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Apocrypha unroll their first scroll - 86%

Gutterscream, August 16th, 2013
Written based on this version: 1987, 12" vinyl, Shrapnel Records

Took awhile to treat myself to this four-piece that was said to easily dash off stuff in the upper echelons of the professional, the progressive, and the pliant. Common among any expectation is the droop of disappointment which occurs when it fails to be met. I’m sure we can all agree one disappointment in music expectation is that glowing, ultra-special build-up of a band or recording that falls short of your hopes and deflates like a leaky balloon that floats limply past equally deflated ears. Good thing The Forgotten Scroll isn’t one of those. Forgotten maybe, but not a bag of air.

Not a big bag, anyway.

Don’t need tea leaves to deduce the gala event here is guitarist Tony Fredianelli, a realization that came across not only after a lone whirl and half a listen, but after the involvement of guitar-worshiping Shrapnel Records fired over my head. To little surprise, Freddy (as I’m gonna call him) represents Shrapnel’s cause of guitar-domination-or-bust like any axeman of Mike Varney’s approval and naturally is here to out-marvel the other souls on the scroll even while they keep total pace in brilliant flashes of both individual and collective skill.

With no sign of previous solo material handy and seemingly nothing set aflame on any of the label’s old US Metal compilations, it appears this guy just came outta nowhere, but they all kinda do, don’t they? Of course, with Shrapnel’s known esteem for the guitar, future string sorcerers of grand to god-awful talent naturally gravitate toward the label like a pill-popper to its dealer. Gotta wonder how many are shown the door with a boot? I’m sure a lot, but whatever the figure, Freddy here with his fluent, labor-intense chops not only doesn’t have a shoe print on his trousers, but was enlisted as the admiral of this craft and crew.

With each song that sails into the disc’s harbor, the more it dawns on me that there’s nary a vessel of crappy songwriting caught escaping this ship, and any existing stowaways are either well-disguised or cower beneath high piles of progressively-envisioned metal. Rowing just beneath this progression in the ship’s bilge is the bedrock of their style, that accepted formula of welcome traditional and conventional songwriting, but is advanced a few notches in gift and talent, maybe Metal Songwriting 103 or something, and reigns in the hearty heart of “Look Into the Sun”, the somewhat unorthodox sturdiness of “Riding in the Night”, multi-faceted “Holy Wars (Only Lock the Doors)” and “Fall of the Crest”, and dirtier-handed “Distorted Reflections” whose bow is a good ‘ol lone guitar fret-bending cutter which is practically as mandatory as life jackets when it comes to Shrapnel releases.

Now don’t let the company of ‘welcome’, ‘traditional‘, and ‘conventional’ fluff up yer not-this-everyday-stuff-again? scanners, ‘cause practiced and perfected with superior scholarship are many bells and buckets of confetti that require more than one or two rotations to fully capture. One of the more memorable to my mind is “Penance (Keep the Faith)”, awakening the lp to a tall blue sky of conquest that pounds out a forcible march to the avocations of Steve Plocica, whose technique and pitch fluctuates between the regal and stern, the unmuddied and lucid, and somewhere near a throatier, early Savatage/Jon Oliva atonement. This opening breath dries the album’s initial brushstrokes red with Epicurean flare and white with fist-clenched dominance, like a painting that cloaks the Dark Age menace of Tyrant (US) with hues of Omen’s enlightened Renaissance.

Then there’s vortex “Tablet of Destiny”, the lp’s Mount Olympus, an instrumental with tempestuous gymnastics of composition that are as supra-mazy and in-depth as they are clearly sunlit and decipherable, romancing a slightly less pretentious and more metal-focused Dream Theater with the keyboard pomp skinned off and replaced by extra layers of heaviness. It’s from this peak that our guitar god of the day cracks mighty knuckles, smirking as the resultant thunder rumbles through coiled bands of lightning solos. His sweaty, heaving chest causes hot breath to escape in white plumes of frost blah blah…. Yeah, it may predominately be his show, and while he’s obviously no slouch, don’t even think this would get off the ground without his tremendous peers, with or without a grudge, holding his pedestal high and steady, especially on such a tablet where his destiny could be dictated by what the band as a whole carves into its surface. Meanwhile, back to our balloon, it’s my opinion that any air filling this album’s bag found smelling self-important or shown-off surely belongs to Freddy.

On another crest, here as one of its kind, “Broken Dream” is partially soft-spoken, partial power ballad that commingles the light caress technique of a few possible influences. Let’s go with the supple touches of Queensryche, Lizzy Borden, and, hmm, how about future act Psycho Scream just to fill this review’s quota of head-scratch moments. It’s the lp’s final slowly spinning propeller that tries to lull our world into its world, but unfortunately has difficulty parting the water for finesse that would sire real success, a sentient grace that effectively twines heartfelt soul erosion, considerable sympathy, and simple through n’ through catchiness. It’s a formula that regularly sends a band like Whitesnake, a classy act that has all but authored how-to picture guides on the subject, skipping through the rose garden singing “…here we go again to the bank on our own…”.

