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Devil's Slingshot — Clinophobia
Artist:
Devil's Slingshot
Album:
Clinophobia
Genre:
Fusion, Metal
Rating:
4 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Who can resist instrumental passages performed by some of rock’s most prolific musicians?

Devil’s Slingshot is certainly a band you would consider a supergroup. Mention the names Virgil Donati, Billy Sheehan and Tony MacAlpine and there is no mistaking the mega talent and success these individuals have obtained in their music careers, not to mention the heavyweights they’ve shared the stage with.

Released by Mascot Records, Clinophobia is a heavy, melodic instrumental compilation containing a wide range of textures highlighting drums, bass and guitar, each on an equal playing field. The well-matched talent of this trio enables them to meld together seamlessly. The CD is packed with blistering solo lines and intricate, complex groves interwoven between some straight ahead rock n’ roll.

Track 1, “Nederland,” sets the tone of the CD with some heavy, dark guitar chords leading into some melodic statements doubled by bass guitar. The harmonic motion of the selection takes the listener through multiple time changes adding to the complexity of the song. By mid song, there is a breakdown of rhythmic notation where time is managed by the drums and melodically played in unison by the bass and guitar. This selection focuses more on harmony and rhythm content featuring the harmony as the melodic line.

Track 2, “Ballad De Bastille,” is more straight-ahead, featuring the guitar on some clean melodic melody lines shared by the bass guitar. I can’t help but notice some Satch influence on this tune mainly due to sound and style, but as you head into the solo section, you’ll hear some traditional Tony MacAlpine shred.

“Def Bitch Blues” (my favorite title) opens up with an impressive drum fill introduction. As we head into the meat of the song, the guitar harmony and melodic lines is very Steve Morse-like, taking me back to the days of (perhaps) the Dixie Dregs. As with most of the CD, the harmony lines are complex and highly supported by heavy guitar chords. Don’t miss out on the quick bass solo featuring the “famous” Billy Sheehan two-hand tapping technique. This song truly showcases the extensive talents of this trio.

“Injustice Line” continues the album’s progressive, demonic trend featuring melodies that just twist and turn your ear. Heavy and dark guitar chords stay loyal to the downbeat, giving the listener that head-banging feel. The dissonance of some of the melody lines will take you into the devils domain – or at least simulate what that might sound like.

“Hourglass” is probably one of my favorites. The moving bass line is sure to catch your ear. This tune is a little more funky and upbeat, but still staying with that rock n’ roll edge. The bass solo in this tune, sounding as if played on a fretless guitar, provides some very melodic, singing lines demonstrating more of Sheehan’s broad musicianship.

Clinophobia is an excellent CD filled with both excellent writing and musicianship. For instrumental music enthusiasts, this CD should definitely be part of your collection. And if you have admired these individuals on any of their past musical adventures, this CD is sure to expand your enjoyment of these outstanding players.

— DD
 
Neal Morse — Lifeline
Artist:
Neal Morse
Album:
Lifeline
Genre:
Progressive Rock, Christian Rock
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:

So fantastic that everyone from Jews to Muslims to Atheists will enjoy it, too!

Don’t skip this CD just because you’re uncomfortable with the lyrical ramblings of an obviously devout born again Christian — you’ll end up missing one of the best albums released in 2008!

Nashville-based Morse is best known for his work leading the prog rock band Spock’s Beard (which he co-founded with his brother Alan, before eventually leaving the band in order to embrace his religious ideas more fully), as well as for his work playing in the super-group Transatlantic (with Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy, Marillion’s Pete Trewavas, and Roine Stolt of Flower Kings).

On Lifeline, Neal delivers an outstanding collection of melodic progressive rock songs — seven tracks delivering an hour’s worth of memorable music. Not only are his chops as the principle guitarist and keyboard player outstanding (not to mention he’s also the lead vocalist), but he’s not the only master player at work here. Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy once again supplies the incredible drumming (he and Morse have played together on numerous CDs), and Aljilon’s Randy George lays down solid bass grooves. If you’ve ever felt that Portnoy overdoes the double-kick assault on Dream Theater records, one listen to this album and he’ll be back in your good graces as one of the finest rock drummers of all time — this CD showcases Portnoy’s finest melodic drumming.

