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The year was 1994, and music was in the dark ages, scraping at the bottom of the artistic barrel. Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was being lauded as some kind of generational hero for writing a bunch of primitive songs with unintelligible lyrics and then blowing his own head off. Pearl Jam decided to release the most revolting and anti-musical release ever in Vitalogy, and gained mainstream approval. Soundgarden was watering down it’s quasi-metal sound for more mainstream approval. In the thrash scene, people were in a rather twisted infatuation with garbled and unintelligible vocals meshed with a rather overly simplistic riff style in bands like Pantera and Rap-Core influenced Biohazard.
During this time, despite being ignored by the States and a few other places, Yngwie was poised to make one of the best releases of his career. Not satisfied with the mediocrity and drudgery of the current scene, the maestro of shred and melody revamped his line-up a bit and delivered an impressive collection of high speed riff driven cookers, powerful ballads and mid-tempo rockers. With guitar in hand and his mind on over-drive, Yngwie would musically drive his polished leather boot square up the ass of Cobain and his bastard generation of flannel wearing , pseudo-punk, dirt bags.
The band’s lineup is the first point of influence, as two highly consequential changes were made, which gave this album a good deal of it’s punch. As stated in previous reviews, Goran Edman was probably Yngwie’s weakest vocalist ever, and this album he has been replaced by Michael Vescera. Unlike Edman, Vescera’s voice doesn’t weaken when it gets higher, it gets stronger and is as sleazy and rough sounding as can be. Stand out vocal performances include “Never Die”, “Forever One”, the title track, and “Crash and Burn”. The other dramatic change is the addition of kit destroying drummer Mike Terrana, whose drumming is not necessarily all that more technical than ex-drummer Bo Werner, but definitely a hell of a lot more powerful. All one need do to hear the difference between these two drummers is listen to “Fire and Ice” and then compare the loudest drum work on there to the thunderous boom sound of the snare at the beginning of “Pyramid of Cheops” on this album.
The songs on here are well spaced out on this album, giving it a very natural pace. Fast tempo rockers like “Never Die”, Hair Trigger” and “Crash and Burn are all spread apart well, and although all of them feature amazing guitar and drum work, “Never Die” takes my pick for the best fast one on here, and Yngwie probably agrees with me as this particular track enjoyed a good amount of live play during the late 90s. More rock oriented tunes like “I don’t know” and “Bad Blood” are much more polished than the ones found on the last two albums, and I would actually argue that “I don’t know” has a more memorable riff than “Bedroom Eyes” does, but apparently the majority of fans think differently. The ballads are also enjoying a good amount of development now, as both “Prisoner of your Love” and “Forever One” are seeing a more straight-forward guitar and vocal approach meshed with the Baroque chord progressions that Yngwie has often utilized.
The rest of the music on here pretty much have their own individual character and deserve specific mention. “Meant to Be” is sort of a quasi-ballad/quasi-mid-tempo rocker with some passionate lyrics, combined with a rather strong descending chord progression during the chorus. The title track is easily the most memorable song on here with both the most recognizable main guitar riff, and probably one of the most insane guitar solos I’ve heard out of Yngwie. Vescera’s vocal performance on the title track is also exceptional, particularly when he hits the high notes. “Pyramid of Cheops” is probably one of the slowest and heaviest songs Yngwie has put out yet, even rivaling “I am a Viking”. The sitar intro on this one sees Yngwie’s proficiency on this instrument taking a big step up from the last album. The two instrumentals on here are essentially like night and day, “Brothers” is an electric guitar driven anthem with some great riff gymnastics, while “Sorrow” is an all acoustic composition that is short, sad, and nostalgic sounding. It reminds me a bit of “Memories” off of the Odyssey album.
The bonus track on the Spitfire release that I own is “Angel in Heat”, which features Yngwie doing vocals. Although he is obviously not fit to do lead vox , for this genre, all the time due to his rather deep voice and husky timbre. None the less, he is a good singer, and this song is yet another strong rock influenced tune, most drawing inspiration from Jimi Hendrix.
People often ask me why I think so highly of the Vescera albums, especially considering that Yngwie’s actual comeback to prominence amongst Americans was found on his collaboration with Mats Leven and Cozy Powell on “Facing the Animal”. And the answer to this is simple, “Facing the Animal” was the climax of a very long struggle from obscurity in some quarters to artistic and musical prominence amongst those fans that had been deprived of his presence due to a turn towards musical medievalism. This album, along with Magnum Opus, underscore that no compromising attitude that Yngwie has always had at it’s best, staring down adversity and daring it to try and take him down. People knock him because of his ego, but you know what, his ego is what creates all of this music that most prominent guitarists can’t stop imitating today. Be it master guitar players like Roland Grapow and Michael Romeo, or third-rate hack sweep-pickers like those two flunkies from Avenged Sevenfold, his influence is undeniable. So maybe instead of complaining about his lack of humility when being interviewed, you should shut up and listen, you might learn something about how to create great music.
In conclusion, this album comes highly recommended to fans of shred and guitar driven metal. Traditional fans will find much to like, in addition to more classic rock oriented fans who love hearing pentatonic riffs with a good amount of wah pedal in it. Yngwie has really gotten his act together on this one, and has a fine collection of musicians working with him on this release. Vescera’s vocals were so exceptional that I am currently rummaging the various online CD shops looking for his more recent work with American power metal outfit The Reign of Terror. Enjoy!