ABI VON REININGHAUS – KING OF HEART

Out now on Alnico Records

Now here is something for fans of melodic guitar instrumentals to get excited about and an album to just pass our attention despite being released in 2009. German guitarist Abi von Reininghaus is somewhat of a tone guru favouring vintage amps and guitars, and as just a cursory listen reveals also old school guitar sensibilities i.e. a firm grasp on a decent melody, more than a cursory nod to the subtle art of dynamics (a skill all too often lost on the modern hyper gain generation of today) and also a skill of managing to write interesting compositions across a variety of genres.

King Of Heart proves that Abi is, like fellow countryman Thomas Blug, a player of fine calibre and proves there is life beyond the over satchuration (sic) of Satriani, Vai, Johnson etc that guitar media worldwide would have us believe is all that’s out there in the instrumental field.

Onto the music leads us in a rich bag of genres from the melodic gems of “Seven Friends”, “Remember Me”, “Pacific Coast Highway” to fine acoustic compositions “Clara’s Lullaby” and “The Wedding” to fusion inspired rock of “Pacific Coast Highway” and the stunt guitarwork found in “Captain Locrian’s Revenge” and much more.  All is exceptionally well played with great tone, clean execution, good intonation and solid vibrato, Abi is what you would call a players player and someone all musicians out there will get a kick of out listening to.

So all in all this is a fine offering at the lighter end of the guitar instrumental spectrum and one worth checking out.

Rating – 86%

MARCEL COENEN – GUITARTALK

Out now on Lion Music

Sun Caged guitarist’s 2003 solo album gets a limited edition digipack reissue (500 copies) with a bonus track of a cover of Joey Taffola’s ‘Six String Souffle’.

ORIGINAL REVIEW AS FEATURED ON VIRTUOSITYONE IN 2003

Now you might be thinking “who the hell is Marcel Coenen?”, to be honest I thought the same thing but after listening to this album a lot lately its one name that is gonna get spread around more by the week.

Marcel hails from Holland and if his bio is anything to go by has created something of a buzz on the European circuit. His first claim to fame came with the act Lemur Voice who released their debut album, Insights, on the Magna Carta label in 1996 and their second and final release Divided in 1999 through Telstar Records. In 1998 Marcel competed in the Dutch National Guitar Championships and won the rock category resulting in an endorsement from Ibanez guitars.This solo album originally came to light in 1999 originally as a cd-r with home recording. Its has however seen a re master since then and whilst not being a mega buck production job that the likes of Vai or Satriani can afford the luxury of, it does showcase what a good set of ears can achieve with modest equipment.

So what does the listener get on ‘Guitar Talk’? Well guitar would be the obvious answer but along with the oodles of fretboard antics on offer you get an insight into an artist that shows he has the goods and should only get better with age. The style is a hybrid of the stylised instrumental guitar workouts of Satriani and Vai, but it also has a prog metal element to it reminiscent of bands like Symphony X and to a lesser extent Adagio.

Opener Independence Day is a heavy tune which sees Coenen utilising a 7 string guitar for added gut wrenching growls. Marcel states in the liner notes that people have compared it to Haji’s Kitchen meeting Meshuggah. My own personal opinion is that its pretty darn sinister with a Pantera esque rhythm part over which a moody melody builds the tension before fast flurries of fretboard extravagance. Odd time signature abound but it all holds together into a cohesive unit.

Race Against Time is in the 80’s shred mold, very Racer X with a driving riff followed by huge arpeggio leaps. Its not all about shred, with a nice mid section breakdown for some great harmonised melodic lines where Coenen’s guitar really breathes. A few Tony Macalpine tapped licks lead us back into the Racer X style – impressive

Inner Alchemy sees the tempo slow and mood become more reflective with a very melodic Satriani-esque ballad. A nice piano underscore allows the guitar to really shine before drums enter with some nice synth pads – the feel of the track reminds me quite a lot of Joe Satriani’s ‘Crying’. This track really does live up to the title of the album as the guitar does indeed talk. Coenen describes this as a song from his heart and it shows – beautiful.

Fusion came about after Marcel was messing around with his drum machine. The track is certainly fusion in style and the guitar playing reflects this attitude with some quite freeform leads. It again has a very strong melody. The feel of the track has a little Vai quirkiness, a little Holdsworth cool and a hint of Steve Morse – another highlight.

The tempo picks up and the skies darken for the neo-classical tinged Rebel. Reminiscent of Cacophony meets Yngwie thanks to big arpeggios and harmonic minor and diminished runs, Marcel even quote a riff from Yngwie Malmsteen’s Krakatau 2 minutes in. Some of the rhythms are pretty intense all driven on by double bass drumming (where the drum machine does sound a little mechanical) but the overall effect is another pleasing composition.

Fairy Tale sees the fusion sound re-enter with some more of the Satriani vibe mentioned earlier. The origins of this song started in 1992 so it shows Coenen had the ability to pen compelling tunes in him years ago. Scattered throughout we have some nice twin voice guitar parts, overall the song has a strong structure and melody.

The Wet Season sees a more bluesy vibe enter the fray, again another strong melody and some nice use of different pickup positions for texturing the tone. In places it reminded me of Eric Johnson meets Steve Vai on a summer night!

Anthem is up next. If you’ve ever wondered what the Dutch national anthem sounds like – well here’s the rocked up version. Like all anthems it has a very majestic quality but then it dives into an absolutely slamming rhythm before the melody is intensified ten fold with wide intervalic runs and odd counter harmonies. Nice!

Another very heavy track raised its head in Shoreline. Again Coenen makes nice use of twin leads and the drop D riffage underneath creates a nice basis for the lead melody to work over. Coenen also shows off some very scary speed riffs on this track.

Moyra sees the mood switch over to the romantic, with Coenen penning this tune for a special friend. This track was written and recorded in March 2003 and shows the growth Marcel has made as a player over some of the earlier tunes on the album. Again a strong Satriani vibe enters the fray, but it must be said that the melody is stronger than anything on the last couple of Satriani releases – another highlight.

