Album review: STEVE CICHON – Meltdown

Stephen Andrew Cichon [Release date 03.06.13]

Florida’s prog/fusion guitarist Steve Cichon’s last instrumental album ‘Cranial Feedback’ was notable for its inventive guitar playing, shifting tone colours and vacillating twists and turns. ‘Meltdown’ extends his penchant for relentless guitar pyrotechnics with scintillating shreds full of fusion, prog rock and neo classic influences, alongside psychedelic tinged space rock.

Cichon clearly makes albums on his own terms. He’s not immune to the inevitable Satriani and Vai moments, but his restless imagination and inspired playing takes him into unique musical avenues, with uplifting moments with definitive resolutions and contrastingly dense staccato pieces that work hard to find their coherence.

The album’s inherent but not impenetrable complexity is epitomized by the 40 second long radio collage on the opening cut ‘Traffic Jam’. The fleeting subliminal adverts, programme snippets and momentary blast of primo shredding, acts like a subliminal flash and provides a micro blueprint for the album. ‘Meltdown’ is crammed full of generic music styles that populate a musical landscape comprising interwoven instrumental guitar parts and colourful sounds.

‘Traffic Jam’s juxtaposition of riff driven rock with a drifting jazz tinged piano, muted trumpet squalls and repeated tension building stop-start guitar lines, levers you into a wild ride.

Each track acts like pit stop along the way.  So while the title track has a similar tempo to the outro of ‘Traffic Jam’, the substance is markedly different, as Steve firstly shreds and then launches into a space rock solo which would make Steve Hillage smile, and Satriani nod quietly in appreciation.

Steve’s ability to weave in and out of a melody is in sharp contrast to the stop-start Zappa style density of ‘Manic Meditation’, while the speedy shredding and deep toned notes of ‘Free Fall’ rushes out the speakers like a bursting dam. All that’s really missing is an organic drum sound on a track that incorporates acoustic guitar, restless tempo changes and a descending shred that does its best to evoke the song title.

He delves into speed metal on the double-time intensity and propulsive bass of ‘Creative Destruction’, before some unexpected proggy guitar/organ interplay, which doesn’t so much accord to the titular description as simply reflect his adventurous style and in moment spontaneity.

Things really burn on the last quarter of the album, with ‘New World’ being one of the most interesting pieces. A surprisingly languid, eastern sounding and vaguely bluesy thematic guitar motif, leads to long expansive lines that settle into more Hillage influenced space rock. A sudden Jethro Tull style proggy staccato break is offset by meandering guitar lines that belatedly return us to the opening theme.

Steve really rocks out on the metal influenced ‘Fun House’, on a whammy bar inflected piece that slips into synth bedded rock with chopped up time signatures and stabbed chords. Best of all is the beefed up, slightly distorted solo and Spanish guitar break over gently voiced synths and percussion, which culminates in an exhilarating spacey run.

The magnificent ‘Morphine’ employs a similar tempo to emphasize the interrelationship of the tracks to the album as a whole. It reprises an eastern flavour before exploding into heavy riff driven space rock. It is easily the best produced track and arrangement on the album and might have been better placed as the lead track as it draws the listener into his unique style.

As it is, the whole album resembles a mini suite which works assiduously towards its explosive ending. It’s an album that demands to be listened to in one sitting, as the riffs, melodies and guitar tones envelope you. It’s also a perfect distillation of an imaginative composer with the chops to realize his musical vision.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 4 August 2020.

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