Album: Shadow and Steel
Artist: Master Sword
Genre: Symphonic/fantasy metal
Total time: 58:54
For all the talk these days about the state of modern music and where the music industry is going, I still think that it is a pretty exciting time to be a music fan. Now, more than ever, the listener has more power to custom-fit their tastes to their liking. No longer limited to radio or other mainstream avenues to be force-fed the music we should like, the playing field is wide open and there is literally a musical genre for everything.
In the world of metal, this tailor-made customization has taken hold as well; many bands specializing in a particular theme. There is Alestorm, who writes all about pirates; or Battlelore, whose songs all center around the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. There are bands that write about nothing but Vikings or zombies or comic book heroes—if you are into something, it’s very likely there is a metal band right now writing the soundtrack for that thing.
Video games are another niche market that have found a home within metal and one of these bands who are taking this new genre and raising the bar is Master Sword, a “heavy metal Zelda tribute band”. Their music pays homage to The Legend of Zelda video game series, one of the most beloved video game franchises of all time for over 30 years.
It is apparent when you hear them that Master Sword knows their material well and that they all share a deep love and respect for these games. As a Zelda fan myself, I can appreciate the way they use familiar musical parts from the games to craft a heavy tune and to further embellish on the rich narrative of the stories within these games. With their 4-song debut EP Epoch, Master Sword managed to open the doors to Hyrule (and all its parallel universes) and unfolded its vast landscape through music. Now, after over 2 years, the band’s long-awaited full-length album is here. Shadow and Steel promises to live up to the long wait and big expectations and they do not disappoint.
From the second the opening track “Behind the Mirror” hits, Master Sword takes you and pulls you into the Zelda universe. The music is charged with a feeling of anticipation, as Lily Hoy’s wildly high vocals invite you on an adventure. “Let me Show You the Night” is both eerie and seductive; a play on the darkly-themed Twilight Princess game.
What I really love about Master Sword’s music is the way they incorporate bits and pieces of other Zelda theme music into songs that are based on another theme, such as the song “Tower of Stone”, which is a reference to my favorite Zelda game of all time, Majora’s Mask, and the Stone Tower Temple, a dungeon that has become a fan-favorite to play, even among those who do not cite this as a favorite game. This near 7-minute track is filled with ambiance (I especially love the ’70s-style keyboards; very prog!), especially if you have played these games before and know the references. Even if you haven’t, the lyrics set up the visuals to where one could almost see the old, decaying tower that holds the ancient secrets of the dead.
Of course, Master Sword is not all about leaning on Zelda riffs. Much of their material is original stuff, with a few bits and pieces of Zelda themes peppered in or lyrics that are direct references to games, such as the songs “Kiss of the Flame” and “Beneath the Skin”, both of which have a good deal of original material, but also incorporate some well-known riffs from the games Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past, respectively.
However, they would not call themselves a “Zelda tribute band” for nothing: songs like “Sanctuary”, “Master of the Seas” and “Isle of the Sky Spirits” are all songs that heavily incorporate themes from various games, tugging at the heartstrings of every ’80s and ’90s kid who grew up with these games and still love them today. I know I felt a little bit of nostalgia when the song “Master of the Seas” ended with the memorable “Song of Time”, a theme any Zelda fan will know immediately.
The music, like the games, is very epic in scope; such as “Beneath the Skin” and “Master if the Seas”, the two songs that clock in at just under 9 minutes. However, this grandeur is never more apparent than when Master Sword goes full-on Zelda and covers the iconic “Hyrule Field” theme. If you have ever played the game Ocarina of Time (deemed one of the greatest video games of all time and the most beloved of the Zelda franchise by many fans), this music is instantly familiar to you, as Master Sword takes that open-world sense of adventure and revs it up, making that feeling of wonder even more exciting and inspiring. In just a little over 4 minutes, Master Sword manages to capture all that same power and majesty of the 8 or 9-minute songs. You almost feel like jumping on the back of a horse and riding across the open lands! The final track, “My Destined One”, is also another Zelda theme done Master Sword-style; this one a take on the theme from the most current Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, a gentle, mellow acoustic ballad that wraps up the album nicely.
Overall, if you are a fan of the Zelda games, then Master Sword has a lot here for you to enjoy. You will recognize parts of various games and the references in their lyrics will be easy to understand. However, even if you are not a fan of the games or have not played them much, you can still enjoy Master Sword’s music, because they are a damn good band. The riffs are heavy, the musical style leans more towards progressive or symphonic metal and Lily’s voice is one that needs to be heard to be believed. Her voice is just insane (I mean this in a good way)! If you like heavy music with a bit of a “soundtrack” feel, then Master Sword is worth checking out. You may feel like you have stepped inside a video game when you are listening to Shadow and Steel, because it does make for great game-play music. If Master Sword existed in Hyrule, they might possibly even make Tingle do his special fairy dance. Koo-loo Limpah!
*Thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.
*Special thanks to Matt Farkas for providing all photos.
*This review is dedicated to the memory of Zellie Blake: 1982-2010.*
“Whenever there is a meeting, a parting shall follow. But that parting needs not last forever. Whether a parting be forever or merely for a short while...that is up to you.”
—The Happy Mask Salesman, Majora's Mask