This is at once the easiest and one of the trickiest reviews that I've written thus far at Apocalypse Later. On one hand, if you like what Gus G does with Firewind or whoever else, then you're going to like this. It's that simple. On the other hand, it's hard to quite get a grip on what he does here, because it isn't always what we might expect.
For a start, it's an instrumental album, so presumably a lot more like his debut solo effort, Guitar Master from 2001, than his other albums under his own name, which feature a succession of guest vocalists and other musicians. However, there is a band here, even if nobody's specifically listed in that way: a drummer, a bassist and a keyboardist, who play across the entire album, which lends it a consistent feel. The only actual guest in the sense we tend to understand is fellow guitar wizard Vinnie Moore on the final track, Force Majeure.
For another, even though the feel is consistent and I wouldn't hesitate to call it heavy metal from a grand standpoint, it drops clearly into hard rock territory rather often. Sure, there's a whole lot of shredding going on and it fits well alongside the eighties instrumental shred albums that were everywhere at one point in time, but it often feels older, like Gus peeled solos off old masters and laid them over new backing that obviously benefits from 21st century production values.
Sure, a song like Fierce reminds most obviously of Slayer, even though it's never quite that heavy, but Not Forgotten brings both Def Leppard and Gary Moore to mind. The latter shows up as often as the expected Uli Jon Roth to my ears, Enigma of Life a neat take on both. One of my favourites here is Chronosthesia, which mixes modern djenty palm muting with seventies styles of rock music like prog and jazz fusion. It's a fascinating mix. Judgement Day may feel most recent in stylistic terms.
Averaging everything out, I'd say that there's more eighties than anything else. Night Driver may be the most overtly eighties piece here, because it's smooth and backed with music that could be lifted from an electronic rock movie soundtrack. However, there's Iron Maiden on a few tracks like Force Majeure and Quantum Leap. It's there right out of the gate on the former, but recognisable on the latter, with sections clearly inspired by Flight of Icarus and Flash of the Blade.
And, for a third, for all the soloing that Gus G contributes, these feel more like songs than they do flights of instrumental fancy. The riffs are strong and serve as great bedrock, but there are quite a few sections where they're what the songs are all about. I never felt at any point like the vocals were missing, as if this was meant to be a vocal album and the vocalist just didn't show up, so Gus G went ahead and released the instrumental version. But, every time I listen through again, I find that thought rattling around my brain again.
And that leaves me thinking that while this isn't a lesser album because of its lack of voice, it's not outside the realms of possibility that it could be elevated with them. That's an odd thought for an instrumental album, but it abides. Everything here sounds great, but it may not sound complete. But hey, if you like what Gus G does with Firewind or whoever else, then you're going to like this. It remains that simple.