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It may have taken 10 years for MacAlpine to make another solo album, but it could've taken 20 years and still have been worth the wait, because this is a truly fantastic album. This is Tony back in action, pushing the boundaries of both the electric guitar and instrumental songwriting in general, and it's a complete joy to listen to.
Now, I was a bit hesitant at first on buying this album when it came out a few months ago, because the last thing Tony did was not exactly up to par. I am of course talking about "Seven the Hardway" which managed to take some of the biggest talents in metal and turn them into caricatures. Sure the prog moments were nice and it wasn't a complete failure, but the excessive attempts at sounding modern utterly failed, and it really lacked in the riff department. So, I was hesitant with this one but after hearing "Oludeniz" on youtube all my doubts were cleared. The song has some of the catchiest melodies he's ever done, but is still unpredictable and interesting to listen to. Along with the announcement that he had rejoined Planet X, I knew Tony had returned to his former glory, not that it was a very long break.
Speaking of Planet X, this album definitely has a similar feel to that. It's by far his heaviest album (and most progressive especially rhythmically), the majority of it played on an 8 string guitar and featuring some laser precision drumming courtesy of Virgil Donati and Marco Minneman which helps add to the metal feel. I mean, Marco even lays down some blast beats in "Pyrokinesis" which I REALLY wasn't expecting, but welcomed nonetheless. Sure it doesn't scream metal like a "Pleasure to Kill" or something, but I highly doubt anyone reading this thought it would.
This recording also harkens back to the great "Evolution" days of Tony, with the varied rhythm section and slight experimental edge. The most obvious comparison being that this also ends with an electric guitar version of a classical piece (this time by Schumann) in "The Dedication" which is a very anthemic end to the album, and nicely adapted. This does not mean that the album sounds like Tony's deliberately referencing his past, because this album sounds completely unique in his catalogue and yet still has enough of his signature elements to satisfy fans of his older work such as myself.
For example, a song like "Flowers for Monday" has never appeared on any previous solo outing ol' T-Mac has done. It would fit pretty nicely on one of those Jim Matheos solo albums, with it's acoustic guitar work and melancholy piano backing which is a nice, peaceful breather moment which your average shredder would be reluctant to put on an album. It's also nicely sandwiched between the fusion esque "Ten Seconds to Mercury" and the brutal "Angel of Twilight". The former is the only nod to his jazz type experiments on albums like "Madness" containing a great piano solo. The latter is different as it is quite haunting and quiet during the verses, but builds up to a racing power metal chorus and some almost thrash like rhythms thrown in there. It's one of my favorite songs on the album, as it's a clever way to include an 80's style MacAlpine track without just repeating the formula of a classic like "Hundreds of Thousands".
I should also mention the lead playing on the album, as it would be unforgivable not to. I personally feel the production here is the best it's ever been for Tony. It's crystal clear, but without sounding stale, and his tone is just gorgeous. It's got a definite "singing" quality to it, which helps with the melodic tunes on the album (particularly the satch style "Dream Mechanism" which is another favorite) but doesn't take away from the chunkier, proggy moments either. He's also put together his best batch of solos in quite a while. He sounds energized the whole time, popping out godly solo after godly solo, but never showboating too much and making sure each solo fits the song, regardless of how out of control they can get from time to time. It's hard to pick favorite solos on this album, as each one is great but I'd have to go with "Angel of Twilight", "Blue Maserati", and "Salar de Uyuni" as some of my favorites.
I've mentioned before how Tony has always specialized in varying his albums up more than a lot of other people. Other than "Evolution", there is no other MacAlpine album that demonstrates this as well as this one. In an age where a lot of his peers are either repeating themselves, or selling out to blues/hard rock fans (I'm looking at you Vinnie Moore) it's amazing to see someone who's still flowing with creativity, and releasing great material. Whenever people would ask me what were his best albums I would always say "Maximum Security" and "Evolution", but now I've gotta add this one to the list. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Buy this album, people!