Sunday, April 8, 2018

Album Review: Gus G - Fearless

There are things about the world I will never understand. One of them is how Gus G has become one of the biggest names in the world of guitar. He's someone who has a main band that has one great album under their belt ("The Premonition" - although even that is marred by a cover of the 80s hit "Maniac"), and who never wrote a single song during his time playing with Ozzy. Looking at his career, it baffles me that he has become as widely known as he has, especially since the last Firewind album was incredibly boring to me.

However, when the first taste of this new solo album came out, I was ready to buy in again. Gus and veteran singer/songwriter/bassist/producer Dennis Ward formed a power trio whose first single, "Letting Go", sounded to my ears like what the best Ozzy album of this millennium possibly could. It was dark, heavy, groovy, and totally melodic when it came time for a hook. I was more than ready to believe Gus had finally found the right niche for his playing.

That Ozzy feeling is hard to escape. Aside from the fact that the album sounds completely like a modern Ozzy record would, as filtered through Gus' style, "Mr. Manson" lyrically would fall into line with "Mr. Crowley". Aside from whether writing about Charles Manson is in good taste, it might be a bit too obvious a wink and nod.

The last time I heard Dennis Ward, on his most recent album with Khymera, he was a solid AOR style singer. Here, he sounds completely different, adding more sinister tones and grit to his voice, nailing exactly what this music needs. I didn't know he had this in him, and it's impressive to see him have that kind of range. Choosing him as the singer, as opposed to a revolving door of guests, certainly went a long way to making "Fearless" the album it is.

What I find a bit odd about the record is that for eight of the ten songs, Gus plays things rather tame, fitting in as a part of the larger song. Then, there's the title track and "Thrill Of The Chase", which are instrumentals that feature Gus throwing in his classical and shredding talents. They're the tracks you would most expect from a guitar player's solo album, but they do sound a bit out of place among a collection of modern rock songs like this.

When they stick to the formula of making modern (radio?) rock, "Fearless" works. Songs like "Chances" and "Letting Go" are the kind of tracks that outstrip everything on the charts. They have just enough heaviness, melody, and flashy soloing to strike a winning balance. "Money For Nothing" might be completely out-of-date with its lyrics mentioning playing guitar on MTV, but the song itself is definitely enjoyable.

The thing about "Fearless" is that, like a lot of albums made by guitar players who are at the forefront, it asks listeners to be fans of more than one thing at a time. We have here a combination of heavy modern rock and flashy neo-classical tinged instrumentals. I'll be honest here; I've never been a fan of instrumental music, because most rock and metal instrumentals lack the structure to make them feel like true songs. Because of that, having two on this record does dampen my enthusiasm a bit.

However, the rest of "Fearless" is really good for its aim. I certainly enjoy this more than anything Gus has done since that little run with Firewind what seems like ages ago now. Gus has stepped up his game here from both his last solo album, and from Firewind's last outing. That's nice to see, because as his name continues to grow, getting better along with it is the right recipe for sustaining it. "Fearless" is a good step in that direction.

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