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The future ends in an hour and 15 minutes. - 90%

hells_unicorn, January 30th, 2009

Ever get tired of those annoying 2 to 3 second silent spaces in between tracks on your progressive metal album? Ever wonder why all of these extremely gifted musicians inside the genre don’t throw everything at you but the kitchen sink, and then later throw that too? Ever wish that you only had to deal with one basic abstract concept per album rather than dealing with several within a single song that is itself part of a collection of 7 or 8? Well, this incredibly epic festival of shred licks and stylistic eclecticism is just what the virtuoso music listening doctor ordered.

Michael Angelo Batio often mentions at his guitar clinics that musicians choose vague titles for their instrumental works because it gives them more freedom to explore the boundaries of music without having to adhere to some programmatic cliché (roughly paraphrasing him here). Fellow shredder and progressive writer George Bellas of Vitalij Kuprij and Ring Of Fire fame seems to agree quite strongly, as his selection in title “Step Into The Future” brings up an infinite regression of possibilities. Even if we limit the possibility to this small rock we live on within the vast and seemingly unending universe, the potential scenarios between the next nanosecond and the end of this planet’s existence are so numerous that any organized game of notes could fit a musical telling of such a tale.

The range of influences at play from the opening section to the last note are astronomical, and actually even include some references to composers known for writing intergalactic sounding anthems. Jazz ballad section and abrupt references to mixed meters trade places with violin-like volume wells and blurring flurries of arpeggios and speed picking. Neo-classical and world music references come in and out, occasionally resembling tribal drum choruses with otherworldly Middle Eastern thematic material from the guitars and keyboards, at others switching up between Bach preludes and Beethoven piano sonata references. At certain key points the synthesizer atmosphere conjures up images of triumphant prog. rock bands like Yes and Asia, while the thematic material within these ambient lines occasionally resembles music from the “2001, A Space Odyssey” soundtrack.

The most interesting part of it all is how Bellas opts to organize all of his wide ranging influences into one cohesive, albeit enormous, composition. Themes do tend to recur in a somewhat modified fashion at key points, but the principle method of place marking found on here is through solo versus band sections. This is basically a modified version of the “tutti/solo” method used by Classical composers when putting together concertos, which fits this format nicely. The lead tracks are mostly accomplished by guitar, though an occasional keyboard solo also factors into key points, and cover a wide range of stylistic devices from Malmsteen’s classicisms to Batten’s and Gilbert’s exotic experiments. They show off Bellas’ chops quite nicely, but they also do well to remember the value of a good, easy to follow melody to keep the music from losing the listener.

Although I would personally rate this as a bold and extremely entertaining listen, your average metal fan will probably have a little trouble getting past the time required for one complete listen. It could be called a sort of instrumental metal gnosis, only being available and understandable to those with the desire to dig deep and to ponder over things longer than your average listener. But regardless, much like Rusty Cooley, George Bellas is one of those amazing instrumentalists that have been reminding the world that America can still produce musicians with the ability to play more than 3 or 4 lousy chords. If you’ve got the time to spend, and you are not one to be straight-jacketed by the concept of progressive music having to fit a certain stylistic template, this is something to check out.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on January 30, 2009.