Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 9 Jan 2020
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I know very little about Andy's Game, but I like much of what I hear on this album. The Andy of the name is Andreas Chatzimanolis, who goes by Hatchma, a name he also gave to his studio. I can't find a website but it looks like he teaches guitar and composes for others on a freelance basis. It might not be too surprising that it took six years for him to finish this album, as I bet it was done in spare moments as time and money allowed.
While the name suggests a band, it's almost entirely a solo effort. He wrote everything; sang and played most of the instruments himself (with one guest, Thomas Andreou on drums); and produced and engineered the album too. I would think that's why we can actually hear all those instruments. It's easy for a mixer to hide the bass player but when the guy playing the bass is doing the mixing, it's audible.
Andy didn't grab me immediately. The weakest aspect is surely his vocals and the opening track, The Battle of Navarino, starts out as a vocal track. Only as it runs on does the solid riff really settle into our bones, the bass add a solemn note to proceedings and the guitar get really interesting, firstly with a surprising folky section, then with some fancy stuff and finally with a solid solo. I wasn't on board at the beginning of the track but I was when it ended.
For all those little fancy guitar moments, this isn't a show-off album. The best thing about it may be that this guitar teacher isn't just hitting every note on the instrument like he's the next greatest shredder celebrity, he's happy to showcase just what a guitar can do. He builds these songs from the ground up with riffs then adds in whatever else will work for the material. I admire his restraint as much as his talent.
I also admire his variety, though some of that may be due in part to the six year recording process. It's within the bounds of possibility that he saw a debut solo album as a great opportunity to perform a collection of songs in the styles of his idols. Never Say Die sounds like Deep Purple from its very first note and Silver Lights kicks off like a radio friendly Van Halen song, even if it becomes more of an upbeat Demon number. As they run on, they all become Andy's Game songs, though, as his voice doesn't follow the emulation.
Only one is an actual cover version, Ditch Queen being the Frank Marino song from his Juggernaut solo album in 1982, and I think it's a better, livelier and sleazier version than John Norum's. It's a real showcase for his bluesy guitar talent too. Other songs do feel familiar though, even if I'm unable to place them. Digital Wormhole isn't a cover, but it burrowed into my brain and made me think that I'd heard it before. It's a real grower of a track, starting out feeling a little empty but evolving into what might be my favourite song on the album.
It's as hard to place in time as anything here, though Hard Night is surely the epitome of that. Like many of these songs, it feels like something from the early eighties, when the NWOBHM was transitioning into something not so revolutionary. The vocals feel like they're from a working class punk who's evolving his sound into metal. And there's a solid seventies rock riff that feels highly reminiscent of Jimmy Page.
I believe Andy is Greek and his studio is somewhere in Greece, most of this is in English and he's entirely fluent. One song, however, the quirkier and more playful E.C.P. Ye, is in Greek so I have no idea what it's about. It's yet another different sound for the album, with keyboards that lend a world flavour to proceedings.
I'd love to read an interview with Andy Chatzimanolis to discover the roots of this album and why it sounds the way it does. Until I find one, I'll just sit back and listen to the whole thing again. It's at once so consistent and yet so varied in style. I like it. I even got used to his voice by the third or fourth time through!