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Masterstroke are a Finnish Heavy Metal band that I am having fits trying to describe. That isn't because they're great or anything, just because they don't sound like anyone else in particular. I know that's usually a positive thing, but I don't really mean it as such here. I guess this sounds sort of like Tarot, what with the crunchy riffs and the present keyboards trilling along in the background and adding atmosphere, but even that isn't a comparison that will give you a good picture of what Masterstroke's debut Apocalypse sounds like. It should suffice, though.
Masterstroke have a lot of riffs here, and not all of them are terribly memorable, but they do get the job done. The guitars are probably the most present instrument here, actually, churning out thick, heavy melodies for the entire duration of this disk while Niko Rauhala spits out his gruff, tuneful grunts with a certain charm to them that I just cannot hate. He isn't the best vocalist ever, but he adds charisma to the band, and that's what a vocalist should always do. I must also bring the lead guitarist to attention, as he is seriously awesome, ripping out some killer licks and solos, but never showing off or biting more out of a song than he can chew.
The best songs here are the ones that show off Masterstroke's compositional skills and don't focus so much on the choruses and vocals. "Evil Forces" is a killer opener, with a grinding, heavy riff that gallops happily along and bashes your face into the cement and a catchy chorus, and it's followed up with the melodic stomper "I'll Take My Time" and the epic "Theater of Madness." The album hits a bit of a dead spot after that, but then when you get to the sprawling "Seven Deadly Sins," things pick up and never really slow down again, with "Eye of the Needle" and "Rusty Angel" both hitting dead on target (and the latter being a really killer mid-tempo song, these guys are quite good at that), and even the bonus track "Metalstorm" being a hugely catchy, hooky stomper with a big chorus and fun all around.
Masterstroke are not anything too special, but they do peddle out a highly enjoyable and riffy brand of Heavy Metal that I have grown to like a lot from my initial skepticism - these guys do grow on you, latching themselves into your head like little metallic leeches with hooks and claws digging into your flesh. This probably never ended up on anyone's Best Of 2006 lists, but Masterstroke do have the potential to create something really big someday, so let us keep our eyes on this promising young band.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com