Move That Groove may have one of the most comical song titles but the music is again very strong indeed. Coenen credits this track as being in the Satriani vein and who am I to disagree. Again this is coming more from the ‘The Extremist’ end of Satch’s repertoire. The song is pretty straightforward in 4/4 time but it has a nice driving groove.

The album ends with an atmospheric track in the guise of Endless. Marcel makes nice use of the acoustic guitar which is coupled with some sweet electric volume swells to really add atmosphere and space to the track. After the sonic onslaught of a lot of this album its nice that it ends of a more spaced note and indeed calls out reflection of the album. To end the album with another highlight makes sure the cd ends with a good impression.

So is Marcel Coenen the new guitar god to challenge the throne held by Satriani and Vai? Well no, but as a debut release this is a very impressive outing that should have the two aforementioned names at least looking over their shoulders. Sure the Satch and Vai influences are apparent but they are used in a way they makes Coenen stand out from the pure imitators and there are many glimpses of a true original voice lurking throughout. It will be interesting to see what Marcel delivers on his next album, I for one hope that he proves me write and delivers the goods. In the meantime this is a fine selection of material and if you’re reading this Satriani how about offering this guy a slot on any future European G3 gigs?

Hot Spots : Inner Alchemy, Fusion, The Wet Season, Moyra, Endless.
Rating : 86%

CHICKENFOOT – III

Out now on Ear Music

After an enjoyable debut the super group comprising Sammy Hagar, Joe Satriani, Michael Anthony and Chad Smith skip straight past the difficult second album in favour of III.

More focused, more fun and more streamlined than the debut this is an enjoyable romp from start to finish.  Hagar’s voice is in fine fettle, Satriani’s tone is much improved over the debut and the rhythm section cooks over this collection of groove laden tracks.

Straight ahead for the most part, this is a good time record, straight up good time hard rock, full of cock sure radio appeal yet with the odd darker moment for contrast; like ballad “Come Closer” and the social economic commentary of “Three And A Half Letters”. There is very little to dislike except for the fact they make it seem too damn easy.

If you liked the debut you will like this more.

Rating – 90%

JORDAN RUDESS – RHYTHM OF TIME (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Magna Carta

Jordan Rudess is best known as the keyboard player of Dream Theater with Rhythm Of Time being his second solo album on the Magna Carta label. Much like Derek Sherinian (whom he replaced in DT) Rudess has decided to call in some of the hottest guitar players to guest on the album. Lending their six string talents to the album reads like a “who’s who” of modern rock guitar with solo spots from Joe Satriani, Vinnie Moore, Steve Morse and Greg Howe.

The bass guitar is courtesy of Steve Morse sidekick Dave LaRue, with drums coming from ex Winger drummer Rod Morgenstein whom Rudess has collaborated on numerous occassions.

Stylistically Rhythm Of Time is sure to please any fan of Dream Theater. This is predominantly progressive instrumental music, yet although being keyboard driven has its fair share of guitar work. The keyboards as such take the place of vocals and in all honesty this material would work rather well were James LaBrie to provide vocals over. However, Kip Winger does crop up on vocals for 2 tracks.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Rhythm Of Time is that it was made a reality in 14 days before Jordan left to start Dream Theater’s Train Of Thought world tour. The making of the album may well see the light of day on a ‘making of’ DVD; in the meantime on the CD there is an interview with Jordan about the making of the album.

Modern technology played a big part in this album being completed, with guest musicians adding their solos at their home studios and then either emailing or snail mailing their parts back to Jordan. That the album sounds such a cohesive unit only goes to show the high caliber of all involved.

Opener Time Crunch is begins with a fast tempo before settling into a more mid paced groove. Over the basic riff Jordan lays down numerous keyboard motifs before taking us through instrumental pastures that go from ambient to pure metal. Dream Theater fans will feel instantly at home here with the track being the closest on offer to the prog metal sound of Jordan’s main gig. Vinnie Moore (UFO) provides guitar here and his first main solo sees restraint that mixes blues with jazz fusion licks before heading into some complex string skipping. A great opener that will make you want to explore the album further.

Screaming Head is less metal and more rocked up jazz fusion with a slight funk feel. A basic riff lays the foundation for Rudess’s keboard experimentations which see good use of the pitch wheel. The track does take a complete u turn for a dark gothic vibe before launching into the main melody once again. Guitar here comes courtesy of Joe Satriani and it has to be said his style of space age lead work is the perfect compliment to the track.

Track 3 Insectamongous initially has a big Frank Zappa vibe to it. A quirky motif lays the foundation for a myriad of odd time signatures and bizarre musical twists. Zappa’s own ‘G spot Tornado’ could be seen as similar turf to Insectamongous, but this is a little more accessible than Zappa’s piece. Once you think you have the track summed up it launches into a big riff over which Joe Satriani throws done one of his most aggressive leads in several years. This fires Jordan up who lays down another impressive workout.

Beyond Tomorrow sees the tempo and ambience drop considerably for the first vocal number on the album. Initially piano led this is soon enriched by some acoustic guitars (by newcomer Daniel J) and the warm vocal timbres of Kip Winger. This is just a great song – period. The track has a timeless quality about it and is as good as any of the slower numbers Dream Theater have produced; lead guitar here comes courtesy of Greg Howe.

Track 5, Bar Hopping With Mr Picky has a futuristic vibe, thanks to lots of complex synth samples; many in the lowest bass registers which add an eerie space age quality to the track. The unmistakeable guitar work of Steve Morse (Deep Purple/Dixie Dregs) works well here with Morse’s chromatic heavy style blending in well within Jordan’s frameworks.

What Four is home to another groovy vibe, partly due to the slap bass inflections. Yet again this is mixed with a darker vibe and the piano led motif at around the 1:10 mark is a nice contrast to what came before. Greg Howe contributes a pretty gonzo solo here, that is mixed a little lower than the other guitar solo breaks for some reason. This does not make for any production faux pas’ as its still audible but I would have liked to have heard it a litte louder in the mix. Jordan compensates for this by laying down a short but great singing solo on his keyboard.

Ra sees the Dream Theater “feel” come back into play with a good rocking riff that leads into an eastern tinged section, that then flys to Europe for some French sounding accordian work, before jetting back to Asia. Vinnie Moore throws down more solos full of string skipping and legato delights, and trades back and forth with Jordan – cool stuff. The rocking nature of this track takes a few spins to fully digest, but once digested tastes totally satisfying.