Production and recording quality are superb, but longtime Neal Morse fans may find that he breaks little new ground on Lifeline. This isn’t a bad thing — especially if you’re just now discovering this amazing talent, but some long-time fans may find this to just be more of the same. Don’t write it off so quickly, though — great songs are great songs, and this album is chock full of them. If you’re a fan of “the Nashville sound,” it’s all over the production here.

We were instantly hooked from the opening title track, “Lifeline.” It’s the best song that you never heard on YES’s 90125 — the sound and style borrows heavily from Trevor Rabin’s work with the classic prog band and is a beautifully crafted sonic adventure that ties together killer hooks, blistering lead guitar lines, clever time changes, and big vocal harmonies.

Following the opener is a fantastic ballad, “The Way Home,” that places more emphasis on acoustic guitars and acoustic piano and clearly belongs in a movie soundtrack. “Children of the Chosen” has some great classical nylon string guitar work running over one more melodic power ballad.

Fans of old-school Yes, early Genesis, and Pink Floyd, will love wrapping their ears around the half-hour long “So Many Roads,” which ties together many generations worth of melodic progressive rock in one tidy package. Even our least favorite track, “Leviathan,” demonstrated some killer instrumental work. If you’ve ever wondered how to incorporate a horn section into a prog rock band, this tune provides a great working example, and ties a great ‘60s campy chorus to a ‘70s funk verse.

Obviously, most listeners’ challenge has to do with the lyrical content. For an expert musician such as Neal Morse, we think that he falls a bit short in the lyrical category, where he doesn’t seem to have mastered all the rules from Songwriting 101. He must have missed the topic titled “Don’t Write So Literally.” A great example comes in the title track, which has a great chorus in which Neal sings “He gave me a lifeline” — lyrics that can be interpreted many ways by people with various ideologies, but then near the final third of the song he deliberately sings (repeatedly) “Jesus is my lifeline.” From the purely objective songwriting standpoint, don’t be so literal, Neal! Morse alienates a lot of listeners with this kind of preaching, which of course happens throughout the album.

While we love concept albums, an hour’s worth of progressive rock filled with church sermons does get a little bit monotonous at times. We get Neal’s love of god, but with such exceptional talent, it’s time for him to branch out and perhaps incorporate some other ideas into his lyrics. But if you can remain open minded enough to listen past his often-times preachy lyrics, this is one album that fans of melodic progressive rock music won’t want to miss.

— SK
 
Yngwie Malmsteen — Perpetual Flame
Artist:
Yngwie Malmsteen
Album:
Perpetual Flame
Genre:
Neoclassical Metal
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:

A solid but slightly flawed dose of “Baroque and Roll”

Yngwie Malmsteen is a driven man. Over two decades and five US Presidents later, he is still kicking out new releases in prolific fashion.  Perpetual Flame marks Yngwie’s sixteenth stateside full-length studio release, and his first with vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens of Judas Priest/Iced Earth fame.  Produced by Yngwie and engineered/mixed by Roy Z, the disc contains twelve neoclassical metal tracks chock full of Yngwie’s signature jaw dropping technique.  It’s all there — the diminished arpeggios, Phrygian modes, harmonic minor scales, and that trademark wide vibrato.  

Stylistically, Perpetual Flame strays little from Yngwie’s previous output, and one must assume this is because Yngwie has no interest in fixing what isn’t broken.  However, this is a much darker affair than recent releases like Unleash the Fury or 2002’s excellent Attack. In fact, the dark feel at times hearkens back to Yngwie’s classic release, Marching Out, which can only be a good thing. 

