Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Russian Metal Week, Day 2: Мастер - s/t (1987)

Alright, so the Russian Metal Week goes on, and as promised, here we have the brilliant debut album from ex-Ariya members, who later became nearly as famous among the Soviet, and then Russian, metalheads:

Мастер - s/t (Master - s/t) (1987)

Mikhail Seryshev - vocals
Sergey Popov - guitar
Andrey Bolshakov - guitar
Alik Granovskiy - bass
Igor Molchanov - drums
Kirill Pokrovskiy - keyboards

1. "Мастер" (Master)
2. "Берегись" (Beware)
3. "Руки прочь" (Hands Off)
4. "Щит и меч" (The Shield And The Sword)
5. "Ещё раз ночь" (Again, The Night)
6. "Воля и разум" (Will And Consciousness)
7. "Встань, страх преодолей" (Rise And Overcome Your Fear)
8. "Храни меня" (Hold Me)
9. "Кто кого?" (Who Will Win?)

Like Metallica and Megadeth, out of the ashes of Ariya, emerged Master. When Granovskiy, Bolshakov, Molchanov and Pokrovskiy were let go around 1986, they decided not to put their banners down and recruited Seryshev and Popov to form a new band, specializing in a then-evolving musical genre that at the time was extremely rarely (if at all) sounding behind the Iron Curtain: thrash! And so they did, releasing a brilliant speed metal disc, sounding pretty much like early Metallica and Helloween. A couple of months ago I've managed to get this little gem on CD in a bargain bin of the shopping mall near my house, and by God, it still sounds as meaty as it ever was. While Ariya was experimenting with hard rock, NWOBHM and rock-n-roll'ish sounds, only very few underground bands have bordered Master's intensity and delivery. Nine killer songs, not all are speedy as hell, but still with lots of hooks and excellent riffs.

The album (here I'm talking about the recent CD reissue, not the original vinyl that has different tracklist!) kicks off with 'Master', a fast and furious slab of metal, not unlike Slayer '83, though not as heavy. Dramatic intro, fast rhythm and powerful vocals by Seryshev give a great impression of what's yet to come. The lyrics actually do reference the band's history ('We don't want to be someone else's reflection!'), but unlike Ariya or, say, Black Coffee (we'll talk about them tomorrow), Master mostly focuses on political issues like riots and mass hysteria of the decaying Soviet Union. But it's not like Sacred Reich's 'Ignorance', so the lyrical variety is still there: mid-paced 'Beware' talks about the Roman Empire - maybe it's also a reference to USSR, I won't exclude that - and 'Hands Off', another fast thrasher, is about an evil wizard hellbent on destroying the world. Also, the latter has an amazing guitar solo which follows with a nice part with electronic choir chanting. 'The Shield And The Sword' is an okay song, too, but afterwards we are treated to the best part of the whole album, as from now on it's a barrage of metal classics.

'Again, The Night' begins with an INCREDIBLE ambient keyboard solo by Pokrovskiy, to shift into a haunting ballad that combines rock, ambient and even some elements of the Soviet pop music - very refreshing! Also, Seryshev's vocals here send chills down my spine, as he's convincing the listener that he is able not only to scream his lungs out, but also express sincere sorrow and pain of the lyrics' main character. The next two songs are actually shared with Ariya, as they were written by Andrey Bolshakov while he was their guitarist (he actually wrote 8 out of 9 songs for the current subject matter - only 'Hands Off' was written by Granovskiy), and his ex-bandmates have permitted Master to record them and play live, or something like that. Anyways, both songs have also appeared on Ariya's 'Who Are You With?' (С кем ты?) album. They sound almost alike between the bands, not counting the obvious different instrumental recording and vocalists.

'Will and Consciousness' is a mid-paced rocking piece with anti-nuclear war lyrics, and 'Rise And Overcome Your Fear' is infamous for its leading riff being ripped off Judas Priest's 'Jawbreaker'. But it's only the riff - the harmonies, melodies and everything else are different, as are the lyrics - probably my most favorite on the whole album ('Who said that passion is dangerous and kindness is ridiculous? Who said that courage is not needed these days?'). Number 2 for the best lyrics on the record is the next thing, 'Hold Me'. It's another ballad, only heavier and a little bit more intense than 'Again, the Night'. Also, it's a little bit optimistic in tone, as the main character is praying to someone for keeping him away from evil - can this 'someone' be the God, or a loved one, it's all open for interpretation (interesting fact: after leaving Master many years later, Mikhail Seryshev would become a church choir singer). The last song is 'Who Will Win?', a quick, fast and thrashy piece with screaming anti-war lyrics. The title is surely referencing the Cold War going on at the time.

In conclusion, this is one of the finest speed-thrash discs ever recorded, and a decent start-up of a now-famous band. Energy, speed, youth and hunger - it's all here, neighboring the professionalism, excellent songwriting and not-really-obsolete lyrical content. Masters of (Russian) metal!

My Rating: 9/10 (near flawless)