Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mini-review: Master Sword—Epoch (EP) (2015)

 Epoch album cover

Album: Epoch
Artist: Master Sword
Genre: Power metal
Tracks: 4
Total time: 20:02

Since I write primarily about music on this site, I don't get the chance very often to talk about my interests or hobbies outside of music, so few of you (if any) know little to nothing about other things that I like.

Like many metal fans, I am a huge fan of video games (however, as I do not own the newest and latest consoles, I cannot in good conscience call myself a gamer, as much as I would like to). One of my favorite video game series of all time is The Legend of Zelda series. Link has been my constant companion for nearly 30 years, ever since I was 8 or 9 years old. In many respects he is the perfect man: he never speaks, and he is always willing and ready to lend a helping hand to a lady! He also has a bad-boy streak: he loves to go into the homes of strangers and smash their pottery to take the money they have hidden in there. He goes into battle fearlessly and never hesitates to take on any favor asked of him, no matter how great or small.

Like any other man, he also has his faults: chickens are his Achilles' heel, and he has a penchant for sleeping in. Sometimes he also tends to hang out with the wrong crowd, like annoying little fairies that are yelling, “hey, listen!” in his ear every 5 seconds; or playing games with masked children who want to destroy the world. But he is kind to animals, is a true-blue friend who can ride a horse, sail a boat, and travel through time. His spirit reincarnates through several timelines and alternate universes. He's the only man who can wield the Master Sword. He is the destined hero of Hyrule. Link is a certified bad-ass.

So then, with all of these epic qualifications, it only stands to reason that The Legend of Zelda works perfectly with power metal. They both share many similar attributes. Much as I love the Zelda soundtracks, I also find that listening to power metal when playing the games works nicely as well. There are certain albums that just work with the ambiance of Zelda games, and one of my favorite things about playing a new Zelda game is finding that perfect album to complement it.

Apparently, I must not be the only one who does this, because one power metal band has taken it a step further. What Battlelore is to Tolkien's writing, Master Sword is to the Zelda games. This is a band dedicated to writing songs based on the Zelda series; either elaborating on the tales told in the games, or giving a metal version of a beloved theme, Master Sword is meeting the demand of combining the worlds of Zelda and of power metal, because they belong together and it is actually quite surprising that this hasn't already been done.

Calling upon their fellow musicians in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, Master Sword has put together a roster of talent to bring these songs to life and to bring Zelda fans that much closer to Hyrule.

 “The Mountain (One Last Fight)”: From the moment the opening notes begin, you are instantly transported to the landscape of Hyrule, if you are a Zelda fan. You can almost see it right before your eyes as you hear the music: you can see the rolling green hills of Hyrule Field, you sense the looming shadow of Death Mountain at your back, you can hear the lapping waters of Lake Hylia, and you can smell the scent of grass and hay from Lon-Lon Ranch. The chiming bells, the rising of the music makes you feel as if you are beginning an adventure. Then, a metal guitar riff of the iconic Zelda theme tells you exactly where you are. Chad Keyser (from the band Wild Storm) tells a tale of a young hero scaling a mountain to his destiny through his high-pitched screams. The song ebbs and flows, punctuated by fast, hard riffing, and then calming down to cadenced drumming and the chanting sing-song of The Goddess Choir.

 “The Forsaken Tribe”: The first song I heard from Master Sword, this heavy rendition of the Gerudo Valley theme tells the story of the all-female tribe of bad-ass pirates. Who better to sing their song than the Queen of Hell herself, A Sound of Thunder's own Nina Osegueda? There is only one male born to the Gerudo tribe every 100 years, and it just so happens he is the King of Evil, Link's arch-nemesis, Ganondorf. The Gerudo Valley theme is very Western in feel; it sounds like something you'd hear in a cowboy movie, and Master Sword kicks it up to the next level by adding in that dramatic power metal flair, coupled with Nina's insane vocals. The Gerudos are no-nonsense, take-charge kind of women, and somehow I can see Nina fitting in perfectly with them!

 “A Terrible Fate”: The familiar sounds that make up my favorite Zelda game, Majora's Mask, start off this track, and then the band rips it up seconds later, with a progressive-flavored jam for the ages. You can almost feel the sense of urgency as the clock ticks down in Termina and the band plays a variation of the boss battle music. The voice of Aries vocalist Rob Bradley comes in to tell us about the impending doom if you haven't noticed the giant moon descending to earth! You've only got 3 days to save the world, and you need to find as many masks as possible to make sure the world of Termina doesn't meet their impending doom. No pressure! In case you haven't read my previous reviews about Aries, then perhaps I should tell you that Rob's giant voice is perfect to represent the story of the 4 giants trying to hold back the moon from crashing into humanity.

“Legends”: The final track is much calmer and more mellow than the others; the Goddess Choir female voices are very Celtic-sounding, and the music is sparse and simple. Slow percussion, lovely guitars, and the strong female vocals. This song tells the tale of how Hyrule was submerged underwater so as to keep Ganondorf from rising and ruling again. Just when you think the song is going to end on a slow note, the band comes back in to give a rousing interpretation of the classic Legend of Zelda theme, complete with guitars and keyboards going back and forth in another prog-style rock-out; ending much the same way the EP began.

Overall opinion: If you are a Legend of Zelda fan, you owe it to yourself to check out Master Sword, even if you do not consider yourself a fan of rock or metal music. Zelda fans around the world have paid tribute to the works of Koji Kondo by putting their own spin on the music, and this is far more than just a rock version of the Zelda theme, or game music done with guitars. Lyrics are written that tell the listener a story, so that even for those who are not fans of the game or who are not familiar with the story can still follow along. You can tell by listening to this that these guys are fans of the games, obviously; but you can also tell that these are fans that know the source material and not only pay proper homage to it, but embellish it further with their own interpretation (much like the many “fan theory” videos that run rampant on the internet, which I admit I love to watch). What I love about power/progressive/symphonic metal more than any other genres, is the ability the music has to unfurl visions through the music. When you listen to each song, you can see the world of Hyrule (or Termina, in the case of “A Terrible Fate”) opening up before your eyes. You almost want to grab your ocarina and jam along! Maybe this is just me, as I am a fan of the games and through the various riffs here and there that are reminiscent of game music, I can easily envision the places that the music is referring to; but I would like to think that even the average listener can envision the fantasy world that Master Sword is painting with their music. If you listen to “The Forsaken Tribe” and honestly cannot envision a Gerudo warrior woman brandishing her double scimitars, or if you cannot feel the suffocating dread of uncertainty when you listen to “A Terrible Fate”, then either you have never played the Zelda games, or if you have, maybe you need to play them again because you haven't been paying attention! For only being 4 songs, this EP is a solid piece of work and I would love to hear a full-length album from Master Sword one of these days. There is 3 decades' worth of material for them to work with, so it's certainly a possibility!


Special thanks to Nina Osegueda & Rob Bradley 

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