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Okay, when you get a Yngwie album you know what to expect. Unless it's his very first album, then you've heard it all before. He has THE stereotypical 80's shred sound down to a t. In fact, I would daresay he defined it. The good thing about this album is that out of 15 tracks, 3 of them are great instrumentals. Other than that, the guitar playing is typical Yngwie. Lots and lots of guitar wankery, though some moments of really memorable awesomeness.
I've just picked 5 songs that I think showcase the best of the album, and I'll talk about them and mention anything else that has caught my fancy in passing. Since other than the 3 instrumntals and 2 other standout tracks... It's mostly the same old Yngwie (insert shredding here) stuff. But he does it well I have to admit, he's a master of his guitar. Especially after that horrid car wreck thanks to alcohol (don't drink and drive kids, it's not cool). And for having such fat hands (though I notice he has lost some weight recently) that he can play so damn fast! His playing is so fluid and smooth, it's really cool. And his strings are set so high from the fretboard, but shredding on a fender strat with a scallopped fretboard and get such a non-thin tone is kind of cool too.
Oh, and I must note, that the vocals on this album are just kind of meh. No great breakthroughs in lyrics or anything either. But after all, it's all about the guitar.
First off, I'll start with Valley of the Kings. It's a very exotic and almost Steve Vai style of crazy guitar sounds intro (though it sounds like some sort of harmonics). This track is standout for actually having a riff to it and some great double bass to go with the syncopated shredding that actually doesn't start for quite some time in the song.
Next is Ship of Fools which has an Alex Skolnick style melodic intro solo. It sounds insanely hard to play (even for Yngwie; reminscient of his "arpeggios from hell" video). Yet again, there's actually a riff. There's actually spots where Yngwie doesn't go off and wank when there's a break in vocals, I was surprised. This contains alot of lower string shredding, which is cool because he doesn't do it much he seems to like his high strings the most with those crazy bends at the end of a lightning fast shred-phrase. Even some good whammy bar action too, completely in moderation. This track reminds me of Now Your Ships Are Burned from Yngwie's awesome debut album.
For the record, the title track is pure wankery and I had high hopes for it too... Baroque N Roll was a much more tastefully done with flashy guitar work, probably because Dougie White doesn't sing on this track (yes... because it's instrumental). There's some actual memorable phrasing, and it definitely has a classically baroque feel to the playing. I have to hand it to Yngwie, he can definitely play in alot of the classical and older styles of music flawlessly. I even saw a video of him from guitar world where he was shredding the blues scale (and he should've done it on this album; it'd have made it better). Also memorable about this track is there's the keyboard versus guitar solo that always happens live but oh so rarely crops up on an album. It's amazingly well done, and I'd say Yngwie shreds for at least 5 out of the 6 minutes on this song, this man can really go the distance on his guitar playing!
Despite Stronghold having a great intro riff (a rarity for Yngwie, he doesn't do much memorable riffing except for songs like You Don't Remember, I'll Never Forget from Trilogy), I'm going to skip over it because the rest of it is generic. Also I will note that for the song Freedom Isn't Free... Yngwie changed his guitar tone! I was so thrown off, I didn't think it was him. It's a completely different sound that reminds me of somebody I can't quite place. More of a Vai, Satch, or Petrucci tone than anything else though. Pleasant change though.
The next instrumental is Majestic Blue, and it continues with this changed guitar tone. About 30 seconds into the song, the old standby guitar tone comes back. Actually some decent slow soloing in this song and guitar harmonies (which are a rarity on Yngwie albums as well). Plus some panning one guitar right and another guitar left allowing for crazy dual soloing. Yngwie definitely shows off some chops that he needs to use more often in his studio albums. This is a great track and is actually highly melodic!
I have to mention Valhalla just because: What band hasn't done a song named this!? Grave Digger, Blind Guardian, Black Sabbath... And now Yngwie! Though I like how they all do the singing of the word "Valhalla" differently. Dougie sings it through as if it was 3 syllables and flows it at a steady pace (Val-hall-a) with some holding of the 'a' at the end. So, do like they say "Live by the sword, die by the"... Nevermind, you know the rest.
Ironclad starts out like Farewell from the Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force album with a very Black Star-esque fadeout. Which is great, but then it should've been the last song on the album. Instead, the instrumental Air is. But hey, it's a good instrumental that starts out slow (dang it, now Yngwie is having a habit of doing slow and melodic instrumentals... he better watch himself now) with some really trippy fingerings of notes and good use of trills and vibrato. Almost an epic feel to this song, and a good one to end on. There's no shift, it's just 2:35 of the same thing, but it's okay becuase it's short and sweet and polishes off the album nicely.
Sadly, Yngwie made this album pretty much 50/50. Half of it is the same old generic stuff and the other half of it was actually really unexpected and cool with a few new flavors (and a guitar tone) thrown in to spice it up. But since he really defined the sound and type of music that he plays, and he does it so well, I can't rip on him too much for it. Don't rush out and by this album by any means though, but if you spy it for $5-$7 used somewhere it's definitely worthwhile to pick up. Likewise, if you're looking to get into Yngwie, get his first album. If you don't like it, you won't like anything else he's done I guarantee it. And basically every album after it was more of the same with a song or two with a breath of new life - and this album is no different.