Artist: Martin Miller
Album Title: Maze Of My Mind
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 31 March 2023
It’s still very cold, dull, and wet here in Blighty as I write. However, every day is warm and sunny when you make a new musical discovery that you weren’t expecting, and which hits all the right buttons. The object of my affections on this occasion, is ‘Maze Of My Mind’, the new full-length album from Martin Miller.
Never heard of him? Don’t worry, neither had I until a few weeks ago. As an infrequent user of YouTube, I’d not seen any of his work with the Martin Miller Band, where apparently, he has released medleys of the likes of Genesis, Toto, Deep Purple, and The Police. But, as I have discovered, the ambitious medleys seek to cover as much of the band’s history as possible. In addition to this, the Leipzig-based guitarist is a teacher, session musician, and is part of the Ibanez family. After hearing this album, I’m throwing my Ibanez away!
Being a user of this particular brand of guitar, you might immediately think ‘heavy’, but think again. For a start, take a look at the cover artwork that adorns ‘Maze Of My Mind’ courtesy of Markus Vesper Art. It’s both beautiful and weird. It screams ‘prog’, and that’s what you get here. When skipping through social media about a month ago, I saw a post from a trusted source that quoted Toto and Dream Theater alongside the video for the song ‘Something New’. Well, actually, this source was quoting another, but he agreed. That was enough for me to take a cursory listen. Within minutes, I was on the hunt for a promo.
Normally, I baulk at promo streams because it cuts my listening opportunities in half. On this occasion, however, I have made a very justified exception. I’ve not been this enamoured with a progressive rock album in a fair while. Walking the fine line between prog rock and progressive metal, whilst throwing in some unashamed pop and AOR influences, Martin Miller has assembled a cast of musicians that have together created something quite special indeed.
It may only consist of five tracks, but ‘Maze Of My Mind’ has a run-time of forty minutes or so, meaning that each song is a meaty, weighty affair. Not that it feels like that when you listen. Instead, there’s a sparkle, a breezy verve, and a sense of enjoyment and fun that permeates the songs, making each spin a joy to listen to. You want to feel a little bit better about the world? Then listen to this album.
The first song, ‘Something New’ is the track that’s out there in the digital universe already. It also happens to be my favourite, although as each spin, this becomes less and less certain in my mind. Actually, it probably fairer to say that it was my favourite. And it has nothing to do with getting bored of it – quite the opposite in fact. Instead, it’s because the other songs have had a positive impact on me, closing the gap in the process.
Nevertheless, right from the outset, the song is full of that breeziness that I referenced – the energy within the opening, cheeky riff and accompanying synths is wonderful, planting a smile on my face immediately. It isn’t long though, before the song goes off on a brief instrumental prog tangent before being brought back to the strong melodies via the opening vocals from Miller himself. Apparently, this is his first attempt at singing so it’s all the more incredible a performance from him. He sounds assured, relaxed, and he hits all the notes with apparent ease and smoothness. He may lack ever so slightly in the originality stakes, but that may come with time. As it is, his performance is very credible indeed, fitting the music well. As the song develops, I hear the Toto influences, I also understand the Dream Theater references, albeit not quite as heavy and crunchy as the US outfit. I can also detect a smidge of Def Leppard in the mid-section instrumental sequence, as well as other fleeting references along the way. The guitar work, as you’d expect is out of the top drawer, culminating in a killer solo in the latter stages that all but sees the song to its close.
But it’s not just Miller that impresses, as his ensemble all put in exemplary performances on this song and the album as a whole. The drums are handled by Sebastian Lanser (Obsidious, ex Obscura, ex Panzerballett), the primary bassist is Ben Jud (Martin Miller Session Band), whilst the majority of the keyboards belong to the skills of Marius Leicht (Martin Miller Session Band). Then there’s Zach Ansley who is credited as the co-writer of the album’s lyrics which talk about the journey to ‘become a better version of yourself’, with all of the ups and downs in between.
After the exuberance of the opening track, ‘Fragments’ takes things down a notch, with a quieter, more introspective vibe. It’s a nice change of pace and allows for the musicians to play around with some more subtle sounds and textures. Something of a slow burner as a result, I have warmed to it immensely. The touch and intonation from Miller is delightful, the piano notes of Leicht are rich and inviting, and the wistful tone of the song, blended with the melodies and the gradually increasing intensity is a combination that draws me in expertly.
If I had to pick a least favourite track on the album, it’d be tough as they are all genuinely good compositions. However, I’d eventually plump for ‘Left Inside’. There’s an It Bites or Frost* vibe at the outset and at points throughout, which I like. And I do really like the groove and bounciness song overall. It is just that this is the one that’s arguably most pop-like, yet doesn’t have the strongest of melodies compared to elsewhere. It’s a matter of taste though, so feel free to disagree, as I’m sure many will.
‘Web Of Lies’ sees the bass of Ben Jud come even more to the fore within a reasonably lengthy but disarming instrumental intro. It is also possibly the most 80s sounding of the tracks, thanks to the chosen keyboard and synth sounds, including one that reminds me of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. I really like the increased pace and urgency which provides real energy to the song, but the shifts in sound and approach give the track a lovely ebb and flow. Miller talks about his desire to create music that’s complex, but not obviously so, preferring subtlety over ostentatious displays of technicality. It is this song where I believe he achieves this feat most readily perhaps, although there are arguments to say that all the way across the record, frankly.
All too quickly, we arrive at the closing track, ‘Compass (Beneath The Lights)’. If there was going to be an outright contender for the ‘best song’ accolade alongside the opener, it’d be this. It is a beautifully crafted song. It is so deliciously melodic, and so uplifting, too. Actually, it might be the most emotional ten minutes on ‘Maze Of My Mind’, even though the switches between moods is quite pronounced at times. It has a properly epic feeling to it, too, the perfect closer to such an ambitious body of work, as if tying all the loose ends together neatly whilst going out in a blaze of glory.
I’ve gone from knowing nothing about Martin Miller to absolutely adoring his music in the space of a couple of weeks. It’s these kinds of discoveries that make what I do so rewarding and so much fun. I never know who I might discover next and be taken on a journey with. I’m so pleased that I stumbled across this album, because it has put an enormous smile on my face. If you are someone who likes progressive music that straddles the worlds of rock and metal, and like the idea of it being laced with pop sensibilities, a touch of nostalgia, and exemplary musicianship, ‘Maze Of Your Mind’ is the album for you. But be quick, as I understand the CD is limited to 300 copies. I’m heading over to martinmillerstore.com to buy one – who’s with me?
The Score of Much Metal: 92%