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The flickering flames of parochial pursuits. - 72%

hells_unicorn, June 22nd, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, King Records (Japan)

Yngwie Malmsteen is synonymous with shred, regardless of what album title is along for the ride, it is sure to be a frenzied stream of notes over Baroque-styled chord progressions with a heavy metal gloss. Consequently, judging one album from the rest is not so much an exercise in measuring impact, as every single song tends to register off the charts in that department, but more so in the impression that it leaves. Since nuance is rarely encountered on any album, what little of it can be scraped from the exterior tends to be the best measure of differentiating one opus from the next, and lately this comes in the form of this Swedish-born maestro taking a more parochial approach to his studio LPs, namely rending himself into a veritable one-man band with a few people occasionally helping out. This resulted in the first album since his debut coming forth, titled Spellbound, that consisted almost entirely of instrumentals and upped the solo artist ante by Yngwie opting to handle vocal duties exclusively.

To dispense with the obvious, this approach is far less accessible than the song oriented one that had been adopted since Marching Out, and Malmsteen's latest LP World On Fire picks the ball up right where Spellbound left it and runs it about an equal distance further. There are only three songs with vocals on them to be found on here, and all of them tend to mirror some of the better moments on the middle era of this band, namely the stuff that was put out in the 90s, and most particularly what was heard on Alchemy, but with a more limited vocal display. Yngwie is competent as a vocalist, and even manages a fairly solid display of harmonized vocal layer on the opener and title song "World On Fire", which has some traces of the power heard on the faster offerings on Seventh Sign and Magnum Opus, but is a bit more contrived. The same basically holds true with "Lost In The Machine" and "Soldier", the former showcasing a more mid-paced grooving character that was a staple of Facing The Animal, the latter mixing some signature balladry at the beginning and then launching into speed metal territory again; it's well done, but pales compared to the past material that it is imitating.

The remaining three quarters of this album is essentially an exercise in what Yngwie does best, namely setting his Stratocaster on fire with the sheer velocity of his scales runs and sweep picking. There are brief respites here and there where something resembling a singing melody will emerge, but nothing really comes close to sticking to one's long-term memory the way anything from Rising Force did. There is no "Black Star", "Far Beyond The Sun" or "Icarus Dream Suite" to be found here, nor anything along the lines of the successive instrumentals that followed on his work from 1985 to 1990. The closest he gets to something that measures up to his more middle of the road instrumental compositions from the 90s is "Nacht Musik" (not a rearrangement of the famed Mozart tune), which showcases his incredible chops on the nylon acoustic and has a fairly balanced mixture of expressive melody and frenzied noodling. This isn't to say that outright shred fests like "DUF 1120" and "Sorcery" are bad by any stretch, but they tend to hit hard and then fade away like a ninja rather than imprint itself in one's soul the way "Black Star" and "Trilogy Suite" did.

In many ways, this album can be seen as nostalgic as it sees Yngwie trying to get back to basics, but the approach taken here is a far cry from where he actually was circa 1984, save maybe for the heavily reverbed retro production quality employed. Most of these compositions are fairly short in length and spend more time in climactic explosion territory with little sense of build up and release, almost like Bach's "Tocatta and Fugue in D minor", but without the Fugue section and the Tocatta being mostly rapid paced runs rather than a semi-melodic motive that sets the stage for what is to come. Malmsteen's classic material usually came with an infectious melodic hook that would recur from time to time, usually being hit at least 3 times in a single composition, and surrounded by build up in tension before hitting outright shred territory. It is fitting that these individual works are generally short in length, because despite the ocean of notes being hit, when taking this route the more concise things are, the better. Malmsteen has put out better albums than this, but this is still thankfully a cut above where he was in the early 2000s.