A new standard for guitarists
Last year, a band name of Alcatrazz made a few waves in the metal scene. Started and fronted by ex-Rainbow and Michael Schenker Group vocalist Graham Bonnett, Alcatrazz featured a young guitarist with the unlikely name of Yngwie J. Malmsteen. Although Alcatrazz's standard heavy-metal fare did little to show off Malmsteen's prowess on their album, stories of unbelievable solos in concert began to circulate.
Malmsteen has recently left Alcatrazz, though, and formed Rising Force, his new backing band, giving him more freedom to explore his own interests and exhibit his talents to their fullest.
And those talents are immense.
All of the songs on the band's debut album were written and arranged by Malmsteen, and he shows a knack for this songwriting thing. While none of the songs here are Top 40 types, they are imaginative, complex pieces of the sort Emerson, Lake and Palmer used to play.
Still, it's Malmsteen's guitar playing that is front and center here. He opens "Black Hole" with a solo acoustic passage that is pretty darn impressive. His runs and arpeggios are so fast it is difficult to make out individual notes. As the song progresses, he switches to electric guitar, and begins shooting out notes like a musical machine gun.
Malmsteen is like a race car driver: He seems constantly on the edge of losing control, yet not only maintains that control but makes it look easy. And after you hear a few songs and think there's no way he can top that last outrageous solo, he does. Repeatedly.
"Now Your Ships Are Burned" may be the most impressive bit of metal guitar ever set down on vinyl. The intricacy of the piece and overall rock 'n' roll energy make this one of the best metal songs we've heard yet. Drummer Barriemore Barlow sets down an insanely fast beat while Malmsteen peels off notes at a superhuman pace.
Weak spots? Vocalist Jeff Scott Soto has a strong, resonant voice, but never seems to fit in with the rest of the band. And why have a singer when anyone is buying this album to hear Malmsteen, anyway?
With his debut, Malmsteen has proven himself one of the very best rock guitarists playing today. A new standard has been set.
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