Mar 2015 26

Braindance - Master of DisguiseBraindance
Category: Darkwave / Progressive / Metal
Album: Master of Disguise
Stars: 1.5
Blurb: Despite its adventurous and progressive spirit, the latest from this New York act may be too much a practice in excess and overindulgence for many to take it seriously.


There seem to be two schools of thought when it comes to progressive music. Some consider the term quite literally with the intention to create music that progresses and evolves through exploration of different methods of instrumentation and composition. Others pursue the route of employing a much more classical mindset with displays of exceptional technical ability. While the two approaches are not mutually exclusive, the valid use of the term can be questioned, especially when applied to other genres. Enter New York City’s Braindance, the outlet of vocalist/lyricist Sebastian Elliott and producer/guitarist Vora Vor; an act that since 1992 has been making strides in the underground to create a new sound by bridging the gaps between goth, various electronic styles, and metal with pop sensibilities. The pair have dubbed this style progressive darkwave, with Master of Disguise being their latest opus.

Though heralded over the years for this seemingly innovative style, this writer can’t help but feel that the fruits of their efforts are rather bitter if not completely unappetizing. From beginning to end, Master of Disguise possesses all of the elements that should mark it as a monumental epic… all except for a good hook. Not to say that there is a lack of melody as indeed every song does showcase Elliott’s bristling baritone that bears some resemblance to the late Peter Steele, especially in how he launches from the brooding low range to a bombastic higher register. However, aside from the rather intricate vocoder effects on the title track being undeniably catchy (although the heavily electronic sound of “Master of Disguise” can force a chuckle as it unintentionally conjures up images of a certain ‘80s cartoon and toy line), virtually every song carries a similar cadence and melodic formula that makes it near impossible for any track to stand out. As well, it is difficult to grasp the natural tonality of his voice, which may perhaps a consequence of the album’s impeccably slick production, an element that invariably becomes its major downfall.

Every song is filled to the brim, quite literally, with everything that Vora Vor can muster… so much so that the album is devoid of any sense of space. There is nary a moment where words are not heard, either from Elliot’s singing or from the use of samples from everything from Star Trek to Robocop, Highlander, Dune, Mad Max, Fight Club, Dark City, Star Wars, and virtually everything in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s oeuvre – samples so common, recognizable, and overused as if to rival the likes of Cyanotic or Front Line Assembly, but even those bands never filled every single moment. As a result, even interludes like “Dysphoria” and “Dystopia” ironically threaten to remove rather than add any sense of ambience or flow to the album. Added to that is the abundance of sweeping guitar solos that are clearly inspired by the neoclassical shredding of Yngwie Malmsteen or others of that ilk, but lacking in any sense of musical finesse. Granted, songs like “Eye of the Storm,” “More Than a Moment,” and “Falling” possess enough danceable beats and bass lines that they might serve, at least in the short term, in some DJs’ set lists, and instrumentals like “Written in Stone,” “The Silence,” and “Hunter and Hunted” are not without a sense of drama; the latter particularly so due to its tribal-esque percussion. However, none of these tracks ever quite achieve the climactic explosion that they hint are approaching, rendering them somewhat impotent. Not helping matters is the inclusion of a comic penned by Elliott and illustrated by Joe “Sweetrot” Simko, detailing some brief narrative of self-discovery and lost identity with ancient Egypt as the thematic backdrop, which is quaint in comic form though it never quite gels musically.

To watch Braindance live must be quite a spectacle if the music video for “Lost” is any indication (and not just because of Elliott’s impressive bodybuilder physique or Vor’s guitar prowess), giving Braindance more the appearance of a performance art troupe. Indeed, the band is certainly not without a measure of technical skill, with a complement of exceptional players like former Ion Vein bassist Andrew Bunk and guitarist Tony Geballe, also of Trey Gunn Band and Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitar Players adding to the ranks and lending, respectively, some metal and progressive credibility. With more than 20 years of experience and more than a few accolades, to have attempted – and in some cases succeeding – to incorporate elements of seemingly disparate genres to create a style that is truly experimental is admirable. Unfortunately for this writer, it all comes off so much as a practice in excess and overindulgence that one has to wonder if the band is actually serious… and if so, then Master of Disguise is hardly pretentious, but absolutely comes off as more pompous than progressive.
Track list:

  1. Unearthed
  2. Lost
  3. Eye of the Storm
  4. The Game
  5. Hunter and Hunted
  6. Dysphoria
  7. Master of Disguise
  8. More Than a Moment (The Sands Part III)
  9. The Silence
  10. Dystopia
  11. Written in Stone
  12. Valley of the Kings, Chapter I: Beyond
  13. Valley of the Kings, Chapter II: Falling
  14. Valley of the Kings, Chapter III: Closer to the Sun
  15. Entombed

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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

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