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Is This... Guitar Heaven!? - 91%

VictimOfScience, June 8th, 2021
Written based on this version: 2009, CD, Lion Music

Neoclassical metal, in particular, instrumental neoclassical metal seems to be my newest obsession, way above most other genres that I listen to, for its incredible colorfulness, melodies and variety. It might also have to do with the fact that I'm a guitar player myself, and I do not complain when I hear 2-3-4 minute long guitar solos that others would find "excessive", I enjoy it until the very end. I listened to quite a few instrumental guitar-driven albums, Jason Becker, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Satriani (not metal), but this is by far the most violent and most aggressive one out of all of them. It is also soulful, but Virtostic Vendetta is called what it's called for a reason.

The record offers an incredibly wide range of moods and vibes. From the relentless, never surrendering "Chasin' The Dragon" to the calm, serene "Strat Sorcery", there is everything for the guitar fanatic that he can possibly imagine and want, and then some. Reading that, you might think "Oh well, this is just another one of those master of alls"... But think about it. If it would only communicate one single message the whole time, it would be repetitive. So for the sake of variety, it was necessary to put a lot of twists and turns into this, and Joe did it magnificently. From sheer, pitiless speed metal to Yngwie J. Malmsteen-like neoclassical shred, from Hendrix-reminiscing blues to Blackmore-type hard rock, there is EVERYTHING. But despite the different approaches, these songs are all inside the big picture of neoclassical shred.

It's practically impossible to highlight songs, as all songs are magnificently written and are amazing examples of how far guitar playing can go. If you are more into slower songs, you will probably like "The Witching Hour" and/or "Strat Sorcery" the most. My personal favorites are "Chasin' The Dragon" and "Pistol Whipped". Those two songs are really as great, colorful, flawless, complex, complicated, melodic and all of those combined as guitar-shredding gets. It is the top of the mountain, really. Jason Becker is amazing and soulful, Yngwie is of course the greatest of all time, but really, Joe Stump is the one that could combine the ultimate virtuoso guitar playing with some really mean and heavy riffs and themes. His tone is also a lot dirtier and meaner than the aforementioned two so he will always be the evilest of them all.

It's hard to talk about musicianship. Joe Stump is playing more complex themes and solos than 99% of other guitar players could ever dream of writing. His speed is absolutely mindblowing, but his heart is at the right place. He can write some really mean, fast songs such as the album opener, but when the slow songs' hour comes, he is also able to rise above all others with songs like "Strat Sorcery". There are plenty of references in the songs to Joe's masters, above all else, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, but also Ritchie Blackmore and Jimi Hendrix. Those are the three I could hear, but there might be more in there. However, he does it in a tasteful way, and he adds his own identity and personality into the mix, so the record becomes a celebration of the great guitar masters, AND the six-string onslaught of Joe Stump's unique, relentless shred.

This record is an epic, heroic masterpiece. It is a very tasteful, ultra-technical, virtuoso demonstration of Joe Stump's guitar playing and songwriting capabilities. However, it really is a lot more than just another solo album from another one of those borin' solo artists. Nowadays, the words "brilliant" and "virtuoso" are thrown around way too much in the guitar world. THIS is brilliant and virtuoso. Most (NOT ALL!) metal records are as simple as 1+1 compared to the complexity and musical richness of this album. Besides the musical brilliancy, the theme of the record is also really cool and well-thought-out. Guitar-led songs throughout different time periods of guitar history, about guitar heroes, on a guitar-shred album. This was clearly written for the guitar maniacs such as myself, and WE LOVE IT!

The Force is strong with this guy - 95%

Kalelfromkrypton, March 7th, 2011

Let me state some things first: I am not a musician. I just started learning guitar playing. I hate Yngwie Malsteem. I used to like his music but then I met my (now) guitar teacher and his obsession was such with Yngwie that I came to the point of getting rid of all his music. I now vomit his recordings. I like most every metal style out there but when it comes to neo classical shredders…then I become really picky mostly because all they want is show us off how fast they can play and how much guitar sodo wankery can (they think) get us excited. Well, for all those out there who think Joe Stump is just pure mindless velocity and pentatonic or baroque scales thrown at your face this is not the true.

I mean, I fought with this for years. For any virgin ear this could be the case. It all seems the same shit over and over, song by song until your ears start bleeding and you begin to wonder: ‘’hey, why the hell am I listening to this guy who is taking me absolutely nowhere?’’ Now that I’ve come to understand much more about the guitar world it becomes evident that Joe Stump does not fall into this boring category. Of course, there is one problem: for the casual metal listener who does not know these things (or at least any kind of basic theory) this will become redundant, which is the main problem with this sub genre anyway.

