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Round Table Review
Tracklist: Day Of The Dead (8:20), Alpha Burst (4:55), God Of War (5:16), El Flamingo Suave (4:54), Goin' To Church (4:46), One Way Or The Other (4:56), Trojan Horse (3:55), A View From The Sky (4:55), The River Song (3:51)
Last year Bart and myself reviewed Derek Sherinian's excellent Black Utopia release and decided on a repeat performance for Mythology, although this time we have expanded this into a Round Table format, adding Martien's thoughts.
Once again I have opted to do a track by track précis of the album, looking at the overall flow, as well as some of the individual performances of those now familiar guests and those new to the Sherinian fold. Derek has once again amassed an impressive cast and I was intrigued to see what input Allan Holdsworth, John Sykes and the little known (to me) Steve Stevens might make.
However before I proceed I thought it necessary to clarify a matter that has resulted in a number of "inaccurate" and somewhat widely differing views of a few of the Mythology tracks, which I have noted on the Web including InsideOut and in the reviews section on Derek's site. A mistake in the running order of the tracks from the (promo) CD sleeve, coupled with another on the track listings which can be read in various Media Players etc have caused this. Finally as Mythology is almost entirely instrumental it did take a little sorting, but I believe the track reviews correspond correctly as to those listed on the album.
Day Of The Dead continues Derek's progression to the darker and heavier side as the opening of this piece sees Messrs Sherinian, Wylde, Franklin and Tichy laying down some of the heaviest music I've heard on his solo albums. The chugging riff is accompanied by solo sections and choral interludes. What on earth is Allan Holdsworth going to play over this, I wondered? I needn't have worried as at the three minute mark the track slows in tempo and moves to a more atmospheric passage. Holdsworth's unique and fluid playing just oozes class as it flows over this section, followed by a brief but classy Sherinian solo. The pace is once again picked up and my original question is now answered as Allan plays another tingly solo, this time over surely what is the heaviest backing he has encountered. Two more solo sections follow firstly by Derek and the outtro is taken by Holdsworth. Now I am conscious that reading over this section that Day Of The Dead may just sound like an eight minute track with the sole purpose of playing solos - however this is not so. Although on my first listening I did feel that the tempo changes were a bit abrupt subsequent listenings have shown great depth in the writing of the instrumental backing, which is always engaging as it weaves in and out of the music and those transitions became less of an issue.
One of the great discoveries for me on this release was Steve Stevens whose work I have probably heard but certainly nothing that has stood out as it does here. The first of three tracks featuring his playing is the Jeff Beck inspired Alpha Burst. This is great track from the opening bars with Derek's pumping keys - leaping into action with Simon Phillips grooving drums - complimented by Tony Franklin's fretless bass work - with the cherry on top of the cake being Mr Stevens. I have always been of the opinion that very few players have ever captured the essence of Jeff Beck's unique style - Steve Stevens now joins that elite few. I recently caught Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer in concert and the "Question & Answer" soloing on this track reminded of the concert - Alpha Burst would not have been out of place on that evening !
God Of War brings John Sykes to the party with a thunderous rocker - the title suggests it all. After the slower opening the music picks up with a great feel to it, nicely offset by the catchy staccato guitar motif by John. Derek takes the first mini solo section with a somewhat aggressive guitar like tonality to it, which then moves into the slower mid section instrumental break by John - again a melodic solo before the track returns to the more up-tempo rocky opening.
For an album to flow and sustain interest it needs "resting points" and after the first three tracks I really thought that proceedings need to come down. The obvious choice would be a ballad, however a much better choice would be the excellent El Flamingo Suave - lightweight in comparison to the previous tracks but without the drop in tempo and with a great lilting groove. Steve Stevens again comes to the party with his flamenco style playing. The whole aura surrounding this track reminded me of one of Derek's previous guests from Black Utopia, notably one Al Di Meola.
The "ballad" for the album has to be Goin' To Church with it's gospel type organ opening, I was half expecting Joe Cocker to launch into song, but not so. I have heard countless similar tracks with richly melodic solos on them and you might think I would have tired of the format, however this is another superb example evoking the expression "you can't beat a good song". Well you can't beat a good instrumental either and the guitar playing is wonderful. I don't have the words to touch the beauty and emotion the flows from Steve Lukather's guitar here. He is a remarkable player.
The jewel in Mythology's crown has to be the wonderful One Way Or The Other - jazz/rock fusion at its very best - it would be worth buying this CD just for this piece alone. Fast, furious, amazingly tight and held superbly together by Simon Phillips busy "in the pocket" drumming and the very impressive bass playing of Rufus Philpot. Add to this the interaction between Derek's keys and Jerry Goodman's fluid violin lines. What more could you want? Perhaps a great solo from Allan Holdsworth - well, it has that too. If you don't buy this CD - you'll never know!
After all that has gone on before it would be nigh on impossible to maintain this standard or to push it up further. So with Trojan Horse, a fairly straightforward rocker that pays tribute to Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads - think of a manic version of Hot For Teacher (minus the vocals of course), the album comes down to earth. I have to say this track didn't do much for me although the mid-section riff is interesting and as are the solos.
On Derek's site he mentions that A View From The Sky could well "have been an outtake" from one of Jeff Beck's early solo albums, it certainly could - one of those gentler tracks that builds and builds. Rhodes piano lays the early foundation for the guitar melody. Once again Steve Stevens nicely captures Jeff's style whilst adding enough of his own to make this another strong tune from the album. Personally I would have put this track after One Way Or The Other.
The final cut from Mythology, is the smouldering stomper, The River Song and is the only vocal offering on the album (or in fact the only vocal performance on any of Derek's solo work). This is a heavy, riff orientated piece bringing thoughts of early Black Sabbath, with the vocal melody following the main guitar riff.
