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Is This... Guitar Heaven!? - 99%

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!