Maze of the Mind, which was released earlier this year by German guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Martin Miller, may have passed some of us by at the time, but this is an album worth investigating – better late than never! His name may not be that familiar to many – I had not heard of him until Shaun Geraghty played one of his songs on The Prog Mill show on Progzilla Radio, which made me sit up and listen. However, Martin is apparently rather a YouTube sensation with multiple millions of views of his cover medleys and over 700,000 subscribers and 130,000 Facebook followers! A renowned guitar teacher, he has developed his craft touring Europe with a popular covers band. That’s quite a considerable base upon which to kick-start a recording career of his own original material, and it must be testament to his skills as a musician that he has such a following already.
In truth, Maze of the Mind is his second album, after his instrumental debut ten years ago with The Other End. This is an album that Miller tends to distance himself from these days, feeling that he has greatly matured as a more original song writer and musician in the intervening period. Whilst Martin Miller’s cover versions are fairly accessible rock songs, he has shared that he has a real liking for the more ambitious traits of progressive rock. He recently told Phil Weller of Prog magazine that “I want my music to have a temporal progression… I like when a song starts at one place and ends at another. It feels like a well-crafted experience, almost like a ghost train ride.”
The gorgeous surreal cover art of Markus Vesper, depicting a ballerina walking a tightrope over an open skull filled with a maze, clearly indicates the ambition of this album to evoke images and suggest an exploration of the mind. This is probably most imaginatively conveyed on the excellent final extended piece Compass (Beneath the Lights), which is very reminiscent of early ’80s era Genesis with strong guitars and sweeping keyboards. What is particularly outstanding on this song, and throughout the album, is the quality of Miller’s mellifluous but powerful vocals. There are so many artists and bands in which, unfortunately, the quality of the voice does not match the musicianship – that is NOT the case on Maze of the Mind, in which the vocals are just as good as the excellent instrumental skills on display. This final piece is also a showcase for some equally good drumming from Sebastian Lanser – crisp and forceful or fluid and smooth as the piece requires. I just keep coming back to this stirring song which ends in a suitably heroic and uplifting fashion as Miller proclaims (with poetic lyrics co-written with Zach Ansley):
I keep contentment in my own mind, to find light in what I chose.”
This is an album steeped in a lush ’80s and ’90s vibe with crystal clear production, which immediately becomes evident on the impressive opening song Something New. Miller has described this song as ‘Toto on steroids’ and you can certainly hear that slick, smooth style with great vocal harmonies, flowing guitars and banks of keyboards. However, I think there is more to it than that (not being much of a Toto fan myself in all honesty) and this song drips with instrumental class, with two particularly brilliant guitar passages at either end of the piece. It is certainly quite a way to announce yourself as a relatively new artist!
After the adrenalin rush of the opening song, Miller wisely takes it down quite a few notches with the gorgeously melodic Fragments, which gives the space and quietness to really hear the lovely timbre of Miller’s singing voice. This is a beautiful melodic song which interweaves earworm hooks with some elaborate instrumental frills and Marius Leicht shines on some delightful flowing piano. Miller has said that it was inspired by Michael Jackson, which is possibly related to its melancholic lyrics rather than its musical style… whatever, it’s probably been the song which I have returned to again and again for this review.
Not all of the album works for this listener – Left Inside has a rather relentless drive with much more ‘crunchiness’ about the guitars. Some have heard Dream Theater influences in Miller’s music, and you can certainly hear the Labrie style vocal, the Portnoy-esque avalanche of drums, and the Petrucci style fretwork on this one… and maybe that’s why it’s my least favoured track, but Dream Theater fans will love it!
Web of Lies features some impressive bass work from Ben Judd, and drumming from Lanser in a frenetic extended instrumental intro, and there is a distinct ’80s era Rush feel to this rollercoaster of a track. There is real impetus to this rock piece, but Miller manages to keep it flowing in an accessible fashion and avoid too much excess or pretentious soloing, which could be said of the whole album. None of this is startlingly original, but Miller so skilfully melds his more rock tendencies with some accessible melodic elements, alongside some more ambitious passages, that you are drawn into this particular musical Maze.
This has been one of my discoveries of 2023 and I look forward to more music from this talented performer. Maze of the Mind is an impressive album, showcasing Martin Miller’s high-quality vocals and excellent mastery of the guitar.
01. Something New (8:57)
02. Fragments (5:52)
03. Left Inside (7:33)
04. Web of Lies (6:39)
05. Compass (Beneath the Lights) (10:27)
Total – Time – 39:28
Martin Miller – Guitars, Vocals, Programming, Additional Keyboards & Bass (track 3)
Sebastian Lanser – Drums
Ben Judd – Bass (tracks 1,2,4 & 5)
Marius Leicht – Keyboards (tracks 1,2,3 & 4)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 31st March 2023
– The Other End (2013)
– Maze of the Mind (2023)