The final track Tear Before The Rain (cool title) goes back to the vibe of Beyond Tomorrow and has a definite Pink Floyd feel to it; maybe due to Kip Winger sounding a little like Roger Waters. Regardless this is a sublime song with great structure, great melody, and great peformances from all involved (Kip Winger is a seriously underrated vocalist) and closes the album in fine style.

What Jordan Rudess has served up with Rhythm Of Time is similar to what Derek Sherinian achieved with Black Utopia – that is a predominantly instrumental album that manages to hit all the right notes. However, the presence of two superb vocal tracks adds an additional element to Rhythm Of Time that gives it further strength.

As mentioned in the track by track details there is a lot of variety here, although it never strays too far from what you are likely to hear in Dream Theater. Rudess doesn’t get an awful lot of songwriting credits in DT, but Rhythm Of Time proves that he is now an integral part of the band, and I hope that he is able to get a few more of his ideas in on the next record.

In summary, Rhythm Of Time is a worthy addition to any Progressive music fans collection.

Hot Spots:Time Crunch, Screaming Head, Beyond Tomorrow, Ra, Tear Before The Rain.
Rating: 92%

BORISLAV MITIC (ARCHIVE INTERVIEW)

Borislav Mitic is a guitarist who first rose to prominence at the turn of the 21st century with a self titled instrumental offering through Shrapnel Records, the album won worldwide acclaim and also bore the distinction of being the first guitar hero to emerge on a national platform from Serbia.  Now after almost a decade’s absence and being a fully fledged Canadian citizen, Borislav has just released his third solo album “The Absolute” on Lion Music.  Mike Blackburn caught up with Borislav to get this superb in-depth interview on all facets of his work and life.  Enjoy!

 Early Days

Do you come from a musical family?
No, I am the first and only musician/artist in my family.

What music was heard in the home?
In my childhood days mainly the radio and whatever was played on it, like some pop stuff. Later on when I started to play guitar, albums that I would buy were heard at home.

What was your earliest instrument and did you take any lessons?
The guitar was my first and only instrument. I learned a few basic chords and melodies from some friends in the very beginning. After that, I was self-taught trying to learn by ear the solos and songs of my musical heroes from their albums. There was nobody in Serbia from whom I could have learned this kind of stuff that I play today because nobody before me played it over there. It would have been cool if I could have went and learned at a place like Berkley or MIT schools where they have great teachers for kids who have the cash to pay for it – but my parents didn’t have the money for that kind of stuff.

When you got your first guitar at 11, what inspired the acquisition and what type was it?
I spent a part of my childhood in London, England and those few years were quite significant on my development from a cultural influence point of view. That’s where I first encountered the guitar by chance and was quite fascinated with it and wondered if I could ever learn to play such an instrument. After coming back to Serbia I discovered Rock music which was mainly sung in the English  language and that to me somehow made a  connection  to my London days  so I got into rock guitar  very deeply and quickly… The very first guitar I got was some cheap acoustic that I asked my grandfather to get me for Christmas. A couple of years later I worked during the summer vacation   picking   fruit at some plantation around Belgrade (capitol of Serbia) to get money to buy a second hand east European Telecaster knock  off type of guitar… That was my first electric guitar that I learned to play on.

What was the name of your first band and what was your first live performance?
I played in quite a few local demo bands as a kid in Belgrade, Serbia. Because of this I was able to gain some experience performing frequently in smaller clubs and venues in front of crowds of 100 – 300 people. My first real band where I was the leader/composer was called “Fantasy”. We had a debut in front of 15 000 people at a stadium in a Serbian town called Zajecar in 1989. It was some sort of festival type of thing where we were invited as special guests. I received huge ovations for the performance and was really blown away by the positive feedback I received from the audience. I was already playing instrumental neoclassical material at that time which would later end up on my first solo album – Fantasy. I was the first guy from that whole Balkan region to do that style of music. Later we played in some legendary Belgrade venues like “Hala Pionir” in front of 10 000 people  and that was amazing since it was the same venue that I watched Iron Maiden or Dire Straits play when they came to town a few years earlier! We also did quite a few of small town gigs around Serbia as well as a bunch of national TV and radio appearances! 

Who were your earliest musical inspirations?
One thing I would like to emphasize is that although I belong to the generation that grew up with the appearance of players like  Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen on the scene, I approached the guitar and music as if I was coming from the era of the 60s. That means that I checked and learned the styles of many important players of the 60s, 70s and 80s before entering the neoclassical shred zone! This is something that many people don’t know about me and I want to point out that I am playing what I am playing today because I choose to, and not because it’s the only style I know how to play.

What prompted your interest in solo instrumental guitar performance?
As for instrumental guitar, it did not start with Yngwie and Satriani for me either. First there were guys like Hank Marvin from the Shadows, Santana or  Mike Oldfield who had amazing instrumental albums. People like Michael Schenker with his instrumental works like Captain Nemo, Into the Arena, Ulcer, or Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow era instrumentals were very influential on me too. Jimi Hendrix was also great at this genre with his instrumental songs like Peace in Mississippi, Captain Coconut, Trashman, Pali Gap. Gary Moore had cool instrumentals too…etc. . Some acoustic instrumental stuff of Al DiMeola and John Mclaughlin was also quite amazing. Those people were my first inspirations and favorite instrumental guitar performers before getting into modern neoclassical shredding. In fact, when you look at the whole long gone era of 70’s and bands like Deep Purple, a large part of their live albums and shows were about instrumental jamming, extended solos and shredding. The same goes for Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Mahogany Rush, and Dire Straits,… they were all known for ability to play well.

But hearing Yngwie Malmsteen’s and  Joe Satriani’s early instrumental albums did make a special  impact on me as a teenager.  That really made me want to pursue the instrumental guitar direction all the way. Later on I found out that Yngwie was discovered and brought to US by Shrapnel Records guitar guru Mike Varney who was looking for these types of virtuoso players. By that time, I had started making my own compositions and I was already heavily into classical music too. I got a lot of my phrasing ideas from that side since Vivaldi, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Paganini, Chopin wrote largely instrumental virtuoso music.

