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Becker's long been a shredder that I've really liked; I'd gotten floored by his tunes in year 8- before that Hammett's guitar work was the epitome of technicality- and getting turned onto this and Tommy Emmanuel (great australian guy, not exactly metal but worth checking out) was pretty exciting indeed. I'd lost this when we moved, but having found this again recently I decided to give it a spin.
And, whatdya know, it's actually still pretty good. Becker could sure shred it up (His duet with ol' marty on Eleven Blue Egyptians being a good example) and he could/can still write some pretty interesting instrumental compositions. Unfortunately, while Becker does everything right, his well meaning efforts were effectively ruined by the major problem with this genre.
No, it's not overplaying. I'm not saying anything like "Ehhh Becker mistakes his phallus for his guitar" or any similarly retarded shred jokes. Becker was an effective songwriter- as tunes like the rather pretty "air" and "Mable's fatal fable" attest- so that's certainly not an issue, and besides complaining of overplaying on a shred album is like saying that Sunn O))) doesn't have enough blastbeats. No, none of those are problems. The problem is simple- Becker's guitar tone and the really, really bad production on here.
Sure, a thick, creamy (innuendo!!1) tone wouldn't be all that great for this. Becker should not aim to sound like Clapton. However, as with most shredders- I'm aware that I'm making a rather huge generalisation here, but whatever- his tone is utter ass, sounding kind of like a digitalised, cheaper version of Van Halen's tone mixed in with some cats squealing. It's not *that* bad when he's shredding up a storm, but when's getting his balladry (or, err, neo-classicalry) on it's awful. Awful! Good examples would be the paper thin clean tone that makes the otherwise excellent "Air" a huge cringe-fest, and the terrible, cats in a washing machine tone that permeates the beginning of "Opus Pocus", which combined with the cheesy synths makes for some of the most overwrought music ever written.
And it's not just the guitars, either. The production is pretty much terrible for everything; the drums ultra dry and strangely seperated in the mix; the bass a characterless "bonk" that comes in once in a while, and the synths... Damn. I am aware that they didn't have high quality synths back in the late 80's, but surely something else could've been done. They could've bought in session string players. They could've added another guitar part. But they did not need those terrible synths. Truly, truly awful.
Now, I realise that I've spent a good deal amount of time on the production. It's for a reason, though. This is an otherwise excellent album that would be classic- truly deserving of a 95%+ average on Metal Archives- if it wasn't because of it. Becker shreds and solos like an animal, and he's just really freakin' good at it. Once you get past the terrible intro, "Opus Pocus" shines through with some really nice guitar leads- very melodic and concise, marvellously entertaining- and the use of dynamics in the song- give the whole thing a flowing, strangely liquid feel that makes it a must hear for any fans of instrumental music.
Most of the material is top notch. 'Temple of the Absurd' mixes some adept shredding with some pretty nice, kinda thrashy rhythm that give me wood, 'Dweller in the Cellar' has a terrific mellow intro, pauses for a bit on a kind of awkward doomy thing and then picks up with a nice slow tempo jam, featuring some really good lyrical guitar lines and whammy workouts. Admittedly that tune is a bit unfocused- certainly a problem that most instrumental music has from time to time- but overall it's nothing intolerable and it's a great tune all round.
I guess Becker seems to really excel at the melody, and that's why this record is so good, and alternatively why the production is so frustrating. His shredding is fine, but when he gets all slower his guitar tone is as fun as getting stabbed in the face with an Framer super-strat. What should end up as an emotional, lighters in the air sort of tune (The first song is yet another good examples of this) just becomes quite unenjoyable and terrible, and there's plenty of moments such as this.
Still, terrible production (did I mention that the drums sound shit? I think so, but it's worth mentioning again) aside, this is a pretty solid shred album that I think most people will really, really like. Perhaps this will inspire you to play guitar well enough so that you can overdub all of his solos? I don't know. Anyway, this is well worth getting, if you can get over the terrible guitar tone/general production that seems to be in every single shreddy album I've ever heard.