Thus, if I claim the guy is so different how can I prove it? Well, let me try to point out the things I like about this album in particular. First and foremost: the album is fast, no doubt. The cascades of notes are everywhere at light speed. Whereas John Petrucci has fast parts and fast soloing in his solo album and D.T., we all know his forte is essentially his melodic sense and intricate tempo changes parts, intertwined with different scales. John Norum, on the other hand, has this melodic care and ability as well. Joe is different and he does not apologize for what he does best too. I mean, he is heavily influenced by Yngwie (among others as ‘Hell-unicorns’ states) and that is not a bad thing when you know how to sound different and Joe does it. Second aspect: for those of you who think that the lead guitar is everything in an album, you are wrong. The guitar solos are important, especially in an instrumental heavy metal shredding album, but far more important is how you sustain the background sound of these kinds of albums and that is by putting a lot of emphasis and interest in the rhythm guitar. The riffs MUST be the driving force. In this aspect, Joe Stump is, so far, what I consider one of the best composers in this aspect. When you take your time to listen to the really heavy and well structured rhythm section he stands up as one of the kind. Take for example the kick ass and tight riffs on ‘Pistol whipped’ and ‘Fire and brimstone’ just to mention two songs.

The third aspect is how he manages to vary his sound through the entire album and actually, provide a tapestry of different styles perfectly merged with the neoclassical shredding vibe. Fourth: he does not repeat himself over and over and this is where this album shines, to me at least. I’ll get to that later on.

To expand this statement about the diversity of sub genres thrown in the mix we need to break into some of the songs: ‘Pistol whipped’ sounds very hard rock-ished, using wah pedals and sometimes it sounds like a pissed off Slash in style but with far more intensity and edge in the soloing, thus avoiding that mellow sense from his GNR days but still he has attitude like in Velvet Revolver. ‘Blackmore’s boogie’ is more than evident Ritchie’s influence. Since I have never been into Blackmore’s music I cannot tell exactly the characterization of this persona but in any case, this song is for me a great place to start diggin’ into his main influences but it is evident that you can relate this to even Deep Purple ‘Machine Head’ era and especially due to the keyboards, which capture the essence of the 70’s virtuoso rock, including the beginning of the 80’s with Rhandy Roads (especially from mark 4:00 to 4:40min.) ‘The dance of Kashani’ is flavored with some Eastern music and thus, different scales are used which tells you how good musician he really is and not just a show off lightning fast guitar player. You really need to know the differences between for example baroque scales (very wide used by Yngwie) and Arabic scales (very good used by Solitude Aeturnus, Epica, After Forever, etc) which although structured completely different, need to be wisely arranged, especially in an almost 8min. instrumental guitar piece. This is the most diverse song here and the one that clearly highlights the different textures on this album.

‘Alegro in A minor’ sounds very Yngwieshed, and that is simply because its main soloing force drives from famous classical composers such as Bach, Mozart, etc. with its very complicated scales. Although the song slows down around the middle the soloing is but kick ass. The main riff in this case is not that thick and actually, the keyboard melodies are very much alike Yngwie’s circa ‘Alchemy’ era. ‘Chasing the Dragon’ is a more rhythm based tune and it works fine for me. I find the keyboards, on this track, not that spectacular but anyway, it gives some atmosphere to an otherwise insipid track. ‘Fire and brimstone’ is another awesome tune. The background riffing is overpowered by the exquisite guitar soloing which is played, along with some of the rhythm parts a little higher in tones than ‘Chasing the dragon’.

‘Old school throwdown’ goes back to Jimmy Hendrix’s days with its disharmonic melodies yet sounding consistently tight. This is pure rock and roll beginnings hard rock and heavy metal spiced. ‘The beacon’ is a ballad and I must say very emotional. It is played in very high notes but the solo itself is composed in such a way to display such emotional atmosphere but the most important aspect is the crescendo arrangement for the solo, increasing in speed and intensity without getting out of place which reminds me of Petrucci’s solos in the ballads as well. To do this in such way is not child’s game.

