Taking a break from all things Norwegian for the next review, temperatures get a little hotter as I head off the the Nevada Desert (not literally unless someone is paying) and find a very interesting outfit from Las Vegas. They say that what happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas but if the music is anything like as good as the build up from the bio then this lot should definitely not stay confined to Sin City.
The band's sound is a sonic fusion of Metal, jazz, and world music - driving, melodic, and exotic. Darrin Pappa and Andy Heilman bring a dual guitar attack reminiscent of some of the best Classic Metal from the 80s and mix it up with elements of gypsy flamenco. The rhythm section is comprised of Jimmy Pappa on bass and Matt Muntean on drums.
Coupled with technique, energy and taste, Matt and Jimmy’s melodic styles do more than just hold up the rhythm. With their wide range of musical influences they can go from a soft idle jazz groove, to a full Metal onslaught!
Intrigued? Well you should be...
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You may well have noticed the lack of a mention of a vocalist in the blurb above and for a very good reason – there isn't one as this is all instrumental. The last two reviews handed to me have been two types of album that a lot of people love to hate (and some hate to love...deep eh?), namely concept and instrumental.
Instrumental albums especially have often been admired by the musos but not universally appreciated by the record buying public, or these days make that the downloading for free if at all possible public. Even some of the best by the likes of Steve Vai have received their share of criticism so it isn't the easiest thing to pull off.
I am not going to attempt to issue a blueprint but to my mind, strange and warped place that it is, the problem with many instrumental offerings is the obsessive self indulgence, at times on a nuclear scale.
With this one, the component that immediately stands out is the drumming, which may strike some as strange given that the guitars would normally take that honour in an album such as this. But to their immense credit, the band haven't let the six string devices run amok, instead going for the melodic approach, much maligned by some other recordings of this nature.
So to the tracks, first up is the title track. Cool bass line, intricate yet powerful drumming perfectly filling in the space, in fact creating its own space. Guitars in melodic unity, beautiful progressions, tempo shifts, even time signatures tampered with (in a very good way). Sound wise there are tonal elements of that most gifted teuton Michael Schenker, stylistically traces of Steve Vai, but it is highly original.
Their wide and varied influences are there to hear almost all the way through but it is not a case of spot the influence – there are no definite lines between them, instead they are meshed together but it is not chaotic. Music to my ears anyway. And for those more hellbent on the traditional metal sound, there are widdly bits galore, classic rock riffs thrown in as well so there is literally something for everyone.
'Sofia' is the next to be given the treatment and again it immediately intrigues and if you like your arpeggios then you are in luck. As much as they flow off the strings, the really good part about this song is that they have managed to keep things restrained in the type of song that could easily have derailed itself amidst self indulgence.
'Kashmir' is paying homage to the original that launched a million rock songs but it is not a cover, it is an interpreation, a rearrangement. Before they get cast into the fiery pits of hell for daring to rearrange what was pretty damn perfect first time around, at least have a listen to it. They aren't trying to improve on the original, just putting their mark on it, their interpretation. The beginning is very much the original, that unmistakeable beginning, but that is more a case of letting you know...yes, it is that Kashmir.
From a few bars in, the whole tempo changes and all hell is let loose, but again with restraint. Drums go off on a wild one, brilliantly done, guitars screaming at you, fingers all over the fretboard sometimes seemingly in several places at once. It all calms down again into something more resembling what you think of as Kashmir, but that is just a tool to lull you into a false sense of security before it all goes off on one again, letting rip is indeed a good description.
'Winterfell' is next and is probably the most straightforward rock track on the album although nothing this lot do can really justify being called straightforward without doing them a disservice. But sound and feel is of that genre, from the sorrowful beginnings to the rumbling riffs pounding away behind the melody and tempo shifting up for the widdle crazy section. Air guitarists will be doing their nut and entering crazy town whilst loved ones of said air guitarists will be calling the paramedics in their droves. Great track, although some keys on this one would have given it just that little bit of depth.
'Wind Through The Trees' is blowing my way next and sticking with the primarily rock theme but more melancholy and thoughtful. There is so much in this one, echoes again of Schenker mixed with a little Metallica, with a side serving of Rush thrown in (no not just the trees). You can almost come up with something different on each listen, wonderfully played with so many layers, before another one is added and things heavy up even more (must be the wind from that curry) before it comes back down. Superb track, thoughtfully done.
'The Tower' is the proverbial song of two halves. OK - technically that is a game of two halves but this is music so that would make no sense. For the first half, while technically it is good, there are not the musical twists and turns so prevalent in their other tracks, something which is more of a necessity with this kind of album. But then just in the nick of time, matters turn very jazz fusion before moving up a gear and thundering at you again. A life saver, or a track saver at any rate.
'Queenshead' ironically is also missing the melting pot of all the influences, but this one has a melody so damnn catchy and immediately grabbing hold of your inner most parts in a way that even carling couldn't manage. Musically it brings to mind Malmsteem back in the riot in the dungeon days, but as with all their tracks, it is more with the style rather than content. The drums, so up front on the whole album, pound away military like as the mood of the song takes you to the belief that the Queen's head is no longer attached to her body. Marvellous stuff and it will have you playing the gorgeous melody over and over in your head, whether you want it to or not.
So to the final track on the album, 'Ghost Troopers In The Sky' and this one is clever, really clever from a songwriting point of view especially. It starts off with a spaghetti western type theme complete with gunshot before going straight into Led Zep influence laden melody then down to an almost eerie mid section before launching into Maiden's 'The Trooper'. Don't tell me you saw that one coming because I just don't believe you, brilliant stuff and all the better as it then leaves Maiden before coming back again at the end.
So there it is, you now know what to bring along for the musical portion next time you get an invite to Mount Olympus. I have to say I love the album, it is technically good as you would expect but where it stands out from the crowd of pure instrumental albums is the songwriting, arrangements and lets not forget the humour involved (this is good humour, nothing at all like the falling off a chair type hysterics when confronted with a Coldplay song).
There is enough, as I mentioned before, to keep most people happy and whilst their influences are eclectic to put it mildly, it is a rock album but those influences have given the rock a very interesting tint.
Beautiful And Treacherous
Wind Through The Trees
Ghost Troopers In The Sky