Was it difficult to produce this type of work (Fantasy) in your homeland at that time or easy because use of your works (TV radio etc) had become widespread?
It was a struggle in every way. I made my first demos back in 1988/1989 while I was still a teenager but already considered locally as “the guitar kid” since there was nobody on the scene that was playing stuff that I was doing. My technique was more advanced in comparison to much older guitar veterans from my country. So this demo I made with some Paganini covers got heard and circulated a lot creating a huge buzz – and that opened some doors for me. When the time came to record the Fantasy project, it was quite tough to pull off since nobody before me even used that type of aggressive Metal guitar tone by 1992. So there was no one to ask for help in that department and I had to figure out my own way to achieve that. I had to sell one of my Strat guitars to pay the studio costs for recording the album. You know, it was a time of civil war and UN sanctions against Serbia and very few of the people from my generation could really get financing from some label in order to make a statement in music or arts at the time – everybody was broke. So against all the odds, I decided to do it on my own no matter the cost, and create something of value to be remembered for the generations to come. And it ended up being pretty much the first modern instrumental Metal guitar album of that sort to come from the whole Europe/Balkans region after the start of the era of Yngwie and Satriani. Many kids in Serbia still discover it even today.

How did you first connect with Varney/Shrapnel and where did you first establish yourself in North America in 1998?
For a number of years before hooking up with Mike, I was listening to the whole catalogue of Shrapnel artists like Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker, Greg Howe,… so I knew that he was the main person in the US who discovers top guitar talent in this style of music. At one point, when I had just enough of local scene hardship, because Rock music seized to exist in Serbia, I decided to try and contact Shrapnel Records. I just wrote a letter and threw my recordings in the package and decided to send it and see what would become of it. It was a very long shot because I knew that they receive hundreds of tapes and CDs each month from guitarists all over the world….but I didn’t have much to loose. I was very, very surprised when Mike Varney called me back a few months later and offered me a record deal to make an album for Shrapnel and to come to US with the words “where have you been all these years”! It was quite unreal! At first I was supposed to go to California and record there along with working with the singer John West on his solo album. But it didn’t happen because some visa paper work that was filed too late. So I had to wait a bit more before I crossed the ocean…

 The Shrapnel Days through the new millennium

Why and when did you decide to move to and live in Montreal, Canada?
I decided to do so because my girlfriend, who was living with me in Serbia for a few years, was French from Paris, France. So I figured that Montreal, Canada was a good place to move to since it is a bilingual “French & English” town that is in very close proximity to US. That was the main reason I chose Canada in 1998 for a base to work from and it was possible for me to do it since I had a contract with a US label .

Your biography states that you were offered a spot in UFO. Any regrets about not taking that UFO gig that you were offered around that time?
Hmm, good question! It was certainly a very flattering offer since I was a fan of Michael Schenker who used to play in UFO. The phone rang one day when I was still settling in Montreal and the voice on the other side was – Phil Mogg from UFO himself! He had heard that I was this guitar wizard from Mike Varney and was interested if I had any songs ready for him because he wanted to make a new album. Unfortunately, he wanted to start to work on this right away and I was overwhelmed at the time having to deliver an instrumental album to Shrapnel and I had scheduled the studio recording already. So he moved on without me and I passed that opportunity. I always loved his singing and old UFO albums and perhaps a collaboration with him could have created something interesting… but I hear that Vinnie Moore is doing a great guitar job with Mogg and UFO these days so in the end it was all for the best.

What do you have to say about the weak promotion support  from Shrapnel (many other artists had similar problems) and that such a fantastic album was not better promoted/distributed?
Thanks for saying that my self titled Shrapnel album was fantastic! As far as media promotion I wasn’t at all happy with it but I wouldn’t say that I had a worse treatment than many other Shrapnel artists at the time. It’s just that the more known Shrapnel guitarists like Paul Gilbert or Tony MacAlpine made their breakthrough back in the 80’s when there was more interest for the virtuoso shred guitar and more money for advertising in Guitar magazines etc. I was a bit unfortunate to come out in 1999, a time when new players were not getting any more of previous era’s promotion benefits. I wish it would have been different but it was a matter of label budget. Nevertheless, I still think that it was really cool that some producer like Mike Varney who discovered and signed the most talented Metal virtuoso players on the planet like Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman, Vinnie Moore, Jason Becker, Greg Howe wanted to work with me at that time. I was very honoured to be counted in that group of artists by signing for his Shrapnel Records! No Serbian person has before or since achieved such a feat. I believe that before me Yngwie Malmsteen was Mike Varney’s only discovery of European origin. All the other guitarists on Shrapnel were mostly Americans.

Regarding the Shrapnel/Roadrunner distribution strategy in Canada – it was a matter of label business organization and something I didn’t have a say in. The huge problem Shrapnel and similar independent labels encountered in 2000s was the rise of Internet illegal download which was eating up a lot of the CD sales. That money could have perhaps been re-invested in more aggressive traditional promo activities that Gilbert Becker or Macalpine had in the 80s. So, I guess it was not really a favorable situation for instrumental guitar music in the world when my first album came out.

What became of the material you wrote/recorded for the second Shrapnel album (early 2000’s?)
At the time, I was making a lot of new demos for a follow up album but all that early 2000’s material never got published or finished. What happened was that Shrapnel’s distribution outlets and sales were starting to drop overseas largely as a result of  the unfavorable development on the mainstream rock music scene controlled by corporate labels pushing for popularity of “bad playing” bands, a.k.a. – “grunge”. This was the height of the era of “anti good playing propaganda” when some bad bands that nobody even remembers today were still praised in the media. The guitar virtuosos were being almost lynched in the Guitar magazines! It was a bizarre time! This fact heavily contributed to the low level of popularity of the virtuoso style at the moment my Shrapnel album was published. Kids were reading and believing magazines where certain journalists were brainwashing them telling them retarded stories that good playing sucked. So what could I have done to challenge that situation? Not much really except soldiering on. To make things even worse, the Internet illegal download was now taking a really strong hold over shred metal kids globally.  So new guitar fans preferred to download MP3’s for free and file – share them with their friends instead of buying the original CDs. This added insult to injury… The only good thing at that time was that some new extreme Metal bands like Children Of Bodom, Black Label Society, Nevermore or Arch Enemy were just emerging and metal shred soloing was slowly  starting to come back because those bands were influenced by Shrapnel artists like Racer X and Cacophony… So there was still some glimmer of hope on the horizon. In regard to that whole situation on the music scene, I accepted label suggestions to try out a different approach with a more vocal oriented new material.

