JOE STUMP – VIRTUOSTIC VENDETTA (REVIEW)

Out now on Lion Music

Joe Stump is one of the most intense and over the top guitarists on the planet. His maniacal guitar driven releases are amazing displays of power and jaw dropping technical command. He was named by Guitar One Magazine as one of the ten fastest shredders of all time and by Guitarist as one of the top 20 shredders of all time. The American guitar hero returns with his most diverse and complete solo effort to date with “Virtuostic Vendetta”. Not only a killer shred record but also a great all around guitar driven release, blending neo-classical speed metal, European influenced shred and old school hard rock into a great combination of playing and tracks that will appeal to a wide range of guitar enthusiasts and metal fans worldwide.  Having been a long time fan of Joe’s I can say the new album is arguably his best.  Certainly as good as until this point – my personal favourite – “Supersonic Shred Machine”.  Given time this may well surpass that as it’s receiving pretty much constant listens since the promo arrived.

 From the outset in “Chasin The Dragon” Joe shows us that over 15 years in the game has not changed his outlook on what constitutes a Joe Stump album, i.e. a strong neo-classical slant which is arguably more accessible and enjoyable than similar recent efforts from Yngwie Malmsteen.

 “Pistol Whipped” begins with a chugging groove ala the live intro to “Highway Star” by Deep Purple before launching into a nice riff which takes a little while to come in with lead guitar proper, when it does we get layered harmonies, dark mystical runs amongst other goodies and this is another highly enjoyable number.

 “The Dance Of Kashani” throws the doors wide open to Joe’s Ritchie Blackmore influence, essentially an original composition based on the like of Rainbow classics such as “Gates Of Babylon”, the track itself is almost 8 minutes of pure art, content not to shred profusely over the entire track, Joe prefers to tease into the fast fretwork through a number of melodies all evoking the glory days of The Man In Black.  Some very nice chordal work here is also underpinned by some delicate keyboard orchestration which is more to add depth as opposed to throw you full depth into the classical arena, the illusion is subtle but works a treat.  Arguably Joe’s finest and most mature composition to date.

“Fire & Brimstone” sees Joe pay homage to Yngwie utilising several key Malmsteen melodies from the likes of “Trilogy Suite Op.5” and “Far Beyond The Sun” and turning them into his own thing.  Many have Joe down as nothing more than a pale imitator but unlike the thousands of true Malmsteen clones out there Joe ha never been one to hide his regard for the might Yng. If you view this track for what it is – a tribute then you will find a lot to enjoy.

“The Beacon” sees Joe get slow and moody in a Gary Moore kind of way.  To all those that say Joe is a soulless shredder then prepare to eat your hat.  Some nice Blackmore-ish inflections thrown in as well for good measure but the minor theme is rather beautiful and it’s a highlight.

 No prizes for guessing what’s influences “Blackmore’s Boogie”, that’s right we are taking a trip back to the 70’s for a slice of Purple and Rainbow intertwined into a nice package.  Virtuostic Vendetta sees Joe tipping his hat to the Man In Black in a way not heard before; and for all those a little lost with the whole Blackmore’s Night setting this will take you back in time to the glory days. 

 “Old School Throwdown” see neo-classical put to the sidelines in favour of more 70’s inspired grooves, this time in the vein of the likes of Robin Trower and Mahogany Rush.   Built around a Frank Marino-ish melody this sees Joe giving his phaser and rotovibe pedals a good work out for the major keyed ride through dope filled skies.  Inhale and enjoy!

 “Allegro #2 in A Minor” is right back into full on neo-classical mode with vicious sweep arpeggios, counterparts and pedal note licks.  Classic Stump in every sense.  Just to make things more demonic than Paganini’s satanic reputation we get a dark Phrygian section at the end allowing Joe to go down a few more fathoms to the fires of hell, and what a place to be.

 “Trigger Happy” is more souped up blues with a texas blues feel, not something Joe is renowned for goes to show he is far more versatile than the neo-classical work he is known for.  Coaxing some nice tones out of the wah this track is built more around rhythms than lead licks and contrasts well with its predecessor.

 “Symphonic Pandemonium” sees Joe duel with orchestra and harpsichord for this beautiful classical lament, some very nice works and fans of Malmsteen’s “Concerto” will instantly feel at home here.

 “The Witching Hour” is a  dark, evil, gothic tune with a sinister haunting melody, the title speaks for itself. Joe again pays tribute to Yngwie with a refrain from “Black Star” towards the end but don’t let than overshadow the rest of the track which sees a nice chordal theme.  The bass of Jay Rigney and drum work of Jay Gates also deserve praise here for creating a water tight base for Joe to work off.

 Instead of ending with fretboard meltdown Joe has decided to go to Hendrix and Blackmore watery compositions such as “Little Wing”, “Axis: Bold As Love” and “Catch The Rainbow” to end on a strong note with “Strat Sorcery”. Again those that only know Joe from his high speed antics will be pleasantly shocked and surprised by what they hear  here.  Once again some beautiful lead work is to be found pretty much throughout the entire composition and shows a new found maturity in Joe’s second decade as a solo artist.

 To be the head metal guitar instructor at the world acclaimed Berklee College of Music you have to possess something a little special, its obvious Joe has had that over the course of his recording career, but what’s fulfilling to see that whilst many of his contemporise are stuck in a rut rehashing ideas Joe is improving all the time as a song writer.  This is none more apparent than on “Virtuostic Vendetta” which has great production, and shows a nice balance between the different styles in Joe’s arsenal as well as a few new surprises.  With a reputation and following that seems to be growing every year this album is not going to harm that trend one iota.  Fans of Joe’s previous works, or indeed those of any of the acts mentioned in this review are highly recommended to buy a copy of this album when out on April 17th.  
 
Hot Spots : The Dance Of Kashani, The Beacon, Symphonic Pandemonium, The Witching Hour
Rating : 97%

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