Credit must be given to Tim Owens, who sings as aggressively as Yngwie plays.  Owens marks his arrival in style on the first track, “Death Dealer,” with a Halford-esque wail that will either tickle your metal fancy, or invoke your inner Spinal Tap! The breakneck pace continues with tracks like “Damnation Game,” “Live to fight,” and “Red Devil,” the latter an ode to Yngwie’s beloved Ferrari.  “Priest of the Unholy” is a dark and brooding medieval affair not unlike “Tarot” from War to End All Wars. Three instrumental pieces: “Caprici Di Diablo,” “Lament,” and the atmospheric album closer, “Heavy Heart,” balance things out nicely.

There are some areas that fall short though.  Fans who have kept up with Malmsteen’s new releases are well aware that the maestro now fancies himself as a lead singer. This time, Yngwie’s pipes are featured on the song “Magic City.”  Unfortunately, this reviewer’s ear cannot appreciate Yngwie’s singing, although in all fairness, he does an admirable job on backing vocals.  And one has to wonder why keyboard extraordinaire Derik Sherinian’s contribution is once again so minimalistic? Why not seize the opportunity to resurrect those great guitar/keyboard duals ala “Far Beyond the Sun?”

Finally, this release suffers from an overall muddy mix, and although nowhere near as bad as 2000’s fidelity-challenged War to End All Wars, it is substandard and impacts the listening experience nonetheless.

Nitpicking aside, this is a worthy addition to the Malmsteen canon. Those expecting radical change or looking to be converted may want to take a pass, but for the faithful, this release is guaranteed to provide your Yngwie “fix” and serve as a reminder of how lucky we are that Yngwie’s flame still burns.

... and look for our interview with Yngwie next month!

— JQ

 
Dream Theater — Chaos in Motion
Artist:
Dream Theater
DVD:
Chaos in Motion
Genre:
Progressive Metal
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:
When something is good, more is better than less. Another Dream Theater DVD!

When it comes to visual documentation, fans of Dream Theater will never be found wanting. Chaos in Motion is the prog quintet’s latest DVD offering, and excluding “official” bootleg releases their fifth since 2001! Two versions of the DVD have been released: a 2-disc set and a 5-disc (2 DVD, 3 CD) special edition. Assembled by drummer Mike Portnoy, and featuring a 5.1 mix by Kevin Shirley, the centerpiece of this release is Disc 1’s more than three hours of live performances culled from the bands 2007/2008 Chaos in Motion tour.

Those expecting the polish of the bands earlier DVD’s, (namely Score and Live at Budokan) may be disappointed. Slick post-production be damned, this is raw “run and gun” style footage with a feel not unlike an official Ytsejam “bootleg.” The audio and video quality varies greatly depending on the venue the performances were recorded at.
For example, Rotterdam is mediocre at best and Vancouver is outstanding.

Great versions of "Surrounded," "Lines in the Sand," "Scarred," and newer gems like “Forsaken” are found here, and from an overall set list perspective the DVD offers minimal redundancy or overlap from earlier releases. The live performances are interspersed with cut scenes comprised mainly of interviews and backstage footage. Quite frankly, I wish there was an option to watch the live segments front to back sans interruptions, as it can oftentimes be a distraction.

Disc 2 contains a behind-the-scenes documentary, live screen projection films, music videos, and a never-before-seen photo gallery. The documentary in particular is highly enjoyable — you get to know the band, the crew, and what their life on the road is like. Mike Portnoy’s tour of the backstage/onstage area is an absolute highlight, and oftentimes revealing (now we know your secret, John Petrucci!).

Casual fans or new converts may want to take a pass on this release and opt for one of the more polished productions first, but for the rest of us this is manna from heaven, and serves as a great document of the band’s ambitious 2007-2008 tour.

— JQ

 
Rewiring Genesis — A Tribute To The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Artist:
Rewiring Genesis
Album:
A Tribute To The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Genre:
Theatrical Rock, Progressive Rock
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:

A refreshing reinterpretation of a classic '70s prog double-album.

What happens when you take a master of progressive rock and an accomplished Nashville producer engineer, and put them together with a host of top-flight Nashville session players to reinterpret one of the most revered ‘70s prog double-albums? In the case of Spock’s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio and producer engineer Mark Hornsby, you get Rewiring Genesis — A Tribute To The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and it’s fantastic.