Hey, tell us more about the rest of the crew. Sure. Execution of this quality neglected and left to drown in some watery underground metal ditch would be a feed-to-the-sharks level of criminal, and even though Freddy hogs a good portion of stage front, Mike Poe, Steve Plocica, and Al Rumley heatedly match or follow every lead, bend, pitch, movement, backpedal, tightrope wobble, horizontal somersault, and single-bound leap over tall buildings, and with their boatmanship proving more than seaworthy to weather these songs’ frequent maelstroms, it’d be bewildering to witness them even passing the salt to the amateurs, let alone sitting among them in the galley. To further gild this belief, I don’t feel off my rocker for saying they could more than likely man the sails on similarly progressive boats where Watchtower, Atheist, Cynic, Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, and Ann Murray are just as expert navigating perilously-vexing musical seas. Rumley, ex-bassist of unknown Xcursion (the raft the early career of Mark Slaughter limped off of, only to strut over to Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion and, duh, Slaughter), even shoves Freddy outta the way in “Fall of the Crest” for a ride on the edge of the spotlight. Yeehaw, Al!

Another thing I feel listeners can count on with The Forgotten Scroll, aside from Freddy’s ascension to the eyes of time, is that identified levels of dullness - from the slack-jawed, seven-hours-of-school-clothes-shopping variety to the slightly disinterested brow – don’t find air to breathe here. Okay, let me rephrase that. Dullness doesn’t survive here unless you feel metal that’s soaked in a champagne of higher intellect, progressive tension, and hot iron flexibility pales to the runaway train of funeral doom. Or cleaning gutters in the rain. C’mon, I know yer out there.

Don’t really know if Apocrypha was meant to be Freddy’s single-seat vehicle to six-string stardom from the get-go, but judging by how extinct any cheers for the dude as an A-level guitarist are today, I don’t think it peeled out past the edge of the driveway. Alas, Third Eye Blind would be Tony’s kinda near future, and my response to that has always been Two Ears Deaf. Now it seems he’s just one of the swabbies, but if some fellow guitarist had gotten some possible job to flesh these songs out with some kind of additional reverie, he either woulda left crying, broke, or beaten up. My money’s on all three.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a guitarist even to the lowest denominator, and while I know the difference between a fretboard and an ironing board, what the man expresses here sounds pretty impressive, however please don’t ask me where he stacks up next to the Friedmans (Marty, who incidentally produced this), Malmsteens, Campbells, Vais, Satrianis, and Starrs of the guitar galaxy. And thank you for not smoking).

Enough to Support the Shred - 75%

soul_schizm, June 29th, 2011

This first release from Fredianelli's early project is a decent one to track down, if only for the promise it showed in the budding career of Tony as a guitar player and songwriter.

At the time Fredianelli had only been playing a few short years, and was noticed by Mike Varney, of Shrapnel Records. The Forgotten Scroll is the result of this first collaboration, rounded out with a cast of musicians who would perform well, though one immediately realizes that all is given to support the guitar shred here, rather than each part of the whole standing out. Written completely by the guitar whiz kid himself, at the time this must have seemed like a great start, and indeed it is, although the inexperience does show.

The CD starts out menacingly enough, with the power vocals of Steve Plocica growling over a chord hammer-plod, giving way to Fredianelli's quick-picking rhythms in Penance (Keep the Faith). As is the case throughout, the songs serve to support Tony's freakish shredding, sometimes even to the point where the rhythm section will drop out (or at least into the background), giving way to sweep-picking arpeggios or ultra fast scalar runs up and down the fretboard.

In short, it's shred.

What I do find memorable is the fact that there is some leeway given to the songwriting, with some decent vocal lines delivered competently - if a little less than memorably - by Steve Plocica. Some songs stick out to me, such as the soaring Lost Children of Hope with its power chorus and alternating low register verses with high register screaming at the end of the chorus. There is some nice melody here, though the riffage underneath is fairly generic.

The instrumental Tablet of Destiny serves as a valiant bow to the Shrapnel fare of the day, with appropiate eye-popping arpeggio work, time signature changes, and ultra tight integration of guitar, drums, and bass. Fredianelli apparently wrote all of this himself at a ripe young age -- certainly a heady accomplishment, leaving your humble reviewer to wish he had stuck with honing his guitar shredding skills rather than forming Third Eye Blind (a venture that has apparently caused an immense amount of pain in Tony's life, but I digress).

And then there's Riding in the Night, which deserves special mention. Where this song came from, I do not know. But to my ears, it's a bolt from heaven, a true power/prog metal delight. Plocica delivers the vocal performance of his life, with actual emotion, as if he's not just hired to support a young shredder for Mike Varney. You know -- as if this is an actual BAND. Fredianelli's rhythms are right in the pocket, working perfectly with the alternating double-bass drumming and semi-galloping attack of the chorus. And that chorus -- it's the moment of the CD. If for no other reason than this song, The Forgotten Scroll is worth a little effort to track down.

The production is typical Varney/Shrapnel fare, which I always found to be somewhat disappointing. A lot of the mix lives in the mid-range without enough low bass or high clash to support it. I'd like to hear a more isolated remix, but obviously that's out of the question.

I understand there have been several bootlegs of this early Apocrypha album. Mine was acquired as a Japanese release and sounds good enough. If you are lucky enough to track it down, it's a worthwhile listen, if a little flawed. Riding in the Night makes it all worthwhile in the end.