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Theodore Ziras - Trained to Play - 50%

Authority, June 19th, 2013

So let's pretend you're a little kid. After watching probably too much MTV you think to yourself "I'm gonna be a big time rock star! Time to pick up the guitar!". And you practice and practice, hours upon hours, always keeping your eye on the dream of guitar godhood. Your schoolwork and social suffer as you devote all your time to axe-mastery.

Now fast forward to some time in early adulthood. You've accomplished your goal of being a highly skilled guitar player. You can play anything you want. But now you've found out that no one really cares if you can shred like a maniac. You have trouble even finding bandmates to help share your gifts with the world. "Screw everyone" you think. "I'm gonna do it all by myself!".

I'm guessing that's how Theodore Ziras' life has gone down, roughly. So here we have his first entirely solo album, "Trained to Play", complete with a train on the cover. I love wordplay! If you've heard solo albums by other neoclassical shredsters, you basically know what to expect.

In short, this album sounds like a bunch of hastily done backing tracks with shredding arrayed over the top, like it was intended to be the CD that comes along with a guitar instructional book. This would make sense considering he works as a guitar teacher, but it doesn't excuse the uninspired songwriting. Compositionally there's nothing exciting going on. Just endless runs up and down the fretboard, traversing across all the various modes. Occasionally there are some leads that sound like the arpeggios, only slower. It's fun to listen to, in a way, but it gets boring pretty quick.

The drums are programmed, but competently done. Unlike some guitarists, Mr. Ziras has some idea of what the drums should be playing to accentuate the guitar. The keys are similarly competent. They provide a nice backdrop to the shredding, taking more precedence over holding the melody than the rhythm guitar. The last track, "Symphonious Departure", eschews the metal band trappings entirely and uses only lead guitar and keyboard, and it ends up being the most interesting cut from the album.

The guitar playing itself is extremely precise. Theodore never gets off beat the slightest bit, even the fastest parts sound perfectly in control. During the middle section of "The Gush", he shreds nonstop 24th notes for nearly a minute without breaking a sweat. The tone he uses is clean, which is good since too much distortion would just muddle the sound he's trying to achieve. There are "riffs" in the background, but they are so far back that it's easy to forget that they're there at all. The intent of this album is not to be a heavy metal masterpiece. In fact, I would hesitate to call this metal at all.

On his later works Ziras shows that he is capable of writing a heavier and more varied album than this. But this effort serves only as a showcase for his, admittedly prodigious, technical skills. Only a diehard neoclassical-fiend will find much of interest here.