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You Know Who You Are, You Jerkoff! - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, November 9th, 2011

Originally published at http://suite101.com

Formed in the late 1980s by brothers Bill and Rich Berends, Mastermind has gathered a moderately sized fanbase within the prog rock and metal communities thanks to their technical prowess and songwriting skills. That and having Stratovarius keyboardist Jens Johansson as a frequently contributing guest certainly doesn't hurt either...

Insomnia is the band's seventh studio album as well as their first to come out since 2000's Angels of the Apocalypse. It is also the band's first album to feature lead singer Tracy McShane though she had prevously contributed to the Broken EP in 2005.

While previous albums were often driven by complex song structures and incredibly long track durations, Insomnia strips the sound down to its (mostly) essential elements and is easily their most accessible and straightforward album to date.

In terms of sound, you could describe this as what Dream Theater would sound like if they decided to recruit the lead singer of Evanescence and bring in even more alternative and classic rock influences.

While this change in direction may alienate some of the band's purely prog fans, it should also work to bring in even more listeners and it never feels like the band is attempting to "sell out" thanks to its still-adventurous writing and interesting genre flirtations.

And for what it's worth, the band still shows off their technical talents in several spots with the guitar and keyboard performances standing out the most. The drums and bass are also pretty solid despite the latter duties being handled by the latest line of short-lived session players.

But as somewhat expected, the vocals of Tracy McShane are what define this new sound and give its greatest strengths. While the band's previous singer was noted for her more operatic sound, the new vocalist brings in a gritty attitude that has shades of Janis Joplin in her delivery. The backing vocals are also quite smooth and provide some great touches on tracks such as One More Night and Broken.

As previously mentioned, the songwriting allows for the band to experiment with various genres without making the actual album feel disjointed. Just about every song on here feels like it could be a successful single with tracks such as Meltdown, Break Me Down, and Broken standing out in this regard.

In addition, there are a couple ballads thrown into the mix as the piano-led No Answer provides a somberly heartfelt touch and Last Cigarette is a lengthy closer with a hook that reminds me of Journey's Open Arms for some reason...

A few other tracks worth noting include Night Flier, an instrumental that effectively shows the band's technical talents, and Piggy World, a catchy rocker that is made memorable by its almost power metal chorus and profanity-laced vocals.

Speaking of profanity, the lyrics on this album have also changed greatly in comparison to the more mystical fantasy themes that appeared on past efforts. Piggy World best shows these changes as it provides a telling of the 9 to 5 lifestyle that may be a little too truthful for top 40 radio...

Of course, none of the other songs really match its aggression and mostly stick to themes related to relationships and loss. I don't think there are too many mind-blowing phrases to be found, but they fit the music well and help things run smoothly.

While the changes that have taken place on this album make it somewhat hard to label Mastermind as a prog metal band, their latest album is a particularly great work that should appeal to just about any kind of music fan.

The accessible songwriting should be enough to entice more mainstream listeners and the darker elements should help them stay favorable in the eyes of the more underground music communities. Highly recommended as another highly entertaining album to come out in 2010, even if it should've come out a few years before!

Current Highlights:
Break Me Down, One More Night, Meltdown, Piggy World, and Broken