Mythology follows on nicely from where Black Utopia left off, which in turn served as a fitting sequel to Inertia. Having fully digested all three albums I have to conclude that Derek's music seems to be shifting towards the heavier side. Not that this is bad thing - merely an observation. As I remarked on the review of Black Utopia - it seems odd that I have mentioned so little of Derek Sherinian. Well his playing is superb throughout and once again I take my hat off to the man for not dominating the album with his own abilities but allowing the gathered ensemble to make great music.
Derek's fourth solo album hits the stores in early November and I can say that it maybe (or better probably) is his best CD so far. After playing with Kiss (Alive 3), Alice Cooper, Dream Theater, Platypus, Malmsteen and of course his own band Planet X, he comes up with a brilliant keyboard album. But you cannot just enjoy howling and screaming keys of Derek - this CD also features a lot of heavy and fast guitar stuff. Derek only settled for the best as he asked Zakk Wylde (Ozzy), Allan Holdsworth, Steve Lukather (Toto) and John Sykes (Blue Murder, Thin Lizzy) to contribute to Mythology with marvellous guitar picking. Just listen to the amazing opener Day Of The Dead, which is filled with great riffs, magical solos and wonderful melodies; but most of all you can say about this track that it rocks like hell! The perfect opening song for this album and when you hear Derek using and "abusing" his keyboards I wonder why this guy ever left (or had to leave??) Dream Theater.
His solos are fast, heavy and most of all very melodic, and that is why his solos on this CD remind me very strongly of the neo classical music of a band like Time Requiem, featuring Richard Anderson as the keyboard wizard there. Alpha Burst has an almost Dream Theater like melody, an awesome guitar solo and some Liquid Tension influences, while the next song God Of War kicks off extremely heavy with staccato guitar riffs and in the middle you can experience an actual guitar/keyboard duel. El Flamingo Suave shows funky, jazzy and Latin musical themes; the acoustic guitar and the "vocals" make this track the odd one out.
Goin' To Church is a real guitar track; a song with a mind-boggling melody, heavenly solos, in other words, the absolute goose bum song on this album. Should I go on, or have I already convinced you that you should buy this CD directly? If, not, check out the rest of the album by yourself and find out that Derek has done it again, but then even better than before. Mythology is one of the best instrumental prog metal albums I have heard in a long time. For those of you out there who already enjoyed the last Jordan Rudess album, there is only one advice: buy this album now! If you still have doubts because of my "subjective" review, just listen to the opener and you will only want to hear more, and more, and more ...
Since leaving Dream Theater Derek Sherinian has been churning out an album a year, always alternating his solo output with that of his band Planet X. After last year's excellent Black Utopia I had actually expected a Planet X album this year, but instead we are treated with yet another great solo outing. Thankfully, I might add, because though I equally like his solo work and his work with Planet X, I had the feeling that on the last Planet X album the output had gone a bit stale, while Derek's solo work has been sounding as fresh as ever.
Once again surrounded by a superb supporting cast - this time consisting Allan Holdsworth, Steve Stevens, John Sykes, Jerry Goodman, as well as regular collaborators Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, Brian Tichy, Simon Phillips and Tony Franklin - Sherinian has managed to find a perfect balance between the heavy fusion metal and more lighthearted and fun stuff. After mega-heavy tracks like Day Of The Dead and God Of War, you can be sure he changes course 180 degrees to a flamenco rhumba like El Flamenco Suave, or a gospel piano/guitar ballad: Goin' To Church.
El Flamenco Suave may well be my favourite on this album, just for its sheer weirdness. A rap/scat-like vocal intro giving way to an acoustic flamenco guitar piece, which sounds a lot like a soundtrack to a movie set on a Caribbean island. Fun in every possible sense of the word.
The album continues in similar format, alternating the heavy rock fest with more mellow or light-hearted pieces. And so after the beautiful ballad style of Goin' To Church you get what is probably the most difficult song on the album One Way Or The Other, on which is perhaps the most difficult track to digest on the album. Jerry Goodman of the Mahavishnu Orchestra battles out a great violin/guitar duel with Allan Holdsworth. A class piece of songwriting, especially when you consider that these two people have not been in the same room together recording this piece. One Way Or The Other also demonstrates that thing I so respect of Derek Sherinian: though he is a keyboardplayer and this is a solo album bearing his name, he has no problem letting the other musicians shine while taking the back-seat himself, providing only the necessary backdrop.
Other than a Wakeman or even a Rudess, Sherinian doesn't necessarily feel the need to incorporate a keyboardsolo at least once every ten bars. And that, my dear readers, that is songwriting.
Naturally there are also plenty occasions on the album where Sherinian does front in pretty much every single bar that is played. Both Alpha Burst and Trojan Horse are tracks where Sherinian just plays solo upon solo, though even here there is plenty room for the many guitarists to shine too.
Album closer The River Song is another fun track, which also happens to be the first ever vocal track Derek Sherinian wrote. According to Sherinian it happened incidentally when Zakk Wylde just burst out singing in the studio, and Sherinian liked it so much that he incorporated it into a song. Both Wylde's singing and his guitarplay have the distinct Southern flavour (Southern US, that is) and to me the song reminds me of the work of Moby, in the way that the vocal lines (only a handful really) are incorporated into an otherwise instrumental track.
With three home-runs under his belt already, there is just no stopping Derek Sherinian. Mythology is a worthy addition to his expanding discography and a must have to any fan of the genre. If you don't know the work of Sherinian yet, and if you do like the work of The Liquid Tension Experiment, for example, but also, say, instrumental passages from Dream Theater songs from the time Sherinian was still in that band (best examples Trial Of Tears and Lines In The Sand) then you should definitely check this one out (and the previous three, of course). Thou shalt not be disappointed!