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The best way to summarize the playing style of Syrian born master of melodic impressions Luay Rifai is as an exercise in nostalgic remembrance. It lives in the present and accounts for a host of modern electric guitar players from fluid progressive artists like Steve Vai, melodic storytellers like Paul Gilbert and Marty Friedman, and Neo-classical virtuosos from Uli Jon Roth to Yngwie Malmsteen. At the same time, it seeks to remember times long past, too far back for any one person to remember, but instead a conceptual state of recall reserved to some sort of eternal incorporeal entity. It takes an eclectic look at music of today and accents it with a keen sense of its place of birth, one of the oldest cities in the world Damascus, like a wandering nomad in search of untouched lands.
This offering, aptly titled “Pulse”, reflects this duality of modernism and archaic spirituality without uttering a single word to express itself. Luay forms brilliantly crafted melodies that occasionally rant and ramble, but mostly speak through solemn passages of symmetrical and consonant melodic material. The elongated notes are frequently complemented by frequent whammy bar manipulations that often resemble the microtone ornamentation that gives Middle Eastern music its sense of distinctiveness and mystique. Simultaneously, the scale usage often refers towards a Western take on progressive metal, bolstered by a mostly rudimentary riff set and atmospheric background sounds. It’s a bit heavier than what you’d hear out of Uli Jon Roth, but a little bit short of the chunky, thudding grooves common to Symphony X and Malmsteen, though it does get heavy at times.
Nothing is really out of bounds here for Luay on here, as a highly varied set of stylistic devices interact with each other from song to song. The first seven songs are all united together in a singular musical concept focusing on the subject of the album’s title. It has its fair share of peaks and valleys, but for the most part it focuses upon memorable melodic development and showcases an experienced balance of flash and restraint. The pinnacle of this song set is right smack in the middle on “Intelligence”, which is where Rifai shows his Malmsteen influences exclusively with a highly impressive neo-classical speed metal number, though showing some definite Petrucci leanings in how he ornaments his longer notes with various harmonic devices and approaches fluidity in his turnaround leads.
The remaining 5 songs that accompany the “Vital” concept set follow a similar combination of eclecticism and technique. “Bloodshed” is his most technical display on here, set over a fairly set of galloping rhythm guitar riffs and accenting Luay’s mastery of both fluidity and melody. “Voodoo Frenzy” is another nicely set heavy work, with an intro riff that sounds not all that far from what you might have heard out of Dave Mustaine in the late 80s to early 90s. Things get a little overambitious with the closing song “Of Cold Dreams And A Mirror”, where the guitar sound gets a little too light while attempting to emulate a feel of coldness, and the mixing job gets a little too effects heavy. It gets pretty close to some of the overreaching Avant-garde ideas heard on Jennifer Batten’s “Whatever”.
Basically this is among the better Instrumental releases of this year, definitely something that will appeal to those who follow Petrucci’s solos material, as well as several other virtuoso releases that straddle the progressive metal and hard rock borders often. It takes what’s going around outside of its sphere of influence just as much as it is indicative of the Middle Eastern ancestry of its creator. Its appeal is basically universal to anyone from any land who appreciates what a guitar can do when there isn’t a prima donna singer getting in the way.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 18, 2009.