By the time the band recorded their 1998 studio album ‘Excelsior!’ there had been some changes in the Mastermind camp, as bassist Phil Antolino had departed (to be replaced by guest Bob Eckman) and keyboard player Jens Johansson (Stratovarius etc) had come on board. During the recording of what would turn out to be ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’, which also featured new singer Lisa Bouchelle, Mastermind were asked if they would like to play NEARFest (North East Art Rock Festival 1999). The one problem they had was that Jens wasn’t available, but Bill had become friendly with Mickey Simmonds (Fish and many others) and he agreed to join the tour.
This is a very different recording indeed to the others, as they are concentrating both on the last album and the next one as opposed to material from the first four, as by now material was being written which would feature a live keyboard player as opposed to Bill triggering sounds. Also, by using Lisa as a singer at certain points (she only features on a few songs) it allowed them to move much more into Lana Lane territory, although even when she was using multiple guitarists they never ripped it up like Bill. Here the band are allowing themselves to produce a much fuller sound, with Mickey sounding as if he has always been there as opposed to only rehearsing with the band for three days before the tour. 10 songs with a playing time of 80 minutes, they are all of reasonable length but only “When The Walls Fell” is substantially over ten minutes long.
The Berends brothers are loving the change in band dynamic, and both keep pushing their respective instruments to the limit, so that one never knows where they are going to go and while there are times when they keep it subdued and even allow Lisa’s acoustic guitar to come to the fore, it is when they are at their most bombastic and heaviest that they really shine. This is the live album of theirs to focus on, the one where the take the progressive rulebook and demolish it by sheer force of will and loud drums, shrieking guitar, dynamic bass, strong keyboards and great vocals combining with wonderful songs. Put on “The End of the World” and marvel in the harmony between Bill and Mickey as the song shifts and swoops like a swallow over a waterfall.
Mastermind were truly a band like no other, and now Bill has formed a new version in Brazil I can only hope that one day I will again catch them in the live environment as this is simply incredible (with strong production to boot). You may well have missed Mastermind first time around, but there is no excuse now with this so easily available.
9/10 Kev Rowland