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In the realm of instrumental rock, things are often a very hit-or-miss ordeal. Music without the 'constraints' of a vocal accompaniment are freed from many conventions, and they can either be really set loose to give an unforgettable listening experience, or a meandering mess that could have done much better with the structure and comfort of a human voice. In the case of American guitarist and composer JT Bruce, his progressive and upbeat style of instrumental guitar music is quite an impressive demonstration of keen composition and skill with his instrument. In a very spacey journey through several star systems, the concept album 'Universica' shows Bruce at his strongest yet. An eclectic mix of progressive metal and electronica, the album follows Bruce through track after track of his melodic lead work, to a generally positive effect. However, despite it's strength in the writing and intelligence of the work, the emotional impact of his music seems to lack the human touch necessary to feel something profound throughout, making one ponder whether or not the work of this man is really best left as an instrumental venture.
The opener 'Bellatrix' is a song of epic length, revolving more or less around two or three main themes through it's eighteen minutes. Over the course of the song, Bruce jumps off with these ideas and throws in little variations to the sound to keep the music on it's toes. While each of the bigger ideas in 'Bellatrix' is very strong and makes good use of Bruce's melodic lead sensibilities, the length does seem a bit overdone, and while the track doesn't necessarily feel repetitive to listen to, things would be quite a bit more effective, had the track been cut down in half.
Many of the other sounds don't have such memorable and developed ideas, but each is an enjoyable serving of instrumental rock. 'Spica' is the next big highlight here, starting off with a great deal of energy and a faster tempo than usual to have it stand out. Possibly the most musically interesting track here is 'Formalhaut' however, which goes as far as to dispose of the typical JT Bruce sound, exchanging guitar for an electronic barrage, verging on the realm of the avant-garde in it's quirkiness.
While 'Universica' is a very interesting and generally consistent spacey piece of music that upholds the sound of it's concept, theres a feeling that the execution here isn't as strong as it could have been. Yes, the production values here are quite high, but very little here has the spontaneous magic that makes an instrumental guitar album truly amazing. Much of the sound here sounds artificial, especially the rock rhythm sections; the organic component simply lacks. For it's keen composition however, 'Universica' is a recommended listen.