While the original featured layers of classic synthesizers (ARP, Mellotron, etc.), there’s none of that fake string or choir stuff going on here. Besides rock guitar, bass, and Nick’s great drumming (and tasteful lead vocal work), The Lamb is filled with real strings, huge vocal arrangements, horn sections, and even some accordion! Clearly, it’s not attempting to simply re-record the classic — it’s a fresh and beautiful sounding reinterpretation.

The copious use of horns was a great touch, almost giving the songs a classic Chicago vibe.  Songs like the title track really transport you back to the ‘70s, while songs like “Counting Out Time” fuse Stevie Wonder with Frank Zappa and throw in a great funk vibe. Dave Martin’s bass playing and Don Carr’s electric guitar work are top notch, as is the piano playing courtesy of Jeff Taylor.

We particularly liked “The Grand Parade,” which relied on vocal scatting and doo-wop-esque arranging. Throughout the recording, Nick’s vocal style delivers a classic rock performance that is ideally suited to the production. In fact, the spectacular production values imparted by Mark Hornsby really make this double-CD sound like the cast recording from a major Broadway production! I suspect that all it would take is for the right producer (theater) to hear this and the next thing you know, this could become the soundtrack for the next Tommy or Jesus Christ Superstar!

If you’re not on intimate terms with the original recording, never fear. This is just great sounding music performed by A-list session players. Purists who can’t imagine this album without Banks and Gabriel need not apply, but that would be their loss.

— SK and JB
 
Trivium — Shogun
Artist:
Trivium
Album:
Shogun
Genre:
Prog Metal
Rating:
4 Stars
Bottom
Line:

One of 2008’s best, but guttural vocals will polarize listeners.

Trivium’s 2008 masterwork Shogun really took me by surprise. My only prior exposure to the band was via an opening slot on Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere back in Time” tour, and my initial impression was that the singer sounded like the love child of James Hetfield and a dyspeptic spawn of Satan. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around long enough to be converted. So it was with much trepidation that I agreed to suffer through a front to back listen of this disc for review, and I am man enough to admit I was wrong!

Shogun contains elements that will appeal to all metal fans: pummeling double bass drums, fast articulate guitar solos, epic songs sometimes clocking in at close to twelve minutes, and “guttural” growling vocals courtesy of vocalist/guitarist Matt Heafy. However, it seems the latter is what tends to polarize listeners, and I cannot disagree with those that find the angry demonic screaming a bit too much to take. While the screaming may be appropriate for some of the songs’ dark themes, Heafy actually has a fairly pleasing melodic voice, albeit one that bears an uncanny resemblance to James Hetfield. It was this resemblance that caused many listeners to unfairly pan the band’s previous release, The Crusade, as a Metallica clone. Perhaps Heafy took that criticism to heart and adopted the hybrid style showcased on Shogun’s eleven tracks?

The production is crisp and clear, due in no small part to the involvement of producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has worked with mainstream bands like Foo Fighters and Velvet Revolver. Even the most intense sections are clear, with all instruments discernable. The musicianship is top notch throughout, the aforementioned articulate guitar solos (courtesy of Matt Heafy and Corey Beaulieu) are an absolute highlight, and oftentimes double tracked in a harmonic style not unlike Avenged Sevenfold — we are talking sick chops here!

Fans of Iron Maiden will appreciate the nautical theme of "Into the Mouth of Hell we March.” In fact, the lyrical storytelling is yet another highlight of this release, allowing the listener to get lost in the narratives, like the excellent “Throes of Perdition.” The twelve minute title track is best described as a Dream Theater-esque epic, and finally, who can resist songs with titles like “Torn Between Scylla and Charybdis,” “He Who Spawned the Furies,” or “Of Prometheus and the Crucifix?”

It seems Trivium’s fan base continues to struggle with labeling the band as belonging to one particular genre. Fans can slap any label they want to, but when Shogun’s eleven bludgeoning tracks came to an end, I found myself exclaiming one thing… great metal!

— JQ

 
   
             
             
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