Screaming Shadows guitarist Francesco Marras’s debut solo album has enough dazzling shredding and a sense of spontaneity to gives it crossover appeal to Vai, Malmsteen and Satriani fans. But you sense that the triumvirate’s collective musical palette has already moved on in search of more inventive ways to showcase their own thrilling talents.
Francesco’s speed, intensity and invention mark him out as a serious contender in the world of guitar heroes, but his incendiary style of guitar led instrumental rock comes perilously close to being one dimensional.
‘Black Sheep’ is a relentless album played by a driven musician who even in his quieter moments barely provides enough light and shade to draw attention to some of his breathtaking playing. Sure there are some stunning, jaw dropping moments as Marras shreds his way though 11 tracks but by the half way mark the listener is in danger of suffering fatigue syndrome.
This is an album full of kaleidoscopic tonal colours, swooping unison guitar lines, melodic arcs punctuated by spiralling solos and shaped by Raphael Saini’s thunderous drums. At times Francesco feels like he’s chasing his own tail. And yet the best moments are worth waiting for, such as the speed shredding, Purple style rocking of ‘Elvis’ and the contrasting melodic dual guitar lines of ‘Miriam’, on which he places more emphasis on tone than technique..
The wistful melody of ‘Hope For Tomorrow’ just manages to rise above the pulverising drums and whammy bar madness, as Francesco successfully evokes the thematic title.
He barely pauses for breath in between the flat out rocking and frenzied finish of ‘Straight to Victory’, while ‘Here To Stay’ is possible a statement of his intent to explore more intense shredding as he makes his guitar sound like a bagpipe.
At times it’s hard to tell who is pushing who. The restless guitar interplay pursues one direction after another and is pushed to the limit by a rumbling rhythm section. The band’s consistent focus and brusque attack is some times blunted by the bulldozer effect of an avalanche of notes.
The aptly titled ‘Running Round In Circles’ provides ‘Black Sheep’ with its most effective riff, while deep at the heart of the closing ‘Sardinia’, there’s a bluesy Gary Moore theme struggling to get out. A momentary pause in the middle of the song brings a rich sounding guitar break to the front of the mix as if to restate the theme.
‘Black Sheep’ is full of frisson inducing guitar playing with real passion and spontaneity. The next step forward for Francesco might be to learn from his contemporaries who have stepped outside of the immediate metal/instrumental rock market to find a wider context for their sizzling playing. *** (3/5)
Review by Pete Feenstra
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