Maziac – Test of Time


There’s no turning back for a rock band once they tune their guitars lower than C. Then, they become interesting to metal fans and alienate any of the alternative crowd that might listen to them on a playlist with Oasis. Maziac are one such band that realised this way before they released their 2019 debut – rock music in standard tuning with blues licks is dead. But its emphasis on hummable vocal lines and key-changes are still impressive, and those with an interest in the power of heavy guitars should not dismiss these fundamentals of songwriting. The success of Tesseract, VOLA, and Black Orchid Empire shows that rock has a future when moulded in the excitement of metal.

Maziac take it as compliment when people refer to them as a power trio, which is even more poignant when you consider their prog tendencies. The pounding drum and guitar combination in the intro to ‘Fear & Fortune’ gets things underway in style. Their use of clean vocals in the opening verse next to chugging riffs and technical drum patterns is ambitious. But the paradox of soothing vocals and aggressive guitars is hard to absorb at first. When it settles down, you understand that this is drop-tuned prog metal with John Lennon vocals.

Of course, the pioneers of this sound are King’s X. Maziac don’t overplay their instruments as a three-piece, nor do they overcomplicate their studio production – that’s because they want to perform this music live. Fans of the new Wheel album will vibe with ‘Acid’. There’s no reliance here on the power of the low guitar tunings to unleash the riffs. Instead, Tony Best wraps them in delicate finger-work and explores the middle parts of the fretboard for extra effect. Could the robotic vocal imitation be louder in the mix like Voivod’s sinister monotone? At first, you might decide that the aggressive vocals are too sporadic and need to be centre stage, but the memorable chorus banishes these doubts. The neo-classical shredding in the middle-eight is a nice surprise.

Maziac like to set their sat nav to the chorus uplift as the destination point in most songs here. ‘Ameliomantra’ makes good use of atonal chord accents among the hanging drop-tuned rhythms. Tony Best’s vocals are not afraid to embrace the pastel colours despite the enveloping dark black of the guitars. His light tenor approach in ‘Stoic’ breezes through the mix like a gentle wind instead of ripping through it at the head of a typhoon. It’s not a chronic weakness, but it’s there at the back of your mind – when will the murderous roars commence? How do you add melodic vocal lines to heavy guitar music? Many bands try to answer this challenge; Maziac allow you a diversion from this question with a psychedelic middle-eight of cascading guitar patterns.

Fortunately, any reservations you had about the suitability of the vocals next to the monstrous contortions of guitar can be banished in the last two songs. Orthodox guitar strumming and ubiquitous voice arrangements in ‘Nostalgia’ combine in a relaxing entreat that pulls you in with the addition of Veronica De Luca’s luscious vocals. Likewise, ‘Splendour’ is a strong performance by Best even if his voice is not a natural one bestowed with a charismatic projection. Here, Marco Biagini works his drum kit like a pop musician allowed to insert a sense of aggression into the tempo. Listen how the swerving guitars enter at 01:46.

Only one major criticism of this album arises on repeat play – it could benefit from at least one more five-minute banger like ‘Unseen’. The imaginative drum beat on the rack toms and gliding guitar distortion fuse together with great tension until the trio switch to a stomping bridge with harsher vocal roars. A surprise spoken-word rap verse separates the verse to the bridge the second time round, yet it feels natural rather than contrived.

Maziac might still be figuring out some of their vocal arrangements, and you get the impression that this department is still a work in progress, but the musical delivery is first class on album number two.


Verdict


Release Date: 28/06/2024

Record Label: Self-released

Standout tracks: Acid, Unseen, Splendour

Suggested Further Listening: King’s X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988), Interloper – A Revenant Legacy EP (2021), Wheel – Charismatic Leaders (2024)