The Alchemists II - Review
Original Author: InstruMental Case
Artist: Various Artits
Album: The Alchemists II
Genre: Instrumental guitar
The Alchemists II is the newest release from Matt Williams’ Liquid Note Records; one of the hottest instrumental guitar-oriented labels to emerge in recent years. The first Alchemists was a two-disc compilation album released in 2002, and is widely considered to be one of the best collections of underground virtuoso guitarists ever conceived. Needless to say, hopes were very high for the Alchemists II, and I’ll tell you right now, the album surpasses its predecessor in every way! The most noticeable difference between the first Alchemists and TAII is that there are not one, but TWO fantastic guitarists on every track. Not the mention, nearly every song is exclusive to TAII (Dave Martone did release “Fumble Fingers” on his newest album, but TAII sports a different version of the song). This album features a solid balance of new names and old favorites, including: Doug Doppler, Dave Martone, Brett Garsed, Richard Hallebeek, Bumblefoot, Christophe Godin, and Terry Syrek. Quite an impressive list if you ask me, and if you haven’t heard these guys before then you’re in for a huge treat! So let’s jump right into it…
Unruly Elements - Chris Brooks Ft. Joe Chawki
Chris Brooks’ intro lead effectively opens the can of whoop ass that is The Alchemists II. After the opening, the drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and keyboards (all handled by Brooks) begin to kick in, and the song quickly picks up momentum. Then comes the blistering leads by Chris and featured guest soloist Joe Chawki, in the left and right channels respectively. The channel separation is a nice bonus, but both players already have their own distinguishable voices on the instrument. Having never heard Chris' solo album, “The Master Plan”, I was pleasantly surprised by his energetic style. Joe is probably the lesser known of the two, but I was already familiar with his playing after hearing some of his music online. Joe is definitely starting to make more of a name for himself, and it’s great to hear him in full force on this track. Both players’ leads really compliment each other in a way that is not very common, and the strong melodies do a great job of holding it all together. I hope the two of them collaborate again in the future, because they sound like such a solid duo.
“I named the track ‘Unruly Elements’ because of the totally unrestrained nature of the leads.”
-- Chris Brooks
One Legged Chicken - Pascal Vigné Ft. Christophe Godin
French guitar player Pascal Vigné is something of a new name to much of the instrumental guitar community. He just released his debut solo album, “Extremely Instrumental”, under the name “Triple FX” (an instrumental power-trio), and he’s already working on a follow-up. Fortunately while recording “One Legged Chicken”, Pascal thought to invite fellow Vigier guitars artist / crazed Frenchman Christophe Godin along for the ride. This song could be described as country meets kartoon metal… or you could just call it total madness! The solos definitely take on a life of their own, and Pascal’s background vocals and clapping help give the song its special sense of humor. Triple FX drummer Gaël Feret’s upbeat playing keeps the song rolling fast, and even at four and a half minutes it’s over far too soon for me!
"So I decided to compose an entire song on the spur of the moment and as I started recording it, I kept hearing a voice in my head: 'Christophe Godin! Christophe Godin!' Christophe is an amazing musician and character, completely nuts and gifted. He has humour in everyday life and you can feel it whenever you watch him play. He immediately accepted to play on the song and went crazy on it. The result reflects the atmosphere of that particular moment: we just had fun."
-- Pascal Vigné
Threehundredpointtwentyone - Terry Syrek Ft. Bumblefoot
Having previously heard Syrek’s Aum album, I wasn’t at all surprised to find that “Threehundredpointtwentyone” is the heaviest song of all on The Alchemists II. This track has some fantastic elements… an atmospheric opening, Meshuggah reminiscent rhythms, insane double bass fills by drummer Greg Kalember, and exotic leads by Syrek that bring everyone from Marty Friedman to Brett Garsed to mind. Bumblefoot’s solo compliments Terry’s playing quite nicely and it provides some extra flair for the second half of this seven minute long seizure-inducing song.