What became of the vocal material you then wrote for Chris Logan (ex Michael Schenker Group) and Eric Forrest (ex Voivod)?
Chris Logan was recommended to me by Mike Varney. He was a talented upcoming singer from Las Vegas and I started talking to him about this vocal project of mine. Soon enough I was writing stuff and sending him tapes to work out vocal parts etc. The material was more Hard Rock oriented than Metal. As I was completing the material and thinking about studio preparations and working on financing options, Chris got contacted by Michael Schenker who was also looking for a singer for his new album too. So I agreed to wait a bit since I understood that Chris couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that. After finishing the Schenker album he was supposed to do the vocals for my album. Then Schenker decided he wanted to go touring and threw the whole MSG back catalogue at Logan to learn – and that was that! It was too much for Chris to deal with and our collaboration was off.

I wasn’t sure which alley to turn next but decided to try out another singer called Eric Forrest who was living in Montreal then. He was just out of the local Metal band called “Voivod” where he sang and played bass and was replaced by Jason Newsted (Metallica). He was looking for things to do so I did a few songs with him and tried to adopt my writing style to his more aggressive way of singing… We recorded a few tracks but then in the midst of it all he suddenly got married and went off to live in France to pursue his own solo career there. After that I decided to get back to instrumental music.

What year(s) did you set up your studio?
I started to set up my modest project studio facility back in 2003 – 2004 I believe. The industry had changed quite a bit by then in contrast to early 2000s. The Internet menace destroyed and dropped pretty much everybody’s CD sales income by 80% so going for huge budgets and paying 1000$ per day for big studios was not an option anymore for smaller artists like myself…A studio recording budget that was considered “standard”  in the 90’s would now put a small artist under water for good financially speaking. So to be able to make records on some reasonable terms, I really had to get my own recording facility together. Many famous guitarists like Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Greg Howe,… did the same thing – on their own terms of course. Today even the biggest names in guitar industry like Zakk Wylde, Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson have their own studios to be able to cut expenses and make a better profit from CD sales.

Do you have any additional current endorsements than those listed in your bio?
I used MSD Silver Machine wah on the album a lot. I am right now talking about an endorsement with Godin Guitars which is a Canadian company that makes great hi tech acoustic guitars. So hopefully I’ll be using their nylon string and 12 string acoustic guitars in the future. I also am negotiating with some amplification companies but when we reach a final deal I will announce it. The other ones are still ESP Guitars, Maxon, Guyatone, Hao and Emma effects.

Maybe two years ago or so, I was reading either on your Myspace or your old website that you were working again on another instrumental album. Is it true and also true that you again scrapped all of that material and started fresh for “The Absolute”?
Since 2001 I have made something like 3 instrumental albums worth of material in various musical styles. I never stopped writing… Some of the material was recorded and some remained just in the form of demos. Yes, I shelved everything I did before 2008 to take this new direction on “The Absolute”. I was experimenting a lot and getting a bit obsessive with the quest for some ultimate guitar tones between  2006 – 2008… I call that my “Eric Johnson period”. After investing way too much time on that, I realized that my heart was pulling me again toward a Metal style and I just stopped working on that other stuff. I sat down and wrote a whole new album very quickly that was gravitating to a more earthly Metal style that I got this sudden renewed passion for. I can write very fast when motivated,… for example I wrote the whole Shrapnel self-titled album in just 10 days a few weeks after moving to Montreal back in the day. “The Absolute” took a bit longer than that – like two months to write and few more to record and produce.

Why did you choose to play everything yourself on the new album?
If you want something done – do it yourself! Just kidding… (laughs). That wasn’t the plan initially. I usually compose all the bass and drums parts on all my albums anyway but this time I also recorded them as a reference. They were supposed to be re – recorded later on by musicians that work with me. But as time went on, I got used to the “temporary “  parts. They sounded good enough to me and I didn’t feel like changing them anymore. I was a bit hesitant about leaving the electronic drums on the album but then I thought – “If somebody like Joe Satriani could live with electronic drum on his Surfing With The Alien album – so can I.” .  Perhaps it was also a bit of the old Mike Oldfield syndrome kicking in? I am a huge fan of his, and he used to play and record everything by himself on his old albums… 

When/how did the Lion Music deal transpire, before/during/after the writing process?
I sent the album to Lion for consideration after it was recorded, mixed, mastered and ready for pressing. Some other labels had also expressed interest to publish my new album including Shrapnel Records. But I decided to go with Lion Music since they were European based and I was intending to dedicate a bit more attention to that part of the world in 2010.

How did you write for this CD, and is that different from previous works?
I did have a different approach this time in the way that I started with the riffs and rhythm parts first and then added melodies later on. Usually it’s the other way around. I wanted to have some really heavy contemporary riffs this time that would be combined with a lot of over the top Metal lead playing. This album is not that neoclassical oriented compared to my previous works… One really important thing for me was to get away as far as possible from any Yngwie comparisons. So, there’s really close to zero Yngwie influence on “The Absolute”! I do like Yngwie but as soon as someone plays instrumental metal music today with some neoclassical influence he gets labeled as an “Yngwie clone” and I didn’t want that… so I had to be very careful with what I played. Btw, very few people even know that Yngwie picked up what is believed to be his “signature style phrasing” mainly from Uli Jon Roth’s and Al Dimeola’s 70’s works and expanded on them! Everybody has a past and an apprentice period and so did he…

But all I really wanted to do on “The Absolute” was to make a pure Metal guitar album that would be appealing to me personally and  that would be fun for the listeners and fans of virtuoso Metal guitar.

