10 March 2009

REVIEW: Derek Sherinian - Molecular Heinosity

Derek Sherinian’s got a pretty heady career when you think about it. The list of musicians he has played with or guested on releases for is pretty impressive. His work includes jobs with Alice Cooper, KISS, Billy Idol, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gilby Clarke, and countless others. One can’t forget his tenure with Dream Theater as well…while he may only appear on one full length studio album (1997’s Falling into Infinity), he also appears on a live album, the classic EP A Change of Seasons, and handled keyboard parts for the tours from Awake through his departure in 1998.

After leaving Dream Theater, his solo career took a front seat, with 6 solo releases wrapped around a quartet of albums with his newest band, Planet X. 2009 sees the release of a new solo effort, the intriguingly titled Molecular Heinosity. Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, it’s a tightly packed blast of intense progressive metal instrumentals (and one vocal track) based around Sherinian’s always impressive keyboard chops.

Sherinian is joined on this latest release by Brian Tichy on drums, replacing frequent collaborator Simon Phillips. Says Sherinian in the press release for the album, “Unfortunately, I was not able to work with Simon Phillips on Molecular Heinosity, sometimes schedules just do not permit. The result has less of the jazz fusion influence that Simon brings, and I was forced to lean more towards my metal side. Molecular Heinosity is more focused than my past releases. This record is more progressive metal.” Zakk Wylde is perhaps the biggest name on this release, adding some guitar as well as offering vocals on album closer “So Far Gone.” Also appearing on Molecular Heinosity are Virgil Donati (Planet X) on drums and Tony Franklin (Whitesnake) on bass.

The album opens with an impressive epic, “Antarctica.” Long time Sherinian listeners know that his first solo album, titled Planet X, opened with a lengthy multi-part epic, and here Sherinian echoes that release with another multi-faceted instrumental composed by Planet X drummer Virgil Donati. This may come closest to the kind of material Planet X fans are most familiar with; while less fusion-based than some of Planet X’s material, it shares a similar complexity and direction toward intricacy. It’s perhaps a bit less powerfully intense than one might think considering Derek’s statement that the release is “more progressive metal,” yet don’t let that fool you…it’s far from unimpressive.

I’m also pretty fond of “Primal Eleven.” The drumming sounds slightly tribal, and even though I’m not great at counting out time, I’m going to assume the title implies the song is in 11. The guitar work is crunchy and filling, Derek’s choice of keyboard patches is enjoyable and keeps things fresh without sounding too tricksy or cute, and the playing is tight and enjoyable throughout. I especially enjoy the guitar solo about 3:30 in…a bit laid back, even with the quicker tapping bits (or is it sweep picking? Probably more sweep picking, just slowed down), over a restrained Sherinian piano line. It’s just sweet sounding…very enjoyable. This may well be my highlight track on this release.

“Molecular Heinosity” is perhaps the most intense workout on the album. Not letting up for a single moment, it is sheer balls to the wall prog metal, with the only respite being brief interludes of martial drumming with chopped guitar and bass. Elsewhere it is simply sheets of sound, single note lines flying from all corners, asking no quarter and taking no prisoners. If you ever used the word heinous to describe something nearly indescribably intense and impressive, then you’ll be using it here.

The album closes with the strangely eerie “So Far Gone.” Zakk Wylde’s vocals come frightenly close to sounding like Ozzy Osbourne, and they fit the song’s title to a T. I admit that I heard the wind and church bells and expected to have them followed by crashing tritone guitar chords a la Black Sabbath, but the cracked vocals and piano that make up the base of this song are almost more suitable. The song doesn’t remain in a single mode, however, and the heavier bits are all the more heavy for being enclosed in quieter piano-based sections. Almost bluesy in a way that only Sherinian could do, the twisted piece is a fitting closer for this release.

It’s a good thing this release is as ‘short’ as it is; I think 60 or 70 minutes of material like this might have almost been too much to bear on a single listen. Derek’s certainly bloomed in the past 10 years, and Molecular Heinosity is a nice way to celebrate 10 years as a solo artist.

01. Antarctica

02. Ascension

03. Primal Eleven

04. Wings Of Insanity

05. Frozen By Fire

06. The Lone Spaniard

07. Molecular Intro

08. Molecular Heinosity

09. So Far Gone

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