Possessed may have coined the term death metal, but Paul Speckmann and Master arguably contributed just as much do the growing genre in the mid-80s and early 90s. Compared to some of their peers, Master has always had a bit more of a punk edge beneath the death and thrash, and despite some tweaks to their formula over the decades their sound still reflects that original spirit. As the band moves past the forty-year mark, they’ve not only been reissuing the majority of their back catalog but have also released full length number fourteen, Saints Dispelled. New drummer Peter Bajci joins the long-time collaboration of Speckmann and guitarist Alex Nejezchleba, and with this lineup in place Master has continued to do what they do best. Saints Dispelled does jam its highest energy moments into the first half, with some of the slower numbers on the second half not quite having the same impact, but this is still another strong showing from a band that doesn’t get nearly enough mention.
“Destruction in June” kicks things off with a bang, launching right into fast and punchy death metal that settles into a slightly slower groove around the first minute. The first half of Saints Dispelled makes a great first impression, as Master is oriented towards speed and has a punk edge that pops out alongside their death and thrash. This isn’t necessarily anything new for those that have followed the group for some time, but Speckmann and company continue to do it better than most and the high energy riffs and drum work hits hard and fast while also standing out. “Walk in the Footsteps of Doom” and the title track are a great combination, as they both emphasize speed and catchy yet aggressive riffs that lead into some fantastic solos. Saints Dispelled does cram its fastest moments into the first half, as once you hit songs five through eight the tempo slows down a bit, with “The Wiseman” and “The Wizard of Evil” going for some slow burning grooves alongside some faster breaks. “The Wiseman” in particular shakes things up a bit with an acoustic and ominous sounding intro that’s a little different from what Master has done on their last few releases, and it stands out on repeat listens. The material is solid from beginning to end, but it did take a few additional listens to appreciate the second half due to the pacing. With the first four really cranking up the speed and offering the most punk and thrash infused elements, it did make the back half not stand out quite as much. If you get the CD version of Saints Dispelled the number of songs increases from eight to ten and the album length goes up significantly as “Alienation of Insanity” runs for nearly eight minutes. I was partial to “Nomads” on repeat listens as it brings back a bit more of that faster blasting and varied riffing that the earlier bits of the album offered, and “Alienation of Insanity” felt just a bit too long. It’s also worth mentioning the production values are appropriately old-school, giving that crunchy tone and clear drum sound that makes it sound like you’re right there in the studio with the band.
Paul Speckmann’s vocals have been a regular highlight of Master’s albums, and even in their fourth decade of existence this holds true. Where other death metal vocalists have given performances that sounded phoned in or even a bit tired by this point in their career, Speckmann sounds just as intense as he did early on. If you haven’t heard the group before, expect very distorted and raspy scream/growls that consistently bludgeon you and sometimes reach some inhuman sounding pitches. The production gives the vocals plenty of space to steal the spotlight without overwhelming the instrumental work, making everything well balanced. No matter how often I hear Speckmann’s raspy pitch it never gets old, and the fact that the performance on this album is just as powerful and in your face as the band’s earliest efforts really says a lot.
Master doesn’t get mentioned as often as they should, but those that have explored the group over the years have likely found that they have one of the more consistent death metal discographies. Some albums stand out a bit more than others, but they all have songs that are worth a listen and have their formula refined to a razor-sharp level. Saints Dispelled is no different, and while it took me a bit longer to warm up to the second half’s slightly slower pacing the material has given me plenty of reasons to come back. It’s not quite my favorite out of this sizeable discography, but it stands out a bit more than 2018’s Vindictive Miscreant and showcases that Master is still far better than a lot of the death metal coming out in this day and age. Saints Dispelled is available from Hammerheart Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg