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An Alternate-Timeline Power Metal - 90%

forceofevil, June 18th, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Scarlet Records (Bandcamp)

The knock on Mastercastle - check the reviews around the web or right here on Encyclopedia Metallum - is is that they're not as technically accomplished as the bigger luminaries in the power metal genre. And that's true: they don't really do the galloping-horses heirs-of-Maiden thing, and the vocals are nowhere near as immense as Tarja or Simone or Floor. But to fault Mastercastle for not being Nightwish or Epica is to miss the point.

Pier Gonella, the architect of Mastercastle's sound, favors moodier atmospheres and tempi than his peers in the genre; Georgia Gueglio, the singer, has a fine instrument, but not a hyper-attuned quasi-operatic one. Her phrases sometimes decay into snarl on the concluding note; she doesn't hold her notes to show you how giant her lungs are. She's closer to a rock singer, and that's fine. If what you want from your power metal is a constant display of power that never lets up, then you'll walk away from Wine of Heaven disappointed: most of the songs are mid-tempo, there aren't any double-time breakdowns, you're never going to feel overwhelmed.

Instead, Wine of Heaven is a slowly unfolding melodic journey into cinematic spaces that'd be easy to miss if the rhythms section were pummeling you the whole time, or if the vocals were pealing with gale force from stem to stern. The opening track's melody announces the album's approach: it doesn't resolve gloriously on the tonic, and it doesn't hold on a suspension an octave above it, either. It's a gently descending melody that recalls the female-fronted occult rock craze titans from the recent past: the Devil's Blood, or Blood Ceremony, or Jess & the Ancient Ones. The riffs, too, are like a more major-key look at those essentially 70s-hard-rock styles: they're majestic, but also a little introspective -- during the breakdown in "Castle in the Sky," Gonella eases through his composed figures like Richie Blackmore in a late-night mood.

This is deeply absorbing music; it's meant more for listening than for pumping your fist. The soloing, as others have noted, is a little lackluster at times -- one place where power metal generally could grow a little is in exploring tone more closely instead of defaulting to age-old sounds and styles. The riffs are solidly in the vein of Rainbow or Trapeze -- non-blues-based hard rock riffing that paint pictures of high fantasy or sword & sorcery in the mind. It reminds me of a power metal Without Face -- a band dipping into the tropes of a couple of other styles but trying to sculpt their own thing. For the curious listener, it's a total keeper.