USPM from Connecticut
I wanted to take a brief moment to step back and look at an album that was crucial in developing and solidifying my tastes. This past week represented the 30th anniversary of Liege Lord’s monumental Master Control, their third and final (so far!) album. Liege Lord are a staple of the United States power metal scene for a reason – all three of their albums; Freedom’s Rise, Burn to my Touch, and Master Control, are undoubtedly classics of the genre. You can ask a number of USPM fanatics and they’ll all give you different answers on what their favorite Liege Lord album is. The band’s consistency and quality was incredible and certainly commendable. However, for me, the answer has always been clear. Master Control is one of the best US power albums around full-stop.
I discovered Liege Lord at a very important juncture in my metal journey. I was in my early teens and I had just found the existence of US power metal. Master Control, along with Jag Panzer’s genre-defining Ample Destruction, was one of the very first albums I listened to in the style. It was demonstrably power metal, but this was nothing like the European style that I was used to at that point in time. There was a lot of bite to the riffs, the drum and bass thundered along, and there was a distinct absence of cheesy vocal melodies and choruses. Liege Lord left a strong impression on me back then and it has carried through to now, well over ten years later.
Liege Lord play a style of music that is deeply rooted in the aggressive side of US power. There’s a healthy amount of speed metal and thrash metal influence that sneak their way into the band’s sound and that’s most apparent here on Master Control. The band had flirted with speed metal elements on their previous two efforts, but it comes out in full force on this album. The resulting sound slots them comfortably with USPM peers such as Vicious Rumors, Jag Panzer, and Helstar. There’s also a clear NWOBHM influence in Master Control that pops up in the melodies, riffs, and vocal deliveries – don’t be surprised if you hear a healthy amount of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest on this one.
Riffs are central to US power and Liege Lord has them in spades. Their riffs have always been uncompromising and memorable, but it’s taken to the next level on Master Control. The album opens up with the spectacular “Fear Itself”, a thrashy number with a prominent amount of bass and catchy as hell choruses. With the tone set, the rest of the album carries through at 100% and doesn’t drop off for one second. Tony Truglio and Paul Nelson write one juicy power metal riff after another.
The songwriting is by far the highlight of the album. Each song has its own distinct sound and personality without sacrificing any quality. The riffs are varied and catchy allowing each song to breathe and have room on its own but still flow as a cohesive album. One of this album’s strengths is that it is not front-loaded at all. Bands have a tendency to put all of their best material on the A-side of an album, causing a disjointed experience that doesn’t compel you to finish the whole thing (I’m looking at you Painkiller...). Master Control is quality through and through, and I’d argue that the B side is actually stronger – the album’s best track is the closing song “Fallout”.
Master Control features a different vocalist than the last two efforts, Joe Comeau replaces Andy Michaud for this one and he delivers everything you could want and more. Comeau has a powerful voice with lots of charisma. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden fame – imagine if Bruce decided to don the Halo 3-esque mech suit on the cover of this album, then you’ll get Joe. There’s a cover of Rainbow’s “Kill the King” found on this album. To give you an idea for the quality of Master Control, not only does the band pay justice to the song in their own right, but Joe is able to cover Dio’s vocals without sounding out of place. Dio has such a distinct and iconic voice that this is an accomplishment on its own.
Liege Lord’s Master Control is one of the best albums that USPM has to offer. It exemplifies the best features of the genre; aggression, speed, catchy vocals, varied riffs, pounding drum and bass, blistering solos, and a strong production to tie it all together. The album manages to maintain a level of quality that is difficult to find elsewhere while being very accessible. Master Control is a time-weathered classic of USPM that serves as both one of the best entry points to the genre and a shining example of what makes it so great.
Album Rating: 97/100
Favorite Track: Fallout