Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Album Review: Impellitteri - Venom

One of the things I've never been able to wrap my head around are the neoclassical shredders that came to prominence in the 80s and 90s.  On the one hand, I can see why guitar players would be drawn to those players who can rip up their fretboards with riffs and solos of blinding speed.  It's certainly an impressive skill to have, but a skill is about all it is.  Most of those players, aside from the sheer speed, were not very good as actual musicians.  They could play the hell out of their guitars, but they couldn't write songs, and they couldn't make albums.  Need I point to Yngwie Malmsteen here?

Chris Impellitteri is different than a lot of those players, because he's worked most of his career in a band setting, and with one of the more talented vocalists his brand of power metal has known.  Rob Rock is not just a superior vocalist, but he has grown into a formidable songwriter as he has gotten older.  His solo work with Roy Z stands out as some excellent material.  With the two together again for a new Impellitteri record, the stars have aligned for them to finally reach their potential.

The title tracks leads off the assault with blistering riffs, and Rock's vocals soaring atop the metallic fury.  But the song isn't two disperate elements fighting to work together.  They integrate into a cohesive song, as Rock balances the guitar flourishes with a simple and sticky melody, while Impellitteri's guitar gives chunky heft to Rock's lighter touch.  They strike a balance that is important for any band.

"Venom" is an album that goes for the throat, with ten short bursts of energy, only one of which hits the four minute mark.  That can sometimes make an album feel a bit underdeveloped, but in this case, I would consider it a strength.  The guitar playing is of a style that I would find tiring if it stretched on for nearly an hour.  By keeping the flurries of notes shorter, each song is crafted for maximum punch.

I particularly like the more 80s hard rock style of "We Own The Night", which dials back the aggression just a bit, and gives Rock plenty of room to put a big hook atop the chorus.  From top to bottom, this is the best set of songs I've ever heard from Impellitteri.  Of the ten tracks, the only misstep is "Rise", which pounds away without much of a melody.  "Nightmare" is as chunky through the verses, but it stops and opens up into a gorgeous chorus, which is what the former song should have done as well.

That being said, "Venom" is an album that deserves its praise.  Impellitteri has never impressed me much before, but this album is a tight and focused bunch of songs that knows exactly what it wants to do, and makes no excuses for it.  Impellitteri's guitar work is as fiery and quick as ever, but that's not what makes this work.  He uses his skills to still play songs that have simple enough riffs and grooves, and then Rob Rock makes it all work with his voice and melodies.  If these songs didn't work as simple sing-alongs, it wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable.

Sure, "Venom" is a bit of a short album, and "Time Machine" too blatantly copies some moments of "The Trooper", but it's an album that does shredding guitar proud.  Compared to an album from a similar player like the recent DSG album, "Venom" is a reminder that great players can still make really good albums.

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