Friday, November 11, 2011

Hot Licks

The "Neo-classical metal" guitar style took root in the early 1980's. Most of it's early proponents were classically trained. Yngwie Malmsteen & Jason Becker both studied the works of classic violinist Niccolo Paganini and emulate his style on the guitar. Randy Rhoads, Ozzy Osbourne's ill fated, though highly talented guitarist, was a student of this style when not slumming it with the Blizzard of Oz.  It's a mix of classical, jazz fusion and metal guitar, often played with mind boggling speed. The style's signature traits include: high speed scalar, sweep picking, arpeggio sequencing, alternate picking and tapping. It's a style that combines dexterity with a high degree of technical ability and god given talent.  

I won't even pretend to understand any of the techniques or jargon. To the common man (the target audience is mostly male) it's either speed metal or shred, not to be confused with thrash, which is something all together different. In my opinion, wrong as it may be, the genre breaks down into two camps. There's metal (Malmsteen, Steve Vai) and fusion (Joe Satriani, Greg Howe) It's the fork in the road that separates rock guitarists from those more inclined towards jazz and pop. The style can be daunting for the average listener, it's labeled as experimental and yet everything about it sounds vaguely familiar. It's been a longtime since anyone broke new ground, though that's not from a lack of trying.   

Sylvan Albertus is Seven Albatross, a point he gets across emphatically "Quit calling me "them" on the internet!" although the only album he's released as Seven Albatross is "Kill to Ruth." The rest are credited to Sylvan Albertus. He draws his inspiration from the metal side of guitar town. This becomes apparent as you listen to his recordings, "Crow in Cottonwood" (a continuous composition, that runs thirty minutes and is the first of a three part series) Knives of Alena (metal) and "The Elsewhere"  a powerful recording, that masterfully echoes Andy Powell & Ted Turner (not the media magnate) the twin lead guitarists from Wishbone Ash.

All are the work of an introspective man perhaps haunted by his past and now channeling those memories through his music. Not much in the way of biographical information available on Sylvan, unless you want to believe that he got his start playing electric bagpipes at Scottish sex orgies. (Ugh!, give me a second... to clear the image of Fat Bastard naked and sweaty from my mind, thank you!)  If he's from the U.K., it wouldn't make him the first musician from the British Isles to land upon our sandy soils. And if he's not, then his path to Lamy, N.M. took some strange turns.

Seven Albatross- Kill to Ruth   2006  self released

Like a blindman at a Scottish sex orgy, Sylvan finds himself feeling about for the style he would settle into. The album notes on CD Baby caution us that this is a demo recording, nonetheless the production is clear and clean.  As the music flows from one style to another, you start to see that British progressive rock is his anchor.  More specifically bands like King Crimson, Wishbone Ash & Genesis. Sylvan also has an ear for classic fm radio fodder. (the album includes a tasteful instrumental version of "In the Air Tonight" by Phil Collins)

"Kill to Ruth" and "The Elsewhere" also display the influence of guitarist Buckethead. He's best know for his short stint with Guns & Roses as a replacement for Slash. Buckethead, seemed like a strange choice at first. His talent is undeniable and many would argue that he's a much better guitarist than Slash. It's just that he plays with a KFC bucket on his head! Or to quote Ozzy "I tried out that Buckethead guy. I met with him and asked him to work with me, but only if he got rid of the fucking bucket." Though, given that Slash always wore his trademark hat and hid his face behind a shroud of shaggy hair, it wasn't that radical a change.   

"Kill to Ruth" is  exploratory and experimental, a precursor to Sylvan's strongest album to date, "The Elsewhere" For a demo album that wasn't intended for public release, it's cohesive and highly enjoyable. Digital tracks can be purchased at CD Baby. I've said this before and it bears repeating, the downside to purchasing digital tracks is the lack of  liner notes. It's what I miss most about vinyl albums and compact discs, it's a great source of band or artist info, that is so sadly lacking now. Something for the artists, Amazon, CD Baby & iTunes to keep in mind.  

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