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There lies potential beyond these rocky hills - 40%

Subrick, March 5th, 2013

I've honestly never delved too deep into the depths of heavy metal solo acts because they are generally incredibly hit-or-miss with me. For every good solo act I've found, I've heard at least a couple bad ones, and for that reason I don't go out of my way to listen to a solo act. In terms of the solo record that has been delivered to my virtual doorstep today, the debut outing from New Hampshire guitarist Eric Pellegrini, there is definitely potential lying underneath the massive flaws of Vol. 1. Despite his obvious talents when it comes to the guitar, he is a bit too focused on that one aspect of the music, rendering the other elements of the music basically impotent on arrival. Couple that with some weird structural additions that take away from the songs they are in and a straight up bad production sound, and you've got a record that could have been so much more had more time been spent ironing out the songs and perhaps using higher quality recording equipment.

The two biggest flaws with Vol. 1 are beyond a shadow of a proverbial doubt the ridiculously dry production sound and the over-emphasis musically on the guitar. Pellegrini is a guitarist first and foremost, and the music found on this album displays that natural inclination in spades. Overly thin tone of the actual instrument aside, the guitar parts themselves aren't bad, and in fact can be pretty interesting to listen to in places. The major problems however are that not only does the lack of a bottom end to the guitars distract greatly from the overall listening experience (as the overall production sound does for the entire record), but Pellegrini is so clearly focused on the guitars being the centerpiece of the music that everything else suffers because of it. His lead breaks and solos, while obviously inspired, are ruined by the lame guitar tone. Bass is practically non-existent; not once in the entire album did I hear any discernible bass lines, and the lack of the instrument only adds to the overall thinness of the guitars. Had bass been made audible, the guitar tone would not be anywhere near as distracting as it is. The drums sound as if they were created in a MIDI program and Pellegrini forgot to replace the sounds with better, more realistic samples. The drum parts themselves do not suffer nearly as badly as the other non-guitar elements of the music, because despite being very bland and generic parts they still maintain something of a constant energy throughout the record.

Pellegrini's vocals are the least good thing about the non-guitar aspects of the record that are audible, as they sound very weak and breathy, as if Pellegrini was only creating sound from his throat and not his chest. His main vocal style throughout the majority of the album is a very black metal-esq rasp, which I will admit is somewhat fitting since the music does contain a lot of black metal inspiration in it, mostly through the use of the genre's patented high string tremolo picking. His low growls are slightly better due to sounding as if they are coming from deeper within his body, but aside from that the vocals do absolutely nothing for me. Their quite understandable nature is also something of a detriment due to being able to understand Pellegrini's lyrics, which are generally not very good. The lyrics deal mostly with topics like relationships and sex, two lyrical themes that when done badly are usually quite a pain to read. These lyrics are no exception, filled with fantasmically sappy and contrived romantic scenarios that would be laughed out of a Howard Jones-era Killswitch Engage lyrical seminar. Within various songs there are some quite frankly weird structural elements that will make you wonder just what in the world is going on. In "The Black Feathered Vixen", for example, bridging two sections of extreme metal chaos is a clean toned, somewhat jazzy solo, ending just as abruptly as it began. "The Ringmaster" begins with 20 seconds of absolutely bizarre drum soloing before suddenly shifting to the guitar playing along with said bizarre soloing. When I first heard it, I actually paused and rewound the song out of sheer bewilderment at what was going on. Numerous times throughout the record, sections will suddenly stop and shift into completely different time signatures before just as suddenly reverting to the previously played section. Solos will also just pop up out of nowhere at points, starting and stopping on a dime. If you haven't picked up on it by now, this album is a structural mess. If a bit more time had been spent ironing out the more ridiculous elements of the songs, as well as improving the record's mix and placing equal emphasis on the non-guitar aspects of the music, this could have been something very good. Sadly, that is not the case.