How hard is it to play instrumental songs live?
Much harder then vocal oriented material because you have to be on top of your game all the time and every little mistake becomes very obvious. I realized that I had too many difficult instrumental songs in the past that required almost standing still on stage and staring at the neck in the pursuit of perfect interpretation.  It’s almost like being a tight rope walker and if you lose balance for a second – down you go! I got a bit tired of that and I wanted some new songs that would be loaded with heavy riffs and with more of that old Metal energy back in there …meaning – more fun for me on stage. Bands like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica were a big part of my repertoire while I was growing up so I wanted those influences to be audible now. Playing wise, I wanted to sound more like a modern “hyper charged” version of players that came before me. I consciously made an effort to develop my own phrasing and playing style on this album rather than imitate any other player “per se”. I also wanted to show a more aggressive and loose side of my playing on this album – something that I felt I “owed” to my fans since I was always holding back a bit on my previous albums…

Elaborate more on the overall album concept theme and vibe.
From a musical point of view the concept theme of the album is – Heavy Metal. The album presents my take on this essential music genre. I wanted to explore different avenues of Metal music and transmute them to instrumental format. This album should not be looked at as just another shred fest but more like almost a vocal album that perhaps some bands like Arch Enemy or Metallica could have made if they collaborated with Joe Satriani for example. I don’t think anybody made an instrumental album with that type of idea yet… As for the production style, the targets for me were records of  Judas Priest – “Demolition” , Metallica  – “And Justice For All”… and also Iron Maiden, “ A Matter of Life and Death”. I like that dry type of production for Metal and  I thought that if I could get my production quality level at least in that ballpark it would be good enough for me – since I have much less money then those bigger artists. I am quite proud with the end result and in my opinion “The Absolute” is my best sounding album as of yet.

You also made the album cover artwork yourself?
Yes, this is also the first time I did that. The artwork is kind of simple but has a meaning to it that might not meet the eye at the first glance. There is a symbol on the cover that is molded with the crossed guitars. It is the “Aum” which is also known as “The Absolute” and is very present in Hindu philosophy and religion which many consider to be the oldest one on earth. The shape of “Aum” somewhat resembles number three – and since this is my third album I found it kind of adequate! I do not follow Hindu religion but there are some interesting parallels I found with music and meaning of this symbol. The “Aum” is considered the “initial divine vibration” of creation. This “divine vibration” of Aum is also known as Trimurti that consists of three forces which are one at the same time – “(A) creator – (U) maintainer – (M) destroyer”.  It also stands for 3 cycles of human condition… birth, life, death. …past,  present, future.  Since music is essentially “sound vibration”, and all vibration creates energy, I have always found it fascinating how energy of music can change the emotional state of the listener thus affecting their “personal energy”. And if we look at the structure of basic elements of music harmony, which are chords – they are made of three notes played together creating one sound, corresponding again to this mystical rule of “three”. So this “divine vibration” seems to be of great significance in the architecture of the universe we live in…and reflects itself in music which is a part of it. If all this makes sense even a little bit perhaps it is not by pure accident that we find many good musicians to be interested in mysticism and metaphysics? (Laughs).

Regarding the song titles… Since this is an instrumental album, there are no lyrics involved. So if there’s anything to be said in plain words it has to be done through the song titles. Since it is a concept album from a music point of view, I wanted the album’s song titles to be somewhat conceptual and corresponding to the artwork idea so I weaved some spiritual and philosophical ideas into them too. Like the eternal questions of essential truth and search of reason of our existence… you know, the stuff many people usually don’t want to think about! (laughs). 

Track by Track

Could you  elaborate further on what is posted on the Lion website track by track description already in terms of gear used, or if you have some special comments to add?
Gear I used for the majority of tracks were an ESP Eclipse set neck type of guitar with active electronics for rhythm guitar parts and a couple of ESP V type guitars with passive electronics for the lead stuff. I went with some distortion pedals by EMMA and Maxon through my amp’s clean channel with some Guyatone pedals for processing – and that is the guitar tone you hear on 90% of the album.  

–       The Absolute… This is clearly a neoclassical track. I knew that I would not make a lot of neoclassical tunes on this album so I decided to make just one ultimate neoclassical song as a bit of a “world in itself” compared to other songs on the album. It is like an essential display of what I did before but in an improved version just for my old fans that always ask me for more of that. However I also wanted to have some typical metal riffs in there and I wanted to avoid any phrasing in there that somebody else did before me. I played pretty much my own style here.

–       Secret Of Life… After the neoclassical opening tune, I wanted a song which would sound even heavier and introduce the listener to what’s coming next. I am making a reference here to some thrash metal influences. The guy who started the whole metal riff thing was Tony Iommi so I wanted a bit of his influence in there and then took it to modern thrash riffs of Hetfield age. The melody line is in NWOBHM tradition and the solo section is loosely based on pentatonic style of people like Michael Schenker, Zakk Wylde.

–       Hidden… I wanted a simple and brutal sounding Metal riff perhaps a bit Megadeth like. For the melody part, I went for some phrasing influenced by middle-eastern and Balkan music with some mystical sounding harmonies in the background. The solo is very legato oriented and bit of a tribute to masters of that style of playing like Joe Satriani or Steve Vai. I also took the solo through different harmony modes there like Lydian and Mixolydian.

–       Within All Existence… This one is a very straight forward rocker tune. It opens up with Brian May style harmonized guitars. I wanted very basic power riffs almost Steve Stevens type with Michael Schenker type wah lead melody on top. There’s also a bit of Iron Maiden influence in there. The solos are a total shred fest…

–       Promises… I wanted to use really heavy sounding downtuned riffs that would be in the ballpark of Pantera or Zakk Wylde. The harmony progression for arpeggio section here is almost a common cliché but I did it in a somewhat extreme metal styling with the double kicks and “start – stop” riffs. I wanted to demonstrate sequencing use of arpeggios so the theme sounds a bit like an “etude”.  There are two solos… first one is strictly pentatonic shred blues style while the second one is a total explosion. I just wanted to do a type of solo that I usually hesitate to do – a ton of fast shred licks all over the place. I also used a touch of  Maxon Phaser effect on the second solo to get a bit of the early Van Halen vibe.

