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From the Future Comes the Shred - 89%

DawnoftheShred, April 16th, 2008

Another day, another hotshot guitarist trying to snag his fifteen minutes of fame. Today’s player in question is George Bellas, who like contemporaries Vinnie Moore and Michael Harris, has managed to make a decent career around fretboard acrobatics (Planetary Alignment is his fourth solo offering since ’97). But unlike his fellow axemen, Bellas has a knack for creating vast, unique, technical odysseys that are not only flashy, but entirely immersive. While his colleagues’ music inevitably ends up condemned to the background, Bellas’ advanced sonic architecture, though often incredibly inaccessible initially, tends to grow on the listener much more often than not.

George Bellas’ material is kind of like a mix between the virtuoso exhibitionism featured in the playing of John Petrucci with the deep, atmospheric writing associated with Ayreon mastermind Arjen Luccassen. His technique is flawless, his tone is perfect, and his accompanying band stays right on his heels. His music is super technical, with more odd-time signature exchanges in the first three songs than in most bands’ careers. And with leadwork that leans towards the exotic (theory buffs can try and follow the variety of atypical modes and scales he utilizes) and unbelievably good keyboard mingling with the guitar lines, the prospective listener can best compare this album with either of the Liquid Tension Experiment albums. The theme here is science and metaphysics: established by the song titles and reinforced by the spacey atmosphere created from the keyboards and bizarre guitarwork (Ron Jarzombek would approve, I think). And with the drums and bass being just as expertly performed (and at times just as amazingly technical), Planetary Alignment is a music junkie’s wet dream.

Problems? Inaccessibility is perhaps the biggest issue here. There’s but a fairly small audience conditioned to George Bellas’ brand of instrumental progressive metal (LTE, Dream Theater, and Symphony X fans are in there). One can also bring up the classic point of precision having more weight than emotion, as Bellas’ music creates a sort of static atmosphere without any noticeable emotional involvement. But emotion isn’t always necessary, especially in this genre, where such vacancy is kind of expected anyway. If I want emotional playing, I’ll go listen to Pink Floyd. But when I’m in the mood for wild, futuristic super-shredding, I’m going to pop in a George Bellas album.

As usual, fans of any of the bands I’ve mentioned above can purchase this without fear, expecting only the finest in technical music to exude from their speakers for the album’s duration. My own expectations were pretty low for this (I’ve been quite inundated with instrumental stuff recently), but even I was completely converted just a few tracks in.

An early front-runner for best instrumental album of ’08, I highly recommend this. Enjoy.


Originally written for: http://www.metal-observer.com