Eric Pellegrini is not without large amounts of potential. He obviously is trying to make something good with Vol. 1, and there are fleeting elements of the music that show that a great record could have happened here, but there are just too many problems with every single piece of the puzzle here that it would be damn hard to try and fix it without scrapping the whole thing and starting over anew. What Eric needs is other people to collaborate with, be it in his own solo work or in another, unrelated project, because on his own with no one else involved there are just too many problems in the writing and production for it to sustain itself as a listenable record. The recent news of him shacking up with Massachusetts black metallers Sorrowseed brings hope however, because at least he'll have other people to write with and bounce musical ideas off of. As is, though, Vol. 1 is a disappointing mess of a record that manages to be both completely unremarkable & forgettable and magnificently flawed at the same time.

A Guitar Player’s Backing Track - 52%

Apteronotus, March 3rd, 2013

What happens when you have music that is serviceable while simultaneously uninspired? If “Volume I” is any indication, then the result is surprisingly disappointing.

“Volume I” suffers primarily because Eric Pellegrini's songwriting is almost solely guitar- oriented. However, this album is not a vanity piece. Rather, it is a genuine effort at balanced melodic death metal which fails to manifest itself as such because Pellegrini develops songs only through the instrument with which he is most familiar, the guitar. As metal is generally very guitar-oriented, this makes for an inoffensive album, but one that is substantially flawed and derivative. While the drums, vocals, bass, and even rhythm guitar all sound passable; they do very little for the music other than serve as an enervated accompaniment.

This instruments-as-background-sounds problem exists even on the final outro, where one would expect the sense of direction on the album to be at its height. Instead, “The World is A Stage” features fine albeit programmed drums, acting as a mere accompaniment. It feels like there is no person behind the drums, no emotion even. We have various beats and fills that are there just without purpose other than making it sound finished. Instead of being slightly off in this respect and raising the question of whether a real drummer would do this, it screams loudly that no drummer would do this. “Volume I” is like this for much of its duration, and it isn't limited to the drumming. While nothing in the instrumentation crosses over into the realm of sounding overly offensive or bad in of itself, a real harm is still done because of how mechanical, routine, and predictable this backing-track style makes the album.

The exception is of course the guitar work and it is here that the album is at its strongest. Still, Pellegrini adheres conservatively to the scènes à faire of melodic death metal. Some chugged riffs, some harmonizing, some melodic tremolo riffing. Without being a backdrop like other aspects of the music, the guitars are still very predictable and routine with only rare signs of personal flair. Consequently, the album’s zenith is still a point far from excellence, which is important to consider because of how lifeless the remainder of the instruments are.

In the solos, you can hear this all quite clearly, they are unimaginative yet competently played. The first half of the solo on “Discrepancy” isn’t far off from a guitar player practicing scales over a metronome. Some arpeggios also come in as expected, but with a tinge of neoclassical influence showing some of that personal flair. This is a sign that Pellegrini is creatively trapped in the confines of melodic death metal. For example, the best and most creative bit of the album is the clean section in “Discrepancy” where we get nice neoclassical melodic layering. An earlier example is in “The Black Feathered Vixen” with a similarly influenced clean section that is a bit sloppy, but still one of the album’s high points.

While competent in the vocal department tonally, Pellegrini's delivery fails for feeling emotionally blank and constrained by the guitar melodies. The whispered style on “Ringmaster” and various flirtations with double tracking fail to improve this problem. The raspy style of vocals are very pedestrian for this kind of death metal, and it appears that Pellegrini can effortlessly maintain that sound. Unfortunately it sounds like he phoned it in. Moreover, the fact that the vocals are more intelligible than in most death metal is an enormous disservice here because it draws attention to the incessantly exasperating lyrics. To understate the problem, the lyrics are the weakest element on this album. It absolutely detracts from the music when you hear lines like: “I refuse to lie, I will keep my wits about me” “I fucking hate, you ripped my heart apart” and “I, want you back, in my life, come to me, mi amore.”

In essence, “Volume I” serves more as backing sounds for Pellegrini to play guitar over than as something meant to be listened to as an album. This would have been fine, were it not for the problem that the backing music supports some really generic guitar work.

