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Yngwie finally goes solo...or something like that. - 70%

hells_unicorn, December 9th, 2012

If the name on the CD label didn't clue anyone in, it is a foregone conclusion that any opus carrying the moniker of Malmsteen will be a predictable affair. While always having a consistent number of musicians surrounding him on stage and handling instruments he isn't versed on in the studio, all of the important decisions regarding composition, arrangement, and the like are made by him. With this comes an entrenched orthodoxy of Baroque and Classical period clichés that channel the likes of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, and a host of other contemporaries of late 17th through early 19th century where the confines of tonality were fairly stylized and stringent. Naturally, being a product of the 80s, there's a fair amount of blues, rock and power/speed metal influences thrown in to give things a less antiquated feel, at least by modern standards, and there has been a steady evolution in recording sound in Yngwie's catalog, ranging in results from spellbinding to lackluster.

However, in the course of the year 2012, Yngwie has found himself living yet another cliché that is all too unique to his own near 30 year career, the exodus of a short-lived collaboration with an exceptional vocalist. But instead of filling the void left by Ripper Owens, Yngwie has decided to turn back the clock about 28 years and gone back to his roots, at least in part. The format that takes shape in "Spellbound" instantly reminds of the mostly instrumental character of the 1984 debut "Rising Force", comprised about 85% of instrumentals in varying styles typical to his extensive back catalog, and throwing in a few token songs with vocals as a passing gesture of sorts. But in contrast to the groundbreaking fury of 6 stringed madness that changed the world of shred forever in the mid 80s, the character of this album comes much closer to the early 90s sound heard on "Eclipse" and "Fire And Ice", though with a grander production and less of a reliance on overtly catchy refrain sections.

While not a certified collection of new classics, this album does have some fairly impressive instrumentals that possess a level of uniqueness and memorability, though being somewhat derivative of past classics. The general tendency is that the longer Yngwie goes with an instrumental, the better it tends to get, particularly if there is a broad yet coherent melodic structure to break up the many shred sections. "Majestic 12 Suite" definitely takes some cues from the "Trilogy Suite" and lays on a barrage of technically impressive guitar acrobatics, but is careful not to venture too far from the C.P.E. Bach formula that tends to dominate his faster work where an implicit tune is carried in between the streams of arpeggios and speed picking. "God Of War" also does a fair job of maintaining the same overall character, though it spends much more time in speed metal territory and only occasionally breaks into a slower, military march sound which is still, obviously enough, sugared almost to the point of hurting the teeth with an endless bombardment of notes.

Much of the rest of this album's contents falls more into the "adequate but nothing spectacular" category. The bluesy work on here generally comes off as overtly contrived, and consists of going through the motions first laid out by Yngwie's professed hero Jimi Hendrix, but superimposed on an 80s styled arrangement and cleansed of the noise-laden grit that typified the 60s rock icon. "Let's Sleeping Dog Lie" fares a bit better than the instrumental "Iron Blues" in that the use of vocal verses breaks up the overdone blues shredding, but both songs come off as extended versions of the intro to "Crystal Ball" off the "Odyssey" album. It should be noted that Yngwie's vocal work is actually quite competent, especially compared to other visible and comparable figures like Satriani and Vai who can barely eek out a single octave vocal range, let alone put any real expression to speak of. His vocal delivery on the 2 token speed metal nods to "Marching Out" dubbed "Poisoned Mind" and "Repent" reveal a gritty character not all that dissimilar from his original vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, though with about half the range and no signature banshee wails to draw upon. It's sufficient and well accomplished, though obviously nowhere near the level of intensity and flair that Mats Leven, Michael Viscera or Ripper brought to the fold, let alone the vocal company that Yngwie kept in the 80s.

This is a shred album, written for shred fans, and will probably not have anywhere the level of crossover appeal that most of Yngwie's well-known albums tend to have with fans of the Judas Priest traditional strain or the melodic power metal crowds of Germany, Sweden, Finland and Italy, all of whom have guitarists citing him as a chief influence. While definitely not the best thing that he's ever produced, it gets the job done, and definitely proves that Yngwie is always the first and last word on all things Yngwie, even when he himself is saying them.