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If it ain't broke - 80%

we hope you die, July 3rd, 2019

In the current renaissance of extreme metal, it must be hard for older artists to find their voice. Having witnessed so many changes in the world and in the metal scene, staying relevant is a constant challenge. As technology develops exponentially, with cultures and societies barely keeping up with the newest innovations, the scale of this challenge only increases. One possible response is to just ignore it. After all, many artists try to grow and learn from album to album, evolve as musicians and artists, and many such artists fucking suck. Why not just release the same album over and over again?

Chicago’s Master have been going in one form or another since the early 1980s, and with the odd exception here and there, they are pretty much the Motorhead of death metal, having released almost the same album over and over again for the last 30 years. I could cut and paste this review from pretty much any album taken from their releases post 2000, but seeing as we’re comparing this to Autopsy’s ‘The Headless Ritual’ released in 2013, I’ve gone with Master’s ‘The New Elite’, released in 2012. Paul Spekmann is the driving force of this project, and despite boasting some progressive leanings on the occasional bass solo, his approach to death metal is persistently basic. It hearkens back to the very routes of this music, when it wasn’t much beyond a bastard child of hardcore punk and NWOBHM.

Take a d-beat, add tremolo strummed riffs, maybe with some minor harmonies chucked in, but invariably atonal power chord play, add screeching solos when necessary, rinse and repeat. Ok, there are tempo changes in places, even changes in rhythm, but I remain astounded that this basic formula is rarely varied upon, and has been delivered to us in such vast quantities. There are plenty of juicy riffs buried in the mix, and Master have been doing this for so long now that they have all but perfected this form. It exists in a time capsule from somewhere around 1985, when death metal was limited to a few demos produced by a handful of outsiders. It was just another, more extreme take on thrash, but maybe closer in technique to hardcore punk.

And here we sit, looking at an album released nearly 30 years on, a polished and perfected form of pretty much the exact same product. Vocals and lyrics would also be very much at home on a punk album, with Spekmann ranting and raving over the vocal track with all the passion of the elderly witnessing history repeat itself. And full credit to him, he’s never released a bad album, because he’s never released a different album. Approaching Master’s discography can be intimidating for the newcomer, but I can assure you, you cannot go wrong with ‘The New Elite’, or indeed any album released around the same 30 year mark.

The above assessment is honestly not intended to be sarcastic. I do genuinely love the music of Master, just as I would love to see a living breathing dinosaur. It’s old, it’s impressive, and it’s an early version of present day life we can witness in the flesh. I would take Master’s approach to writing music any day over conceited prog kids trying to develop themselves. But at some point you have to wonder…maybe you should at least consider a different key, a new chord, maybe a new instrument, although don’t overstretch yourself. Not all forays into the unknown go the way of Morbid Angel.

Originally published at Hate Meditations

The originals are always the masters - 95%

Pratl1971, August 17th, 2012

Around my parts Master, and particularly Paul Speckmann, is as legendary as our pizza, or lakefront, or our old-school gangsters. Chicago took great pride in Speckmann then and he’s still a hometown boy revered, even far across the globe in the Czech Republic where he now makes his home. While wildly prolific with bands such as Warcry, Funeral Bitch, Abomination and Death Strike, Master remains his main project, and the latest addition to the arsenal by way of The New Elite is a deadly combination of death metal archeology and Heavy Metal History 101.

After the impressive and intense The Human Machine from 2010, Master re-emerges with 11 tracks of sadistic, blood-pumping death metal that is always steeped ever-so-slightly in thrash elements that satiate and subdue the wandering nomad fan of both genres. Arguably one of the first death metal vocalists along with Kam Lee or Jeff Becerra, Speckmann’s throaty, almost hoarse delivery belches and bellows out over the din of some speedy guitar work that pummels the senses as much as it impresses. The initial first tracks in “The New Elite” and “Rise Up and Fight” show that Master is still at the top of its game, both lyrically and musically. While “Rise up and Fight” might not make its way to the next Rocky movie in terms of ‘feel-good’ anthem, Speckmann screaming, “Get a grip on reality…you must fight the fucking machine-“ does just as much to accelerate the testosterone of the staunch metalhead as anything Bill Conti or Ferrante and Teicher wrote for the lulled, impressionable masses. This track is one of my favorite Master tracks ever, and considering how far back this writer goes with Master that speaks volumes. Speckmann’s lyrics have always dealt with overcoming suppression, be in political, spiritual or internal, and he’s vastly underrated as one of the better lyricists of the metal movement. You just feel empowered and alive after hearing Master, and if you don’t I’m afraid you simply don’t get it.

While there is no denying the absolute tenacity with which Master assembles and shatters the psyche within the span of any one album, The New Elite is a tempestuous and vile slab of musical vermin that is about as brutal as it comes while still retaining a perfectly tangible, enunciated balance between guttural noise and intelligent metal easily consumable in large portions. The single “Smile as Your Told” leaves little to the imagination and fools no one; these guys have no intention of giving way to the commercial aspects of the business - Master is the business, and after all of these years they comply and cower to no one. In an era of some long-standing artists bowing criminally to the mighty god of bland commercialism, some bands and players maintain the integral aspects that make us a proud army, and Master is certainly in that mix. Even the ‘slower’ tracks like “Redirect the Evil” harken back to a time where Possessed and Dark Angel reigned supreme in the West Coast dominion; the heavy, battering crunch of the riff in this song is enough to crush a windpipe and a rib cage in one infernal grip. The sound is a total encompassment of the Swedish sound of the late 80’s / early 90’s and a modern underground anger employed by only a few cellar-dweller bands that ‘get’ it. The crisp sound around the edges does little to deviate from the source page, which is a down-tuned carnal sound that is more malevolent than and twice as ugly as any Cannibal Corpse track you can name over the band’s entire period. I’m torn between my want for this music to stay concealed from the layman poser’s view and the need for a band such as Master to be heard and ingested like cyanide to the willing minion. I’d certainly opt for the latter as Master could and would convert any fence-sitters accordingly or simply tear down the fence without apology.

Other standouts here certainly include “New Reforms”, “Twist of Fate”, and “Guide Yourself”, which would induce a Wacken-like pit in any small club across the world, and they’re going to be doing just that this year and into 2013, when a trip home to the States in set for March.

I expected all of this and more from Master and they failed to disappoint, as usual. This will surely be on my year’s end list of “the master elite” albums of the year. I think Paul was on to something there.

(originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)