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Well, I guess I underestimated this album's quality, I re-approached this expecting it to be mediocre shit with the exception of a few tracks that stood out as I remembered it. But fortunately, I was all wrong, Malmsteen grabbed me by the balls, kicked my ass and flipped me face first into a well of awesomeness as punishment (?) for assuming too much. I was afraid that I would have to give this album a ranking in the 40's or 50's, but nope. Anyway, I'm just beating around the bush, Allow me to dive right into this album.
I notice that a lot of criticism goes to Malmsteen's playing for being "too fast" and "unemotional". But I think that's a stupid and close-minded reason for disliking a guitar player, any guitarist is free to play as fast as they want to... if they can do it, and Malmsteen prevails at this. Saying that someone plays so fast that they can't play with emotion is an invalid argument, it's like saying "David Gilmour plays so slow that I fall asleep before he puts any emotion into his playing, so therefore, he sucks." I'm not saying Malmsteen is the most talented and emotional axeman around, but he's certainly written many catchy riffs and flashy solos to complement them throughout his career.
Now let's talk about the music, there are three instrumentals on here, the opener "Blitzkrieg", the album bridge "Blue", and the epic closer "Asylum". "Blitzkrieg" is an energetic opener and features the Paganini-influenced music that Malmsteen plays so well. I also really like the tone of his (acoustic) guitar, it's very clear and vibrant. "Blue" has a rather bluesy feel to it as well as some neo-classical influences added to it, making it a very memorable instrumental. Think of B.B King and Lucca Turilli co-composing a piece for Malmsteen and you could probably get the picture. "Asylum" is an eleven-minute, three-part epic (on my version, the three parts are separated into three different tracks), and it's predictably awesome coming from a guitarist who loves metal and classical epics and deciding to make an epic that sounds like a mixture of both. It goes from loud and fast neo-classical ("Asylum), to soft and acoustic neo-classical ("Sky Euphoria"), to bombastic and heavy neo-classical("Quantum Leap") all in one song. Although, I must say that the ending of "Quantum Leap" got kind of redundant after a while.
Now let's talk about the non-instrumental songs: Mark Boals is a fucking awesome vocalist, and it shows on "Leonardo" (my favorite song on the album.) He has range, energy, control, and confidence in his voice. Not to mention, he's a male-soprano and can belt out high-ass notes for a really long time, for example: "You know art is my CHUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURCH!!!" God, I could make love to his voice. He really does breathe life into these songs, at times he sounds like an opera singer who's just figured out how to be metal ("Wield My Sword") and at times he just sounds "hard-rockin'" ("The Stand"). In other words, his voice complements Malmsteen's guitar playing and this album in general. Also, he's also the only singer who could sing a number and make it sound awesome "Seven million, four hundred, five thousand, nine hundred and twenty six." My new favorite number just ahead of twelve (don't ask).
The songs with Boals are also very catchy, it features fast-paced power metal songs like "Playing With Fire", "Deamon Dance", "Hangar 18, Area 51" and "Wield My Sword." These songs are all filled with fast licks and solos from Malmsteen as well as catchy riffs and choruses. After all, what's a power metal song without a catchy chorus? Well, actually, it's a progressive metal song, but I'm going off track. Songs like "The Stand" are one of those mid-paced fist-bumpers that have those balls to the walls performances to complement the balls to the walls songwriting that kept popping up like dandelions during the 80's. It shows that Malmsteen still loves the 80's and wishes the decade never ended. The three best songs on here are "Voodoo Nights", "Legion of the Damned", and "Leonardo". "Voodoo Nights" is a slow paced song with a crushing riff (something that's not too common with Malmsteen) and features a haunting over-all composition. Although, it has one of the cheesiest vocal effects I've ever heard. At the beginning, it sounds like someone's burping, and then it sounds like a villain from a low-budget PC game about "1001 Arabian Nights". It's pretty hilarious, but also very entertaining. "Legion of the Damned" features an absolutely skull-fuckingly awesome riff that's heavy and catchy as fuck with a simple but effective chorus, "LEGION OF THE DAMNED!" I can't stop my head from banging when that part comes up. In my mind, the best song on here is "Leonardo." It starts off with a Gregorian chant in Latin and the rest of the song is based off of that melody. The chorus features Boals hitting an extremely envyingly high note in the chorus, it's a good way to start the album off and gets the listener exited. The lyrics tell a story of the mind of Leonardo Da Vinci and how he thought of questions to express his genius side and his art. It's an amazing song both musically and lyrically, one of Malmsteen's best.
This album is relatively solid, but there are just some minor complaints that I'd like to point out, the production for one thing. I can usually get over the poor production, as it is not anything too extreme, but it does bring the album down a bit. The guitars sound thin, the drums are rather tinny, and the keys seem to be audible whenever they feel like it. Malmsteen has never been a good producer and probably should pay someone else to do it. Also, the lyrics can be really cheesy. At times, the lyrics are really good, like in "Leonardo", it tells a great story that gets the point of view from Da Vinci almost perfectly, but then there's
"Playing with fire, you'll get burned"
Oh, really? NO SHIT SHERLOCK! Are you going to tell me that water can put out fire too? Also, rhyming "stand" with "understand" in "The Stand" is uncreative and lazy.
Even though this album has it's flaws, it was definitely not the shit bomb that I was expecting, so that's a good thing. It features awesome riffs, solos, vocals and an energetic performance and songwriting from the whole band. Malmsteen is a rather misunderstood guitarist and definitely doesn't deserve all the criticism that he gets. Again, it's not perfect, but the album does hold up well. Should you buy this? Why, yes you should.