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Figureheads like Dave Mustaine and Jon Schaffer are always controversial, but it's safe to say that none of them really compare to Yngwie Malmsteen. Originally catapulted by his tenure in Alcatrazz and Steeler, Malmsteen has gathered a mixture of love and extreme hatred over the years thanks to the overwhelmingly guitar-oriented style of his numerous solo albums.
However, this trend seemed to change with the release of Perpetual Flame in 2008. Malmsteen's guitar playing was still a big focus, but the recruitment of Judas Priest/Iced Earth singer Tim "Ripper" Owens resulted in the guitar-slinger's best-reviewed album in years as well as one of the most awesome team-ups in modern metal.
But now things have been shaken up even more as Relentless proves to be one of the guitarist's most shredder-friendly releases to date.
On a superficial level, this album's style isn't too far removed from Malmsteen's typical sound as it mostly delivers the neoclassical-power metal that fans have come to expect from him.
But what really sets this album apart is the disjointed nature of the ensemble's performance and a focus on Malmsteen that seems to be even more intense than usual. With there being a record number of eight instrumentals on this release, it has gotten to the point where the Ripper didn't even know if he was going to be on the album or not!
The guitarist steals the show and effectively fills each track with as many speed runs and scale tricks as he possibly can. He even returns to the microphone to sing Look At You Now just as he had on Perpetual Flame.
One can only wonder why he chose this track to put his nasally croon on, especially since the Ripper would've made it into a pretty solid track in the vein of Damnation Game. But it is worth noting that it manages to sound a lot better than Magic City...
Fortunately, the Ripper still pulls off some great performances on the six songs where he does get to appear. The production is still working against him and he's regularly drowned out by the guitars, but he still proves to be one of the ensemble's greatest and most misused talents.
The performances of eight year drummer Patrick Johansson and new keyboardist Nick Marino are also worth noting with the latter replacing current Black Country Communion player Derek Sherinian. While their shining moments are about as rare as those of Owens, they still put on a few great performances. The various choirs and orchestrations that appear throughout the album are also nicely done.
With there being so many instrumentals on this album and an astounding fifteen tracks in total, it's only inevitable that the songs on this album end up being a pretty mixed bag.
Unsurprisingly, the six tracks that feature the Ripper provide most of the album's best moments. Blinded and the previously hinted at Tide of Desire might be the album's best tracks with their fast paced riffs and upbeat choruses almost matching the enthusiasm of past tracks such as Death Dealer and Red Devil.
Enemy Within is another noteworthy number for its great usage of choirs and a particularly awesome riff, though it is brought down by its annoyingly predictable lyrics. I also like the mid-tempo Critical Mass as well as the particularly aggressive Axe to Grind
And with the massive number of instrumentals on here, there are a few good ones to be found. Knights Of The Vasa Order has a nice Eastern flair and Into Valhalla is a pretty awesome slice of Diary Of A Madman worship.
But with the good ones come the ones that don't quite catch fire. Relentless ultimately doesn't live up to its name and Cross To Bear doesn't quite grab me in spite of the nice strings and keyboard effects that are used. In addition, one can only wonder why he decided to record yet another version of Adagio along with the particularly meme-friendly Arpeggios From Hell.
I've lightened up a bit since I first heard this a few weeks ago, but I'm still not sure if this is worth the $18 that I paid for it. Malmsteen has had albums that were as long as this, if not longer, but this does seem to be an album that would've greatly benefitted from a few cut instrumentals and a continuation of the team-up that was established on Perpetual Flame.
I probably should have seen this one coming in hindsight. The two compilations that were released before this album were highly based around instrumentals aside from an incredibly awkward cover of Beat It.
Overall, this is a hard album to recommend, especially for fans of the Ripper's vocals. Yngwie listeners and diehard guitar students are sure to latch onto this, but others are recommended to look into his earlier albums and the last one instead. Whatever the case, I'll be taking a rain check when the next one comes out.
Also, those same guitar diehards should look into the solo works of John 5 if they want to hear some great song structures and adventurous shredding. I haven't heard the new one yet, but Songs For Sanity is a pretty good place to start...
Enemy Within, Into Valhalla, Tide of Desire, Axe to Grind, and Blinded
Yngwie fans such as myself were all taken aback in 2008 when he released "Perpetual Flame". It had been awhile since Yngwie had released a great album(since 1995's "Magnum Opus" in my opinion), but the hiring of Tim Owens of vocals on PF combined with the best set of songs Yngwie had put together in a while, made it an extremely memorable album. So of course I was looking forward to "Relentless" his 2010 follow up.
Now I am always optimistic when it comes to buying albums particularly Yngwie's albums as I am rarely disappointed, but "Relentless" is going to have to go along with albums like "Alchemy", "Unleash the Fury", and "Facing the Animal" as the few I don't like of his releases, and it's for a reason I never thought I would ever have for an Yngwie album and it's that quite honestly there is too much shredding.
