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A Step Down - 65%

Charlo, July 15th, 2012

Derek Sherinian is most well-known for his brief stint as lead key-master in the prog powerhouse Dream Theater. Other than that, he has put food on the table by guesting on lots of albums and maintaining his prog-rock-fusion band Planet X. Oh yeah, and this solo project. With seven released albums at the time of this review, Sherinian certainly has no shortage of musical ideas. Most of those ideas are instrumental metal-tinged jazzy fusion pieces, but on this album, he bravely journeys into "metal" territory, and the result isn't half bad.

Bookended by two straight-up fusion albums, 2006's Blood of the Snake and 2011's Oceana, Molecular Heinosity is a musical departure, and actually is most similar stylistically to the 2003 release Black Utopia. Black Utopia was, up until the release of this album, the only album in Sherinian's discography that could be considered "metal"; it had heavy parts in most of the songs, and the guitars actually got more burn than the keyboards. This album is not that heavy, but it can safely be called metal.

The beginning of this album is very sedate, starting off with three free-form tracks which hardly get into heavy territory at all. But "Wings of Insanity", "Frozen By Fire", and the title track are all riff-driven rockers with more conventional song structures. This makes sense given that the same guest guitarist, a fellow by the name of Brett Garsed (who doesn't appear to be in any "real" metal bands), played the first three tracks, whereas shred icons Zakk Wylde and Rusty Cooley donated their talents to the riffy stuff. Similarly, prog drummer extraordinaire Virgil Donati takes technically-masterful fusion drumming to dizzying heights on the first three songs before being replaced by the more convential Whitesnake drum-man Brian Tichy.

Sadly, Derek is more suited to his normal style of composing. The fusion pieces on this album are top-notch and are probably some of his best work, but the metal pieces are not crafted with the same care. It feels like Derek was sitting in the studio one day when it hit him "Hey! I was in a metal band once! This is a metal solo project, right? Right! I'm going to write some metal!!!!" The resultant riffs are carelessly groovy, with little of the complexity that should be present in progressive metal. Not to say those songs are terrible, because they're not, but it seems that in the time between Black Utopia and this album, he forgot what prog metal was.

Derek is the focal point of this album, no doubt. He utilizes his trademark icy-sharp keyboard tone to pummel the listener with extended solos in nearly every song. Our guest guitarists also get their time to shine, and even the lowly bassists (fretless wizard Tony Franklin, plus some guys by the names of Jimmy Johnson and Rob Mules) get some cool parts to play, but Derek wants us to know who the man is (hint: it's Derek himself).

What is impressive about this album is that while all the performers are technically proficient at their instruments, you never get the feeling that the songs were written with that in mind. There are plenty of slower interludes on this album, interludes which would have been replaced with "300MPH shredding oh my god so fast" by a lesser composer. There are even entire songs, such as The Lone Spaniard, where the entire point is to play slowly and with feeling! Take that shred-haters! A noted lack of utterly brain-busting prog sections makes for a more relaxing listening experience as well. The title track gets into some of that time signature tomfoolery, but with the rise of so-called "Math Metal" bands playing insane start-stop riffs with no rhyme or reason, the progressive aspects of this album almost seem quaint.

The worst part of the album is the closing track, "So Far Gone". It doesn't mesh with the rest of the album at all, mainly because it has horrible vocals and worse lyrics. Why Sherinian feels compelled to stick this shit on the end of his albums is unknown to me. When the guitar solo kicks in at the halfway point, the song is salvaged, because seven minutes of incongruous downtuned riffs and piano/cello backing would have been torture. Still, this song should be ignored entirely, and you should treat Molecular Heinosity as the closing track.

Overall, this album is a ballsy attempt at something different, but it falls short, and as a result is probably one of the weakest albums in the expansive and high-quailty Derek Sherinian discography. I feared for the future of the project after this album, but thankfully, Derek returned with the explosive fusion-fest Oceana in just two years, restoring his rightfully-earned place in the pantheon of prog-rock-fusion artists. If he wants to start writing real metal, I would advise him to start a new project. Especially if he wants to use Zakk Wylde's ugly voice as the vocalist.