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The Black Knight returns!!! - 99%

LeeroyKincaid, November 21st, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Lion Music

Joe Stump is certainly not an easy listening experience. In the expanding universe of guitar virtuosos he's the one that definitely stands out when it comes to composing music. The Dark Lord Rises is a prime example of it. Yes, the guy can play, but so can many kids on Youtube channels, not to mention tons of shredders out there - many of those that make people cringe when words like shred or guitar virtuoso are mentioned. In the beginning of his career one might even classify Stump as one but he did stand out even on those old albums recorded on minimal budgets. Albums like Guitar Dominance, Night of the Living Shred and the ones that followed had many thoughtfully crafted tunes.

However, the Shredlord - as he’s often dubbed, has been constantly raising the bar since his Speed Metal Messiah album. Continuing with Virtuostic Vendetta and especially Revenge of the Shredlord, Stump managed to make better and better albums in almost every aspect (front cover on Revenge of the Shredlord perhaps being an exception). The most important aspect in this advancement is definitely his constantly improving songwriting skills but production, his backing band and his technical skills on the guitar also continue to get better. However skilled at playing he might be, he always manages to add a few (or more than a few) notches to his technique. Where many great players and musicians have failed - got stuck in a circle of recycling old stuff (unfortunately Yngwie instantly comes to mind with his last crap album), Joe seems to have really worked his ass off and made music and not just guitar wankery. In fact, he continued the trend for so long and far I even got a bit worried if he’ll manage to keep it up... but be not afraid - he did it again! The Dark Lord Rises is definitely Joe’s best album so far, being closely followed by Revenge of the Shredlord and with Virtuostic Vendetta lagging a bit more behind. It’s his darkest and most metal album of them all, relying much on heavy riffs and going into thrash and black metal territory. Still, he manages to keep his trademark signature on all of the tunes so you can instantly recognize Joe playing. Don’t get me wrong - he’s not a revolutionary composer who just made up a new style of music - Joe is deeply rooted in neoclassical music. Blackmore and Yngwie (but also many more) influences can be heard on the record (even some surely intentional stuff like licks from Deep Purple tunes on Stratomaster) but he manages to stay fresh and keep the listener on the edge of the seat for over an hour. Considering there’s no vocals and lyrics and that guitar leads the game that’s really a big thing! The bass lines are great and drums are more diverse than usual but don’t expect progressive George Bellas madness in that area.

As I’ve said, the music is very dark - the album kicks in with a heavy tune - Hostile Takeover and that sets the pace of the album. Out for Blood, The Dark Lord’s Allegro and Neo-classical Shredfest No.4. are all in-your-face guitar madness in his best vein. Stratomaster is his trademark Blackmore tribute but also pretty heavy. Tortured Soul is a passionate composition dedicated to sadly passed Gary Moore. That one sounds like he drained the soul of at least one guitar in the process of recording it. It might be surpassed in that area of his playing perhaps only by his ballad The Beacon. Battle Tested is an evil mid tempo closer of the album in the vein of his tunes like Pharaoh’s Delight but much better in every aspect. However, the tunes that managed to surprise me most are The Black Knight Returns and Staring into the Abyss. The former has a melody line with a very unique sound I’m not even sure how he gets. Besides that the tune is almost perfectly composed so that nine minutes pass in an instant and leave you wanting more. Staring Into The Abyss is a wicked shred and guitar mastery mixed with black metal and blastbeats. Nice to see someone guitar-oriented dare walk that path and manage to sound completely awesome. On this one Joe seriously restrained his skills and speed for the sake of composition. He created a very evil riff-fest continued only later by an also dark solo that fits the atmosphere perfectly.

There’s a bonus track, Brothers in Shred, where Dean Cascione and David Shankle play guest solos. Even as these kind of tunes usually end up being wankfests, Joe managed to keep it under control and make a solid backbone for the tune that not even Shankle’s horrible sound and boring lines managed to spoil (luckily he plays only a short solo). He should stick to his Hellborn vibe as that was pretty good (besides soloing). Cascione on the other hand is a Stump disciple. Some inexperienced listeners might even mistake his playing for Joe’s so it fits well in the composition.

To sum it up: this is definitely the best album by Joe Stump. The production is great, the guitar sound is Marshall-in-you-face-raw and mighty. It’s definitely old-school approach when you compare it to modern compressed crap sound that many Ibanez players like. The album should appeal not only to shred, guitar and neoclassical fans but also to fans of metal in general. It might take some time to get used to instrumentals so don’t try listening to everything in one take - it might overwhelm you at first if you’re not used to it. But for neoclassical fans - this is the best there is out there and you’ll hear it after the first listen!! (1% is missing only because I expect the next album to be even better!!)