“‘Threehundredpointtwentyone’ was written specifically for The Alchemists II, all the guitar fans out there and all the hot chicks that are totally into guitar geek music in odd time and can’t help but dance all night to this stuff.”
-- Terry Syrek
Under The Influence - Antti Kotikoski Ft. Richard Hallebeek
Written in 1994 by Finnish fusion guitarist and Musicians Institute instructor Antti Kotikoski, “Under the Influence” is so progressive it could still sound fresh in another ten years from now! Recorded over two years in everywhere from Los Angeles to Amsterdam to Tampere, Finland, this track was definitely an international effort. However, this isn’t the first time Antti has teamed up with Dutch jazz/rock-fusion virtuoso Richard Hallebeek. The two first met at the Musician's Institute in Hollywood when they were both studying there during the mid-90’s. They ended up recording a couple albums together, the first, entitled “Generator”, featured notable guests such as Frank Gambale and Scott Henderson, and was released on Mark Varney’s Legato label. If I’m not mistaken, “Under the Influence” marks the first time the duo has released something together since the album “No respect in '98”, but their improvisations gel just as well as ever. I especially enjoyed bassist Jaan Wessman, whose playing brooded in the background and gave the song an extra dimension in my mind. This track also has some very interesting guitar synth soloing by Hallebeek. According to Kotikoski’s website, a “Generator 2” is in the works, so it looks as if this isn’t the last time we’ll hear the duo together!
Space Antz - Carlos Creator Ft. Robert Rodrigo
This was my first time hearing both Carlos and Robert, but I could immediately tell why they were picked for the Alchemists II. “Space Antz” is a really dynamite song with a futuristic upbeat funk style that’s a lot of fun to listen to. Inexperienced listeners tend to compare every new virtuoso instrumental guitarist they hear to the only few they’re truly familiar with: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and/or Yngwie Malmsteen, so I typically avoid those comparisons, but I must admit that I was definitely picking up some Satch-vibes on this track. Carlos explained in the liner notes that the general atmosphere was influenced by film soundtracks. Although… it would have to be one crazy film to have this kinda stuff as the background music!
Stratosphere - William Stravato Ft. Brett Garsed
Melodic rock-fusion by Italian axe-master William Stravato, featuring one of my personal all-time favorite players, Brett Garsed. The two toured Italy together last year, and they’re nothing short of a match made in heaven on this track. Both guitarists are immediately recognizable, because even though they play in a similar style, their unique phrasing always sets them apart. The song takes a major departure around the four minute mark, adopting a much more aggressive sound that keeps the listener guessing until the very end. As far as rock-fusion guitar music goes, it doesn’t get much better than Garsed and Stravato!
"I wanted to have my friend Brett as partner in this project because we've known each other for a long time and I already knew he was the right person to express the idea of the eternal struggle of the human being between good and evil… Hope you’ll have fun listenin’ to it."
-- William Stravato
At Last - Stefan Rosqvist Ft. Bo Eriksson
This is one of the most memorable and accessible songs on the album, due to the sweet sounding slide, lapsteel, and steel guitar melodies. This was my first time hearing Bo Eriksson, and his playing succeeded in catching my interest and getting me excited to hear more. I was already familiar with Rosqvist from listening to his music on Myspace, but it was great to finally hear him on such a high quality production. This is a good one to play for friends who might normally turn their noses up at your guitar geek music.
“When I went into the studio to record the drums we still didn’t have a melody for this song. It became our ‘leftover’ song without a melody! I tried and I tried, but I couldn’t come up with any good melody lines. Then Bo Eriksson came along and recorded his beautiful steel guitar parts. He gave me a great melodic hook for the song and it turned out really good!”
-- Stefan Rosqvist
Alright, so there's my breakdown of half of the Alchemists II. I'll leave it up to you to come up with your own conclusions about the second half. This is one of the most original compilations to come around in a very long time, and a ton of effort and care clearly went into making it, so do yourself a favor and check it out!