Masterplan: ‘PumpKings’

To be released on August 11, 2017 (AFM Records)

When I first heard that Masterplan were going to release an album of re-recorded Helloween songs from guitarist Roland Grapow‘s era in the latter group, I was excited! I didn’t put that much thought into which songs that Masterplan would end up re-recording but thought that the track list was a good one when it was eventually released. Some tracks were from the Helloween era with Michael Kiske handling the lead vocals while the others featured songs with Andi Deris on lead vocals.

The chosen Helloween songs to re-record were from some of my all-time favorite Helloween albums like 1994’s Master Of The Rings and 2000’s The Dark Ride and some of the most underrated and under appreciated ones such as 1991’s Pink Bubbles Go Ape and 1993’s controversial Chameleon. Having always followed Helloween from record to record no matter what crazy path that the band would take (i.e. Chameleon), I couldn’t wait to hear Masterplan‘s renditions of the Helloween songs on PumpKings.

For those who have followed Masterplan, the group has played a game of musical chairs with its lead vocalists. Norwegian powerhouse singer Jorn sang on Masterplan‘s two first albums, which I still consider to be the two best records that the group has come up with. Jorn eventually was replaced by singer Mike Demeo who sang on one Masterplan album (MK II) before Jorn rejoined the group for Time To Be King. Before long, Jorn was replaced one more time and this time with singer Rick Altzi. While Altzi was not quite at the same level as Jorn, he proved to be a good — and perhaps more importantly for Grapow, a dependable — replacement. Altzi‘s singing on Masterplan’s first live album Keep Your Dream Alive proved that he more than had the vocal chops to handle Masterplan‘s mostly back catalogue of Jorn sung songs. What I did not think about until listening to PumpKings today is that Altzi has a similar voice to Jorn, which made the transition from Jorn to Altzi a fairly seamless one.

However, upon listening to Altzi tackle the Kiske sung Helloween tracks, it became apparent to me that while the Masterplan versions of the Kiske sung Helloween songs are enjoyable and listenable, they pale in comparison to the original Helloween versions because it was Kiske‘s voice that often really carried those tracks. I am thinking in particular of “Step Out Of Hell” where Kiske‘s vocals really shined but where Altzi‘s gruff voice simply doesn’t do justice to the song. If anything, hearing Altzi struggle to sing the Kiske Helloween songs makes me appreciate just how much of a great vocalist that Andi Deris really is because Deris does not have Kiske‘s opera like high vocals but I never found that Deris fell short on any Helloween songs that he would sing live from the Kiske era.

That being said, I find that Altzi does a good job on at least two Kiske tracks — “The Chance” and “Music” — and really shines on a couple of Deris tracks — “Escalation 666” and “The Time Of The Oath.” Where Altzi‘s vocals fall short for the Kiske songs are on the aforementioned “Step Out Of Hell” as well as “Someone’s Crying” (which I can barely recognize) and “Mankind.” In terms of the Deris tracks, I find that Altzi simply isn’t able to capture Deris‘ magical story telling voice on tracks such as “The Dark Ride” and especially “Mr. Ego.” Aside from Altzi‘s vocals, another key difference between Masterplan‘s interpretation of the various Helloween classics compared to the original versions is that Masterplan have a full-time keyboardist in Axel Mackenrott so sometimes the Helloween tracks end up getting “Masterplanned” with the extra layer of keyboards throughout. I find that Grapow‘s guitar playing feels cleaner than the guitar sounds that can be heard on the Helloween albums and particularly on “The Chance.” One surprise addition to PumpKings is the eleventh track “Take Me Home” (from the Master of The Rings album) which was not listed on the original track list for PumpKings when it was first released.

Was it a good idea for Masterplan to re-record the various Helloween songs from Grapow‘s time in the band? Sure it was! Did Masterplan improve upon any of Helloween’s versions of the songs? Probably not. Nevertheless, it’s fun to revisit all of these Helloween classics on one album and it’s a nod to Grapow on the significant writing contributions that he made to Helloween during his time in that band.

Track List:
01. The Chance
02. Someone’s Crying
03. Mankind
04. Step Out Of Hell
05. Mr. Ego
06. Still We Go
07. Escalation 666
08. The Time Of The Oath
09. Music
10. The Dark Ride
11. Take Me Home

Band Members:
Roland Grapow – guitars
Rick Altzi – vocals
Axel Mackenrott – keyboards
Jari Kainulainen – bass
Kevin Kott – drums

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Olivier for Sleaze Roxx, July 2017

Masterplan‘s “The Chance” video:

MASTERPLAN – The Chance (2017) // Official Lyric Video // AFM Records

MASTERPLAN – The Chance (2017) / official lyric video / AFM RecordsSubscribe to AFM Records here: from the album “PumpKings”, to b…