–       The Prize Of Eternity… is sort of a nod to great 80’s LA scene guitar heroes that started it all. So the riff hints to Randy Rhoads a bit while the solo is in a classic rock style with some Van Halen, George Lynch inspired moments done from my own perspective. The melody theme is simple but with some cool tapped arpeggio parts later on. I always make sure on my albums to play something different on each song so I tried to make this tune stand out too…

–       For The Chosen,… Is based on a middle eastern beat that even Ritchie Blackmore incorporated in some Rainbow songs back in the day. I wanted the guitar riffs to be very heavy almost like something of Metallica type and the melody to be totally middle eastern sounding thing. There’s two solos. The first one is full of my trademark licks which I call “Randy Rhoads on steroids”. The second solo contains some licks that are made famous by Yngwie Malmsteen. I wanted to make an intentional hint to that YJM style there just for 15 seconds on the whole album.

–       Fighter Of Glory… Has a sort of Spanish flamenco type of progression to it which I wanted to do for a while but in a NWOBHM style. The tone is very raw and buzzy on this one, almost in a Glenn Tipton way which is what I was going for. I got it from a solid state amp being boosted by Maxon OD 9 Pro overdrive pedal that I helped  in designing.

–       Walking the path… is another neoclassical tune on the album apart from the title song. I focused more on a legato approach in the lead parts instead of the typical staccato style. I found legato a bit smoother sounding and more appropriate here so I also adjusted the tone with a bit more midrange to help the phrasing.

–       To One Truth… the idea was to have a catchy intro riff. For the melody I wanted some contrast in sound so I added a bit of acoustic rhythm guitar chords. The ending solo is one of my favorites on the album and is very “bluesy” in nature.       

 The Future

What will you be doing to promote this CD and are there any other new projects in plan?
he most important thing for me now is to take this album live on the road. It is imperative for me to do a lot of this in 2010 and it will be quite a challenge. The problem with instrumental shred guitar today is the insufficient label support which makes it difficult to tour. A strong club circuit has not been made for this style of music like for blues, jazz or metal so it’s quite hard to tour these days being “in between styles”. Even bigger artists like Paul Gilbert and Vinnie Moore just started doing solo tours in Europe last year for the first time! Still, I hope  that there are a lot of MSG, Joe Satriani, Children Of Bodom, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Al Dimeola  fans out there that want to hear the this type of playing… That’s why music on this album is intentionally made in such a way that it can very easily appeal to a wider audience apart from just shred guitarists. I am also intending to finish up some other even more ambitious projects in 2010 including a vocal oriented Metal album as well.

What do you see as the future of music production, media and CD distribution?
The Internet has obviously changed a lot of things within the music industry which is at this point dying because of uncontrolled internet illegal download. No serious government intervention has dealt with this specific problem that haunts music industry in spite of the digital technology advances in the last 10 years. I think this has to do with planed society changes for the future and Internet is a big part of that “digital future”.  I believe that in the end the record companies might become state owned and funded from state budget and musicians will have to become employees with a monthly salary. Then the big corporate institution would have to pay to state owned music labels for using music on internet…and there will be no more CDs or physical media. This will of course reduce significantly the amount of people who will be able to work in music. Some will perhaps still play in small clubs as cover bands like they did in the 50s. It’s a bit of a dark prediction but that’s just my opinion on how things will develop if the current trend doesn’t change.

And what about the future options for instrumental guitar performers?
It is getting more and more difficult every day. I think it depends on the corporate controlled media and their agenda. This is not a very commercial style of music and if sidelined further it will die off slowly. Even the great classical composers like Bach, Mozart or Chopin could do their thing only because they were supported and sponsored by the elite and nobility of the era. Today it seems that electric virtuoso guitar is obsolete as far as corporate labels are concerned… But which great rock musician’s music of yesterday is rock music of today mainly founded on? If we had to choose just one, I think it would have to be Jimi Hendrix’! Even the amps, pedals and guitars are still more or less based on the same technology that what was used in 60s by Hendrix. He was a guitar virtuoso of his time and he was a star because of his playing/shredding abilities! So the corporate “anti playing” concept of today doesn’t make sense and whoever tells us that virtuoso playing is bad and purposeless is either on crazy pills or is not really into rock guitar music! The fuzz tone of Hendrix’ guitar is still the type of tone you hear in metal guitar music with Vai, Satriani, or somebody like myself… proving that instrumental shred style is deeply rooted in history and essence of rock music! Even 70’s jazz rock bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra or Return To Forever were doing the instrumental format and they were so popular that they played arenas!!! So, how is it possible that Hendrix is a #1 Rock icon off all times and Dimeola and Mclaughlin sold millions of records and played large arenas and yet today some “people” want to make us believe that guitar shred is just not interesting for wide audiences anymore? Doesn’t make any sense to me…

What will the next technological breakthrough for the electric guitar be in your opinion and do you tinker with your gear much?
I experiment with my tone and gear but I don’t do the tech stuff and mods personally. As for the tech direction of the future it’s hard to say really…Technological development and scientific progress always brought some new aspects to musical instruments and I expect that to continue. Many vintage tone purists stick to the past but tend to forget that the term Stratocaster was made up from the words “Strato/sphere” and “broad/cast” (Strato – cast) in commemoration of beginning of new space age and radio/tv age. Even fewer people know today that it was the designs of a scientist of Serbian origin named Nikola Tesla that defined the technology of the 20th century by discovering radio, adjusting alternating current electricity system, remote control, electromotor, and many other things that made it possible for something like an electric guitars and amplifiers to exist today! Even the great guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth dedicated one of his albums called “Wardenclyffe Tower” to Tesla! So who knows what science might come up with tomorrow that will upgrade the way we produce sound!?

What breakthrough would you like to see?
Modeling technology seemed to have been very popular in the 2000s so perhaps some companies will take this direction further until they succeed in making some sort of “tone emulator machine”. Then a player will be able to sample any tone from the past (or present) they want at home in 100% detail and then download it into a “preset digital card gadget” and bring it to the studio or concert venue where the “preset digital card “will be read by some new type of amp computer/machine and – there you go, we’ll be able to dial in any tone we want, any place we want without having to lug any additional gear around. The purists will probably not like it but progress marches on…

General

What are your general interests outside of music/guitar?
I like to read books and study many different things like religion, philosophy, politics, history … I also find some martial arts  very interesting so it’s something I follow too.

