SKULL358

MAD MAZE, No Time Left… (2010, self-released)

The skull:
There isn’t much that thrills this Friar more than skull covers, but the hourglass motif comes close. There are around 50 of them in the metal universe, by my current count, and while they’re obviously not as prevalent as tanks and pentagrams, there’s just something about the hourglass. It was a motif popularized by the mid-’90s post-Dream Theater prog metal crowd, but lots of other bands have gotten into the act too. And looky here, a Skullglass, just in time for Christmas! If you add bonus points (and I most certainly will) for the skullglass sitting atop the Earth (meaning this thing measures an ungodly size) and having a freaking maze (a “mad” one, we’re assuming) on top of the skull’s flat head, hey, you have Big Dumb Skulls GOLD here.

The music:
It was bound to happen with all this thrash being thrown at us lately (lotsa Brazilian stuff, Mexican, German, and now this Italian band) — something was going to rise above the rest. Mad Maze are so good that I can only applaud their efforts. And they’re one of few bands I’ve gotten an earful of via Big Dumb Skulls that I’ve actually gone back and listened to voluntarily, after my BDS duties have been fulfilled. They’re basically North American in approach: a heavy whiff of Testament, cleaner Exodus, some Anthrax, Annihilator, and back to the Bay Area. And while they draw as many comparisons to older thrash legends as the other retro-thrash bands do, there’s something about Mad Maze that doesn’t make you want to retch. They are, in fact, quite excellent. The vocals are standard tough guy thrash bellows, basically Chuck Billy-ish, but still defying any truly easy comparison. They’re the weakest element of No Time Left, but every now and then they also impress (as when he pushes into a higher register scream at the end of the opening track). The rhythm section is noticeably good, a capable couple of guys, nimble at the speediest of times and weaving through various tempo shirts with great dexterity. But it’s the lead guitar work that’s most impressive. I’m not sure who to credit here, as they have two guitarists, but when they break into solos I’m reminded of Alex Skolnick around the time of Practice What You Preach, complete with the clean, punchy rhythm backup he got on that album. Yeah, there’s a heavy Testament vibe here, and while I love the first three Testament albums, I don’t really care to hear an Italian version of them, yet here I am, legitimately enjoying Mad Maze. Opener “Lord of All That Remains” is the standout of this short 4-song EP, and if they have even a few songs in that vein on the follow-up full-length, Frames of Alienation, I would gladly give it a listen. There are seemingly a couple hundred new Italian thrash bands playing in the old style, and of the ones I’ve heard (maybe about 30 of them), these guys are the best. Each song offers an event or two that feel relatively unique, using familiar ingredients while also finding a way to also deliver a distinctive Mad Maze stamp. And you can’t say that for most of these other re-thrashers.
— Friar Wagner

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