I never thought I would ever say that, but it's true. He spends too much playing similar licks on this album and does so constantly that it begins to take away from the songs. Granted it's not a terrible thing, but usually his solos are more memorable than the majority found on this album. Tracks like "Relentless", "Knight of the Vasa Order", and "Cross To Bear" are all instrumental and do have their moments, but are drowned out by what quite frankly sound like warm up exercises on infinite repeat. It's like what Yngwie sounds like to people who hate him. On his classic instrumentals, He would balance out strong melodies with the shredding and tempo changes to make them interesting as well as varying his licks more than he does here. Yeah he has never been the most varied player in terms of licks and scales, but he still was just varied enough to where it doesn't become tedious. Here it becomes tedious very quickly.
So okay, the solos aren't that great but what about the songs? There are 6 very good songs and 9 forgettable ones. None terrible, but most don't stand out. Vocal songs like "Caged Animal", "Blinded", and "Tide of Desire" utilize tired vocal melodies, repetitive drumming, and even more repetitive soloing and don't leave an impression on a stand alone listen but when listened to as a whole grow very tiresome and annoying. In fact that's a good way to some up the whole album. If you were to listen to each song by itself it would sound decent but you wouldn't think about it much afterward. But as a whole, god I wanted to pull my hair out by the end and a lot of it was caused by the painfully repetitive guitar playing. You can really here the difference in the Yngwie of 1984 and the Yngwie of now on "Adagio B Flat Minor Variation" because it's actually the same melody he uses in the early section of "Icarus Dream Suite Op.4" from the "Rising Force" album which is based off of Remo Giazatto's "Adagio in G Minor". The difference is on the "Icarus" track(which is easily one Yngwie's best) he plays the melody respecfully and emotionally, while here he throws in a bunch of fast runs. Could he possibly actually be more unrestrained and shred crazy now as opposed to then? I don't know, but if so it sure is strange.
However, though a fair amount of the album is as described, there(as I mentioned eariler) 6 very good songs on it that make it a worthwhile listen. The best is the instrumental "Shot Across The Bow". My god is this song is awesome! The chorus melody is as heroic as they come, and despite being very lead driven manages to be very headbangable. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say this is his best instrumental since "Amberdawn" from 1995. It's truly an enjoyable and great song.
"Into Valhalla" is also an instrumental, and has Malmsteen's best solo on the album. He actually manages to pull together some very energetically performed and exciting arpeggio sequences with his usual harmonic minor runs but still make them interesting to listen to by varying it up a bit with a few unusual progressions and scales for Yngwie and makes it a definite standout. Oh and the keyboard/guitar interplay is very good too.
As for the vocal songs, we have 4 good ones here: "Critical Mass", "Look At You Now", "Enemy Within", and "Axe To Grind". The latter of which admittedly has a few parts that have been used by Yngwie before, but some great Patrick Johansson drumming and ferocious vocal melodies make it rather memorable, while the crushing tracks "Critical Mass" and "Enemy Within" get the head whipping pretty good. Most surprising is the song Yngwie sings, the aforementioned "Look At You Now" which has the second best solo on the album and an extremely catchy chorus, even if it would be better had Owens sang it. It might actually be the best vocal song on the album, even if Malmsteen's shaky vocal delivery weakens it a bit.
So yeah, overall just not very memorable. I'd probably give it a 70 or a 75 if the soloing was better and less constant (mostly because that's the main appeal of an Yngwie album is the great solos and this album only has a few) but being the way it is, it just becomes overwhelmingly tiresome. A couple songs are amongst his best, but other than that I wouldn't recommend purchasing it.
This is Yngwie's second album with Ripper Owens on vocals, though actually the songs with vocals were all recorded at the same time as Perpetual Flame. For that reason, obviously, this album is very much in the same realm as that one. However, I've got to say I'm liking this one better than Perpetual Flame (which I liked quite a bit!)
About half of the songs are instrumentals. Most fans of Yngwie probably will dread hearing that, seeing as his instrumentals on the last few albums are a bit uninspired sounding; I sure shared those feelings until I finally had the cd. Thankfully, most of these instrumentals carry melodies and themes that are surprisingly refreshing; I'd say some of the instrumentals are near the same level as those on Fire & Ice. Shot Across the Bow has got to be one of Yngwie's best instrumentals ever! The title track contains what might be Yngwie's fastest playing ever, however it is a bit forgettable compared to the rest of the material. Into Valhalla is another highlight, while Adagio seems a bit pointless since this was already recorded on Rising Force.
As for the vocal songs, there's much to like. Critical Mass has a cool arabic theme thanks to the string section recorded in Istanbul. Look At You Now features Yngwie on vocals and reminds me a little of his Birth of the Sun demo. Enemy Within is my definite favorite track of the whole album: it's got some nice, heavy riffs, and Ripper unleashes one of his greatest screams ever!
Some fans already have complaints: "unlistenable production", "Ripper is an awful vocalist", etc. While they're free to state their own opinions, I disagree and would definitely consider this one of Yngwie's stronger releases of the past 10 years. I hope he keeps Ripper on board for the next album!