Friday 27 November 2020

Waqas Ahmed - Doomsday Astronaut (2020)

Country: Romania
Style: Shred/Progressive Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 14 Nov 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

I don't review many shred albums, but here's one that does a bit more than just showcase how nimble the fingers of the lead guitarist happen to be. This is worth listening to from the usual standpoint of admiring virtuoso technique, but it seems like it also wants to be listened to just as music, and I feel that it does a little more than usual on that front. This elevates Waqas Ahmed past the norm, even if he's not up there with Tony MacAlpine and Vinnie Moore yet.

He's based in Sibiu, Romania, where he works as a guitar teacher, but he hails from Lahore, Pakistan, a combination that surprises me but hey, why not? Unless there's a burgeoning Pakistani community of musicians in Sibiu, I'm guessing that this album was recorded remotely, with the various musicians in different places, as the other names credited don't look remotely Romanian. To be fair, the backing is primarily there for Ahmed to solo over rather than jam with, but most songs seem to feature at least a little of both.

The style is progressive metal, played at a mid to fast pace, and everyone settles in for the flow. Many songs give the illusion of motion, as if the music is a river and they're just telling us in musical terms what the rapids are like. Given the titles, I doubt that was particularly intended, but it's there anyway, even on songs that bring in electronic decoration, like The Great Impostor or Supremacy. Both turn a little more abrasive, but they still sound like flows to me, even if they happen to be of molten iron or lava rather than water.

I'd have liked a little more slower material but Aniroc, at the heart of the album, and Blue Lemonade, towards the end, will have to do. The former is a slower and softer piece compared to the majority of the album and it highlights how smooth Ahmed's guitar tone can be, even if it powers up at points to roar rather than ooze. There's more dynamic play on this one too, with a quiet moment in the middle for solo piano and hints of strings, before Ahmed takes the helm again. As much as I enjoy the frantic opener, Arise Temujin, Aniroc is surely my favourite here and I wish there had been more tracks in this sort of vein.

Blue Lemonade is even softer but it takes a very different tack. I think it works really well for Ahmed, who gets to showcase another side of his playing, but I wasn't as thrilled with the rest of the "band", because the tinny electronic drums sound really cheap and the R&B stylings don't seem to fit. There's a demo after it to close out the album and, while the production is lesser quality than the album as a whole, the style of the backing fits Ahmed's guitar much better.

I feel odd calling out a different style of backing as a negative, as what else I'd have liked that I didn't find here pretty much at all is an ethnic flavour. After all, Ahmed is a Pakistani living in Romania; he's surely heard a lot of very different music, but there's a distinct lack of world music here. Outside the hand drums opening The Great Impostor, I can't place any.

And that's fine, because it clearly wasn't something Ahmed wanted to explore here, but this is still an instrumental metal album with guitar front and centre, so texture is an important factor. If he wants to be heard outside a niche world of guitar students, varying those textures is crucial and elements of world music would have made this a lot more accessible than it is. It's good stuff for sure but its hints at wanting to fill more than just one niche don't really pan out.

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