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These Four Walls (are closing in on me!) - 96%

Misainzig, June 7th, 2010

Michael Angelo Batio has earned the reputation of being the fastest guitar player in the metal realm, and as far as I’m concerned, rightly so. From his glammy work with Nitro, to his insanely good shred debut, MAB has always had a fair share of creativity to express. This album is basically No Boundaries, Part II. The somewhat crappy yet lovable programmed drums are back, although they’re slightly beefed up this time. Overall, this album is extremely experimental, and must be treated as such. MAB even tries his hand (s without shadows) at vocals for a change, for better or for worse. If you go into this expecting straight up shred, or straight up metal for that matter, you’ll be disappointed. Across Our Universe, for instance, makes heavy use of some symphonic jazz patterns that imitate a saxophone. When you add that to the heavy riff style that punches you later in the song, it’s an extremely interesting and… well, we’ll say different experience. It’s truly unlike anything I’ve heard.

In place as you would expect, is MAB’s jaw dropping technique. As always, the fretwork lights up your ear drums and can take you through so many notes, you’ll actually start to think the songs are moving faster than they really are. Plus, this man must have over 40 different guitar tones on this album. This includes branching out to many other different types of music. On the debut album, he never really messed with acoustic guitars. Here he does! He absolutely shreds the shit out of one on the title track. It’s probably kindling by now. Far Reaches of Space continues with a very catchy acoustic intro, which while far from metal, manages to be just as engaging as anything he’s ever done on the heavier side. Of course, you’ve also got his wonderfully placed leads bouncing all over the place over the acoustic. It really just sounds like one huge amazing jam session.

A much heavier riff comes in later, with some Joe Satriani-esque fancy guitar solo effects. The cool thing about the experimentation on this album is, MAB also experiments with some downright bludgeoningly heavy guitar riffs. Some are heavier than anything from No Boundaries. While the riffs are definitely heavier than previous output, it could be said the riffs are much simpler as well. Some of the songs are just downright chug-fests with bubbly leads plastered all over. The album is somewhat similar to a car show I went to recently; there are a lot of sweet old muscle cars with simple, yet effective paint jobs (chugs), but there are also some really new high speed demons with exuberant paint schemes (widdely wah!!).

As expected, No Boundaries Part II (the song itself) is just a phenomenal epic track with probably as much diversity as anything else on this album. In come some really EXTRA spacey sounding guitar solo, which then trades off with MAB’s already normal spacey guitar tone. The extra spacey one almost sounds like a keyboard (It might be actually. I’m as far as it gets from being an expert, but I would love to believe MAB could get that type of guitar tone). There is definitely some synth going on, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a keyboard. This song actually bears no resemblance whatsoever to the first No Boundaries track, but it really doesn’t matter as it’s just as awe inspiring. Then there’s To Alpha Sector 2… what a fucking speed fest! You want the REAL No Boundaries Part II? Look no further. Oh yes, we’re fucking zooming along now! Aren’t we?! Then what the fuck… a country break? Sure! Why the fuck not! It still manages to kick the piss out of all you Yngwie loving purists out there, scarce as you may be…

MAB tries to sing on So Much to Live For, and These Four Walls, with very different results. So Much to Live For manages to be the lone pure ballad on the album, and really it’s not worth hearing too many times. It’s basically the obligatory throw away track. I can understand what he was going for, but more often than not, his nasally vocals and somewhat dreamy song structure just make me think of Fly High Michelle by Enuff Z’Nuff… wow did I just mention Enuff Z’Nuff? This review really needs to come to a close…

Then on the more successful hand, These Four Walls shreds through your fucking walls and rips your goddamn spleen out. The vocals are quite a bit better than on the last track, but they’re still really just in the way of MAB’s guitar antics. I really do enjoy the lyrics to this song however. His voice just seems to really gel with this song much better than the previous. Instead of clashing with the music, they’re blending in very well, and surprisingly complimenting the heavy main riffs effectively. The album is ended with the somewhat anti-climatic Time Traveler, but at times it manages to channel in some excellent 90s Megadeth worship (I’m a goddamn sucker for that, aren’t I?) along with MAB’s signature speed.

Sometimes experimentation leads to genius incarnate. Definitely this time. While not as mind bogglingly shreddy and complex as No Boundaries, this is an extremely worthy follow up that any fan of shred should surely check out. This is one of the few albums I really can say has something for everybody.

Highlights: Planet Gemini, Far Reaches of Space, Across Our Universe, These Four Walls… fuck, just check everything out! You will not regret it!