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Okay, before I talk about the music, I have to say something about Masterstroke's choice of song titles. This album from the Finnish Heavy Metal up-and-comers is titled Sleep, and there we have the first problem. An album's title is supposed to represent what we're going to hear on the album itself when we put it in. It is supposed to give us a general idea of the "theme" of the album, even if there is only a loose or vague semblance of one, and Masterstroke have made the hideously idiotic decision of titling their new album Sleep. I mean, holy shit, guys, I know I'm not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but why on Earth would any self-respecting band advertise their new album by making it look like it will put the listener in a state of sleep? It makes no sense! And the song titles themselves follow suit in being almost uniformly lame, with oddities like "Another Failure" and "Silent" that don't exactly inspire confidence in the music you're about to listen to before you press the Play button. I'm not claiming that an album with a lame name, a lame cover and shitty song titles still couldn't be a born-again classic, but this one isn't, and the point is that people will always make their preconceptions about things like this. They will claim they don't, but all of them do, at least sometimes. Advertising your album with a title like Sleep is just a really bone-headed thing to do.
Now that I'm done ranting, I'll start talking about the musical content of Masterstroke's latest musical venture Sleep. Is it as good as the debut Apocalypse? Well, I'll just cut to the chase and say that no, it is not. Masterstroke have vastly improved on a lot of the things wrong with their debut here, though: they have a cleaner guitar sound this time around, and vocalist Niko Rauhala has vastly improved his voice, singing here in a much more melodic and enjoyable fashion (while still retaining the grit that so many Power Metal fans, this one included, find enticing). The band has clearly worked hard at making this one, as opener "Killing Creatures" might just be the best song they've written thus far, with its stuttering acoustic intro that segues quickly into a monster riff and a catchy chorus that will have you singing along in no time. There is a lot of influence from bands like mid-era Rage, later Iron Savior and Tarot here, and it is quite welcome, adding a sense of credibility to the music along with the sleeker production.
Unfortunately, a lot of the material here is just too scanty to really catch on. The songs here are of a far shorter nature this time around, and while that doesn't have to be a bad thing, the choruses here often sound like bridges, and you're halfway through a song before you realize that the hooks here just aren't that great. Yes, it's melodic, and yes, it's heavy, but a lot of these songs end before they even really get started. Also, one thing that pisses me off is that there is not nearly enough focus on the excellent lead guitar-work here. Now, as I said in my review for the debut, the solos here were never too flashy or show-off-ish in the first place, but here they're far shorter and overall less impressive, with the songs focusing primarily on the vocal melodies and the choruses. It's like they took all the mediocre elements of the debut and amplified them here. It could be far worse, as the production is still crystal-clear and the vocals have no doubt improved, and we do have some satisfying songs like the melodic and radio-friendly "Another Failure," the cool, searing title track and the uncoiling majesty of "The Circle," but overall, although competent and enjoyable, Sleep is a bit of a regression. Here's to hoping Masterstroke find their way again with their next effort.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com