Originally written for:

Eric Pellegrini - Vol. 1 - 60%

Obscurum, February 10th, 2013
Written based on this version: 2012, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

Vol. 1: the debut by Eric Pellegrini, and what a tiresome debut it is. Being a "band" comprised of a single member, to whom the band takes its name from, Eric performs all the instruments, and that acts as a double-edged sword. He has prowess in certain areas, and a complete lack-of in others. I feel as if he tried too hard when recording this, as the structures and instrumentation come across as generic and worn-out; everything's been done before by other bands, except better. He certainly has talent playing guitar--that's a given--but his vocal ability ... well, that's just awful. The bass merely exists, and the drum programming ranges from decently generic to somewhat acceptable, namely when it's programmed to do blast beats. Boring, truly boring.

For the most part, this is rather thrashy death metal with periodic changes in song structuring, as to be expected. The guitars, being the highlights of the album, encompass several tones and styles: at times, very melodic and pleasant, others they are thrashy and unoriginal, and sometimes they resemble deathcore chugging ... oh, God, no. Solos abound, and plenty of emphasis on them, but without any real flair or quality, as with the rest of the music, generic. Quite an abundance of noodling and showing-off, but not being sloppy or lazily performed, unlike the vocals--hit and miss. "True Karma" is an example of the some of the finer riffs to be found on here.

The drums are alright, I suppose. They vary from extremely fast blast beats to the common uptempo pounding of thrash metal, with the occasional down-tempo sections, such as those found in the closing track, "The World Is a Stage". They do their job of maintaining the backing rhythm fairly well, but aside from that, they don't perform anything fancy or memorable--could be worse.

Vocals are the usual death metal growls and yells, and the main culprit for the tedious listen this album causes. There's absolutely no originality in them--none. Songs like "System of Power" clearly show this; I find them humorous to an extent, they're that bad: too simple are the patterns they follow, and repetitious. Even worse, at times Eric does the dreaded multi-tracking on them, and coupled with the growling and yelling, gives the impression that he's shouting at himself, which only adds to the disappointment. Were this an instrumental release, it would've been a lot better, still far from a masterpiece.

Vol. 1 shows that if Eric were to refine his style (maybe throwing in some more variation) and perhaps a full band, leaving himself to handle the guitars, he could end up releasing something somewhat desirable in the future, and not come across as yet another unknown band with nothing to set them apart from the rest.

Solo demo showcasing a talented guitarist - 45%

Zodijackyl, January 8th, 2013

Eric Pellegrini is certainly a talented guitarist with some good ideas and a knack for throwing together some interesting guitar parts. The focus of the music seems to be on the guitar work - the vocals are just there, they don't add much of anything. The music is backed by a very mechanical sounding drum machine that sounds like some basic MIDI samples - something that I'd lament on a demo, but will outright complain about on anything else.

The production overall is pretty dry and inconsistent - the guitar tones vary throughout, from a chunky, crunchy chugging tone to a few different sweet tones for the solos. The guitar work is a little bit inconsistent, but seems pretty honest and it's clear that this guy is a good guitarist. The vocals don't have much depth. The drums could be lower in the mix considering that they're not the best sounds, but they are written fairly well to follow the guitars and do what they need to do. The drum solo/intro in "The Ringmaster" is interesting, but with the poor tones, it is pretty irritating.

The songwriting is choppy - a clean neo-classical guitar section is wedged between blasting death metal sections on "The Black Feathered Vixen". He has a decent idea of how to mix up different parts, but the death metal sections often seem forced, either that or everything but the death metal sections seem forced - guitar solos comes from nowhere more randomly than in a Necrophagist song. The death metal parts are inconsistent but I don't they come naturally, the lead guitar work, melodies, and prog-tinged stuff seem to be his forte, so I'm not quite sure why he's doing death metal. The rhythm playing and vocals are alright, but the death metal riffing isn't what stands out here. I suppose it's better than generic prog-guy wankery the whole way through. Amidst all this disjointed nonsense, there's some great lead guitar work, like the extended solo later in the aforementioned song. His talents make it pretty easy to look past the shortcomings.

The different songs more or less show different takes on similar concepts and ideas. I wouldn't call this a full-length, it's more of a demo showing songwriting and guitar skills of a capable musician who could do some good things with other musicians. Eric Pellegrini is a capable and talented musician, this album isn't anything special on its own, but he could easily exceed it if he were in a proper band. This isn't an album I'd go back to listen to, but if I was looking for a guitarist, I'd know where to look.