The other guy being a guitarist knows a lot more of this stuff than I. Thus, my emphasis has been appointed to the fact that this is just a heavy metal instrumental album to enjoy but I think/hope I have described what this album offers to you: a wide map of old heavy metal styles translated to the virtuoso guitar focused kick ass instrumental cd without getting boring or repetitive. Joe is an amazing guitar player not only because of his speed and technical abilities but also because of his song writing abilities which puts him (to me at least) at the top of the pack. One of the things I am most glad about is the fact that the majority of guitar players’ albums are basically experiments with a lot of styles including flamenco, Spanish folklore, jazz fusion and some others. That which obviously only guitar players and their most diehard fans will appreciate, thus forgetting they are releasing albums for the media anyway and some of the times because they want to show the world how good they are by showing pyrotechnics and stunts with the fret board. Joe does not fall into this trap. Hi simply shines by doing what he does best: playing heavy metal. Pure and simple and unadulterated entertainment the way I (at least) want it without getting away from the main direction of the recording. I would recommend this spectacular album to anybody into the metal world who is skeptical for this genre and these sorts of albums. Kudos to this guy because you have convinced me that guitar virtuosos do not rely only on speed but also on catchy and pro song writing. This is, to put it simply, the way things should be.

Hail the almighty Strat, with an ESP. - 84%

hells_unicorn, April 19th, 2009

In terms of playing ability, few can hope to rival the likes of Joe Stump, as in his career as a shred extraordinaire he has essentially put the tech back in technician and the virtue back in virtuosity. His emulations of neo-classical clichés, blues inspired rock of both the 70s and 80s, utterly flawless rhythmic precision, catchy riffs, idiomatic songwriting and technical versatility are always spot on. The only complaint that one could really throw at this guy and have stick is that he isn’t avant-garde or progressive enough to push the genre of instrumental guitar metal and rock in a completely new direction, thus his songs are pretty predictable. But artists who seek to write great songs often will do so within a pre-established format.

“Virtuostic Vendetta” functions very much like a stylistic tribute album of sorts, though containing original songs. Homage is paid to a wide range of well regarded classic albums including Deep Purple’s “Burn”, Rainbow’s “Rising”, Yngwie Malmsteen’s entire 80s catalog, and caries some tendencies in common with Gary Moore, Uli Jon Roth and arguable founder of the shredding style Jimi Hendrix. Stump himself is quite forthcoming about his influences and embraces the entire concept of guitar shredding without any inhibitions or apologies, rubbing it in the faces of everyone who decreed this art form dead when he first hit the scene in the mid 90s.

He tends to emulate Ritchie Blackmore the most in playing character, but also rivals Malmsteen in terms of sheer flash and intensity from time to time. “Symphonic Pandemonium” is the most blatant fit of neo-classical tip of the hat to the original maestros of Baroque and Classical virtuosity from C.P.E Bach to Niccolo Paganini, blazing forth like a crazed caprice, but with the strictness of an etude. “Fire And Brimstone” goes for a more direct homage to Malmsteen himself, conjuring up some similar though original variations on several Rising Force classics such as “Trilogy Suite” and “Far Beyond The Sun”. His guitar tone on these songs is a tiny bit sweeter and huskier, closer to a traditional Blackmore character, but these songs are definitely meant to exist in the more advanced and frenetic world of the 80s than the mellower and easier going era of the 70s.

In spite of these obviously technical though quite musical displays, Stump does give the listener’s brain a little time to breath with some more accessible work. “The Dance Of Kashani” takes the mystical, Eastern music direction with a keen sense of melody, sort of like a mid paced groove in the style of Blackmore, but with a darker and heavier production. “Old School Throwdown” gets a little too obvious with the title, but rocks hard in the traditional Jimi Hendrix fashion with the pentatonic scales blazing and the wah pedal slamming. This one seems to come from a Malmsteen interpretation of late 60s rock at first, but actually holds off a little on the blurry note passages and establishes some easy themes to grab onto. “Strat Sorcery” also makes its intentions pretty obvious in the title, but elects to function as a restful and bluesy conclusion to the album rather than a finale wreathed in a flaming fret board. The guitar tone on this is incredibly bottom heavy and distorted with phasing effects, yet comes out as crystal clear as a distilled stream.

It’s reasonable to assume that if fast and expressive guitar work is your thing, this is a good place to go to get it. It’s a fine offering from someone who mostly tends to stick to tradition and gives each rehashed stylistic device a new sense of life by taking it to a slightly different place than any of his heroes would. Like any teacher of this instrument, he understands the history of it well enough to go wherever he chooses, and a sense of familiarity maintains itself from the simplest melodic phrase to the wildest river rapid of a scale run.

Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 19, 2009.