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This album is Yngwie's best album. But why? It's recognizably Yngwie... fast solos, keyboards, acoustic shredding, usually cheesy songwriting, requisite poppy song or two -- but it's also recognizably different. Done with taste, as some might say. You'll get a few surprises, but nothing you haven't heard on Seventh Sign. So what's the difference, then?
Yngwie hasn't toned it down. Rather, Yngwie has let loose. With a genuine defiance of everything else, Yngwie has kicked everything else (and his own playing) up a notch, and adding an air of unpredictability to his formerly stale playing, and made a genuine album. Even the poppy songs are done with taste. But he counters that with several ass kicker songs (Vengeance, Time Will Tell, Overture #213124124124, Fire in the Sky, to name a few), which are heavier and done with better taste than anything else Yngwie has done before.
Usually, in previous Yngwie albums (and newer ones) I could never force myself to give them good reviews. In Rising Force, it was the unending wankery, in Marching Out, songs like Caught in the Middle and Don't Let it End were done competently enough, but still were boring. In Trilogy, every song was just too cheesy to really be taken seriously. In Odyssey you had to hear Yngwie bow to the pressure of record companies in making songs like Heaven Tonight, Now is the Time, Crystal Ball, and Dreamin', which reeked of hair metal. Ugh.
This time, Yngwie is just going for the jugular, aiming to knock the listener down with the fury and power of his music. Whereas before the classical nature could be seen as wankery, in this album, it's done tastefully, darker than previous albums.
Get this album, it's probably the classic and quintessential Yngwie album. It's where he finally said "fuck all" to trends and decided to stay true to his roots and to metal. It's nearly everything good about Yngwie and almost nothing bad. Nonetheless, there are places he can improve. I docked 3 points because a couple songs went on a bit longer than it felt they should've, so that gives a 97. And this album deserves every point of that 97.
It can be stated plainly that the mid-90s were a terrible period, not merely for Yngwie, but for every guitar player who refused to conform to the conventional wisdom of the time that talent was a thing of the past. But unlike some of the bands out there who thought it prudent to either water down their solos (*cough* Motley Crue) or try to marry shredding with the style of the time (*cough* Dokken), Yngwie just said fuck it and continued playing the way he always plays, from the heart, without any regard for what anything anyone, sometimes even his own fan base thought. The charge leveled against Yngwie’s early to mid-90s material is that there was no evolution in his sound, granted, many of the same morons who said this thought Kurt Cobain was an innovator. Hell, most of the critics who were controlling the wave of opinion at this point in history probably thought Jethro Tull was one of the Beverly Hillbillies.
But I digress; the music on here is mostly cut from the same tree as what is found on “The Seventh Sign”, although we have some songs on here that reach back to the “Eclipse” and “Fire and Ice” albums. The principle flaw in Magnum Opus (unfortunately it doesn’t quite live up to it’s name) is the drums, which are a tiny bit too high in the mix, yet don’t have the same punch that they did on Seventh Sign and sound almost like a drum machine. Mike Terrana is one of the best in the business and his presence is definitely missed on several of these songs.
Mike Vescera is still belting out the high notes as good as he did on the last album, in addition to providing the cleaner low end stuff on the obligatory ballads. Vocal highlights include the classic opening track “Vengeance”, which rivals the genius that was on display during “Never Die”. “Fire in the sky” and “Voodoo” also have excellent vocal deliveries, not to mention being solid songs in themselves with plenty of guitar majesty.
The best songs on here are drawn from a variety of styles, as Yngwie tends to realize a lot of his potential playing over a varied group of tonal devices. “Vengeance” is a solid speed metal song with a nice little Vivaldi inspired classical guitar duet at the beginning. “Amberdawn” is the stand out instrumental on this album and also stands out well amongst the large collection of Instrumentals he has composed over the years, some of which do tend to run together. “Time will tell” is another experiment with his new love for the sitar, but also includes some nice eastern inspired riffs.
To the fan of shred in general and the Malmsteen fan in particular, this is one of the better works that Yngwie put together in the 90s. It’s not quite up to part with its predecessor, nor does it quite kick ass as much as “Alchemy” and “Facing the Animal”, but it is a good buy if you already have those albums and want to add more to your collection of quality music. It definitely makes a statement to his detractors who were doing their best to remove him from the music scene in the 90s, mostly touching upon the futility of such a venture. To put it in full context I will quote the two warring factions of this era.
Kurt Cobain’s followers: “Metal is Dead”
Heavy Metal: “Kurt Cobain is Dead”