic of the whole album – pristine production backing utterly retarded songwriting. They throw everything in…to make up for the weak chorus, they try some Gus G-esque guitar acrobatics, some Hammond organs, it’s a mess. The general theme on here is to introduce a quasi-progressive element, such as the different-sounding keyboards (they used those in the 70s, so it must be good!) but fails to actually do anything. They throw in a part that could sound fresh if the songwriting was any good, but then just scrap it afterwards and go back to the very dull poppy chorus.

Just having a different-sounding part for a few seconds per song doesn't count as 'making your own style,' guys. As much as I'd like to believe there was a sincere bone in this album's body, I just keep coming back to one undeniable fact: if they really meant any of this, if they really wanted to "branch out" and use some of these ideas (Hammond organs, Middle Eastern bits, pop keyboards), they'd go all the way with it and incorporate it more fully into the song, using those ideas to create a catchy motif or an atmosphere. That way, it wouldn't come off like a cliché - it would be a songwriting choice. But the way it's done here, where they just shoehorn a different trendy-sounding keyboard bit into the bridge of a song for five seconds per song, is just about the worst kind of commercial "metal" garbage possible. They just throw everything and the kitchen sink into random songs trying to come off as different or artsy, something other than the bland poppy garbage that really lies underneath it all.

The album just keeps going with every lame thing in the book that you’ve heard done a billion fucking times over. “Betrayal” has some heavy riffs that I’m pretty sure they were contractually obligated to write. The aforementioned brief Middle Eastern melody is featured in this song, and I am really suffocating from the stench of how hard this is pandering to what was popular in metal 10 years ago with underground bands on Limb Music. News flash guys, that shit doesn't fly anymore. You need better gimmicks to impress people now. “Return from Avalon” is the cliché happy power metal song, played joylessly, mechanically ticking off the components as if it were coming straight off a conveyor belt. Particular points of horror include the wretched dramatic attempt “No Escape” (never seen THAT song title before, you geniuses!) and the near-unlistenable keyboard-crapola of “Keep the Dream Alive,” which has probably one of the worst choruses you’ll hear on a melodic metal album in 2013. Did “Pray on My Soul” just use the lyric “I won’t call your name no more”? Seriously? Seriously?

It’s just so utterly thoughtless. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard a million times before. It’s not that they’re using clichés and familiar tropes, it’s that they’re using all of them. This is a band whose identity is formed around one ideology, which is to not have an ideology. This is pretty much the nadir of the worst trends in power metal today, as this is full of commercial-pandering garbage masquerading as something metal, and the band’s attempts to hide their obvious love affair for flat-out pop music just make this worse. I’d rather they just go ahead and play the pop-rock they have always wanted to play deep down, I’m sure it would be far more enjoyable than this album. I don’t even mean that as an insult – they’d be better at it, seriously.

But power metal fans are generally a crowd that doesn’t like that kind of music, and so we’ll continue to get artistically bereft jokes like this. So many power metal fans just eat this kind of thing up and refuse to call it on its bullshit – this kind of plastic, pre-processed junk-food metal that plays up all the poppy, listenable choruses people love to hear, but oh, there’s heavy guitars and a solo or two, plus some ethnic-sounding keyboards for five seconds. Must be metal. Now we can feel good about liking it.

No. I do not fall in with that kind of thinking. To me, if you think this kind of stuff is OK, you are part of the problem. Just leave this crap in the back of the indie record store to collect dust. Trust me, you'll be better off.

And... One step back. - 55%

Immortally_Insane, June 28th, 2013

June 14th marked the newest release for the band, “Novum Initium” with a fresh start and a fresh lineup, the sky was the limit.

This “new” Masterplan promised to deliver power metal, on the heavier side of the genre, while blending influences from all over the heavy metal universe. Unfortunately, the album doesn't quite meet that expectation. The songs, while they are good songs and pleasant listens, are somewhat lackluster and minimalistic in great head turning hooks. As a hardcore Masterplan fan from the very beginning, it's extremely hard to compare albums like the self-titled Masterplan and the greatness that is MKII to “Novum Initium”. It seems as if the band wasn't nearly as committed here as felt in the past. It's not as if the music isn't fantastic and full of great talent and skill, it just doesn't come together as well as it could.

After the intro track, the first two tracks on the album could not hold my attention. The track “Betrayal” picks up some momentum and definitely regains a listener's focus from the get-go. The chorus is catchy without being corny or over the top. The musicianship is spot on, and it brings back a little bit of that classic Masterplan that we all have grown to love. “Return From Avalon” starts off marvelously, but somewhere between the verse riffs and dragging vocal lines, I stopped listening. As a true sucker for ballads and emotional metal tunes, this album is severely lacking in true emotion. I don't feel anything, not even a tad bit of excitement in the music.

This album is proof that big names doesn't always equal out to a great album. While there are justifiably good tracks on the album like “Pray on My Soul” and “Earth is Going Down” I feel it is too little too late. The listener has likely moved on to another one of the amazing power metal albums of 2013 by the time they even make it to those tracks. It's a shame to see a great like Masterplan heading down this road, especially with the pure talent in the musicians on their own is undeniable. With a new lineup, it's always expected that the following album will be far from perfect, as we're constantly comparing them to older material that we know and love. That being said, something huge is going to have to change for Masterplan to get their groove back.

[Originally written for]

One step forward. - 60%

Tobbe L, June 23rd, 2013

Masterplan's fifth full-length album features their third lead vocalist and partly because of this situation the band never had a strong momentum. They came out strong with two brilliant releases back in the day, but since then I reckon nobody knows whether they're on hiatus, have disbanded, or if/when new material will see the light of day. With Novum Initium we see a new and altered band formation, leaving only main man and guitarist Roland Grapow and keyboarder Axel Mackenrott as existing original members and also the only two left in the ranks from last album, 2010's Time To Be King featuring Jorn Lande on vocals.

Novum Initium follows a solid melodic metal trace based on Grapow's guitar play almost straight throughout. With former Stratovarius long-time member Jari Kainulainen in the ranks, Masterplan also holds a truly skilled bass player and new lead singer, Rick Altzi, proves that he's got what it takes to do the job for this unit. This release basically carries pretty good songs all throughout, yet there's a consistent lack of those solid punch in the face moments that force you to scream your lungs out in a madness. Although I've listened to this disc well over a dozen times, the majority of the songs never really strike me hard, even if most include some individual luster and neat patterns.

Grapow's heavy riffing is what defines and differentiates this album from other releases in the vein of melodic metal, but being a prominent musician doesn't equal great and outstanding songs. However, the ten minute title track and especially the latter half of it is awesome. The Game with its speedier approach also appeals to me and so does the captivating, easily digested, and fairly catchy Return From Avalon. One thing is for certain, this release is way better than Lande's uninspired and final effort with Masterplan, so even if some of my words above seem somewhat patronizing, Novum Initium is still a fairly good release.

Originally written for