What other types of music do you enjoy?
I have thousands of old vinyl LPs and also a huge CD collection. I listen to many different styles of music really… Blues players like Eric Clapton, SRV, Robben Ford or some older jazz guys like Pat Martino or Larry Carlton. Lots of modern fusion guitarists like Pat Metheny, Hiram Bullock, Frank Gambale, Brett Garsed, Allan Holdsworth … I also listen to certain ethnic music too, like Middle Eastern or Indian,…some progressive stuff like Mike Oldfield, YES, Shakti. I always enjoy classic rock like Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore  as well as modern extreme metal like Arch Enemy, Children Of Bodom, Protest The Hero,…

What are your 5 desert island CD’s?
Oh, that’s not fair – it has to be at least 10! Let’s see what comes of the top of my head…  

1)    Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells II
2)    Joe Satriani – Engines Of Creation
3)    Eric Johnson – Venus Isle
4)    Allan Holdsworth – Secrets
5)    Dire Straits – Communiqué
6)    Alcatrazz – Disturbing The Peace
7)    Iron Maiden – Powerslave
8)    Uli Jon Roth – Beyond The Astral Skies
9)    Michael Schenker Group – Built To Destroy
10)  Jimi Hendrix – Band Of Gypsys

Are you aware of some current, interesting anonymous new players we see on the internet?
I am aware of some new players and I think the level of musicianship today is probably higher than 10 years ago because there’s more info floating around Internet to learn from. But for me, the main thing is still to go through a record label that has a good reputation and a solid artist roster – that’s what counts. It is very good thing that Internet can help unknown players to get some attention but it’s a double edged sword. The problem that I see with Internet and things like YouTube today is that millions of people can post their clips and flood the “net” with their footage but who’s looking for it? That’s why we need the labels as a quality filter to bring new players to the fore.

How frequently do you return to Serbia these days and how has the artistic and musical scene evolved in the time since you left?
 The local rock music scene in Serbia is almost non existent from what I hear. Foreign Rock bands are touring there all the time now but there’s no new people on the domestic scene that can make a breakthrough – all is reserved for the bigger established pop bands that were there 20 years ago. I went to Serbia in 2004 and made a few very successful concerts but I was largely ignored by the local mainstream media. Only the people who have close ties to the circles of political power can do something big in music bizz over there now… the other vast majority of “unconnected” Serbian musicians have no chance of a future on the music scene as is and will have to wait for some better times.

Explain the great success of Serbs in the arts/sports (tennis, basketball etc) given the hardships lived through physically, spiritually and emotionally?
I guess they worked hard! It’s great that they have success in the sport arenas and I salute them. It’s a very honest thing in sports to compete against your opponents and let the best person win. Truth be told, many sports were sometimes backed by the state so athletes could get some financial support if they were good. With Rock music it was completely the opposite – no help at all, nobody cared if we lived or died. For example a few successful swimmers from Serbia won some international competitions recently and got some silver and gold medals. In return they were given apartments from the state to use as long as they live! That was a really cool move from the government,… I wish a similar policy was applied to Serbian rock musicians who achieved some artistic success abroad! (Laughs) 

Have you taught guitar over the years?
I started giving private guitar lessons since my 20s. I did some master class teaching and for a while even gave private guitar lessons in Canada. I don’t do that anymore but master classes are something I still enjoy doing… passing on the knowledge and experience to younger players.

I hear that you also connected with legendary guitar player Frank Marino who lives in Montreal?
I have been aware of Frank’s playing since I was a teenager because I was also a lot into Blues then. I remember being very impressed by his Mahogany Rush live rendition of “I’m a King Bee Baby” because I never heard anybody play blues like that before him. He always remained one of my favorite players in that style of music. When I moved to Montreal, I realized that Frank lived in this town so we met after one of his concerts on my initiative and have been in touch since. Seeing him play live was one of the coolest experiences since he connects to a time way back when rock music was “young” and is a true Canadian “guitar legend”…   Frank is also a very busy family man these days and I just hope he will get back on the stage soon with some great new solo album that his fans will welcome.

What advice do you have for young players?
I would say – try as much as possible to build your own style and identity within the type of music you play. Learn from your heroes and build upon their work but don’t imitate them. Never forget that it’s a very tough world out there and dreams don’t always come true for everybody.

Thank you so much for this insight Borislav, the CD is magnificent!!!

VIRTUOSITY ONE WOULD LIKE TO THANK BORISLAV MITIC AND MIKE BLACKBURN FOR THIS EXCELLENT INTERVIEW.

WEB LINKS
www.borislavmitic.com
www.myspace.com/borislavmitic

JOE SATRIANI – BLACK SWANS AND WORMHOLE WIZARDS (REVIEW)

It is incomprehensible how Joe Satriani can continue to mine the depths of his soul and pull out magnificent riffs and melodies. For that fact alone, Joe must be recognized as one of the geniuses of our time. After his eighteen month Chickenfoot hiatus wherein Joe was able to step back, enjoy typical band life and not have the 24/7 task of being “the man”, Joe returns with a complex masterful product on this latest effort. Many feel this is Joe’s strongest release since “Crystal Planet”, they are not wrong.

The album is replete with soaring melody, intricate counterpoint, lyrical chorus and damned fine guitar work. Highlights? The whole album is excellent, there is something for everyone. Newcomers Alan Whitman and particularly Mike Keneally, the crafty veteran help churn this along very nicely indeed. Kudos to Joe for landing Mike, the music takes a quantum leap high up into the stratosphere from the rootsy depths of Chickenfoot to soar majestically. How cool would it be in a live setting to have Joe and Mike swap instruments? Guys, it is doable. Jeff Campitelli, as always, is crisp, concise and powerful but one cannot help but wonder what a Simon Phillips may have done with these tunes.

The band is currently touring this release and the album and the live show are both well worth your time and dosh. Joe, if there are more like this to come, by all means unleash your magical musical palette upon us yet again. Well done, well done indeed….

Rating – 90%
Review by Mike “Flying In A Canuck Dream” Blackburn