Tuesday, 24 May 2011
GLEN DROVER - Metalusion
Glen Drover will be best known as having been the guitarist with King Diamond and Megadeth, as well as having been a touring member of Testament. As its title suggests, Drover’s solo debut moves away from the purist metal stylings of his previous employment and into a world of metal guitar meets jazz-rock fusion. With a selection of guest performers, Drover offers five original cuts and also puts his mark on tunes by Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and the legendary Frank Zappa, often with mixed results.
The rather aggressive ‘Ground Zero’ works its main riff around some decent staccato work with a tune which is closer to jazz fusion than metal. Things soon fall apart when the lead guitar section presents itself. The main bulk of the number features furious (and often ugly) three-way showboating between Drover and his featured guests - in this case, UFO’s Vinnie Moore and sometime Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland. While guitarists may marvel at the level of metallic fretboard wankery on show from the three performers, for anyone else, it’s not always so interesting. While some guitar instrumental stuff is great, for non-musicians the best stuff is often about tunes as opposed to flashiness – and if it’s a tune you want, you won’t find it here. The second half works slightly better once the guitars settle into chorus style harmonies (overlaid by a busy piano, courtesy of Saga’s Jim Gilmour), but overall, it’s hard work. ‘Egyptian Danza’ (originally by Al Di Meola) opens with a superb, eastern sounding riff, it’s off-kilter jazz rock qualities bring out the best in Drover’s guitar style. With a slightly edgy style, Drover weaves a riff that’s jazzy in a progressive metal way, his occasional use of whammy bar adding extra interest. This would have make for an okay track alone, but the middle section is rather more interesting. With a soft, clean guitar tone, Drover plays a busier eastern sounding motif, which gets faster as it goes building excitement and a little tension. Chris Sutherland’s complex drum part alternates rock and jazz, occasionally settling for a playful shuffle. While Drover’s playing is more aggressive in places than Di Meola’s original work, the end result is great, demonstrating a clear understanding of the piece’s intended mood.
That’s more than can be said for his take on a couple of Zappa tunes. While it could be argued that it takes a very brave rock musician to take on the works of Zappa, Drover’s often metallic approach to his instrument kills both the Zappa pieces almost instantly. A minute’s worth of ‘The Purple Lagoon’ (used as an intro) takes cheeky fusion style of the original, takes one of its riffs and then hammers it into a heavy metal stupor, before Drover launches into a particularly uninspired, heavy-handed take on ‘Filthy Habits’. The dual guitar parts are ugly and the widdly-widdly (technical term) parts are even worse. It’s only by the time we get a couple of minutes in things start improving, but even then, any improvement is slight. Obviously, Zappa had a very unique style which it would’ve been wrong for Drover to attempt to copy, but one would suspect that Zappa would not necessarily approve of this jazz-rock freakout being overlaid by very metallic soloing. The keyboard laden free-form section which closes the original is reproduced here in an uninteresting manner; while Jim Gilmour is a great musician, his keyboard skills are a world away from those of George Duke. Since much of Drover’s chosen guitar tone seems far better suited to metal as opposed to jazz fusion, Jean-Luc Ponty’s ‘Don’t Let The World Pass You By’ could have easily suffered the same ham-fisted approach. However, the piece is ultimately saved by a blanket of keyboards from Gilmour and a staggering bass part courtesy of Paul Yee. Throughout most of the number, the bass lays down interesting, busy funk lines which never fall short of amazing. Even the crystal clear rhythm guitars work well within the arrangement; however, once Drover and Opeth’s Fredrik Akesson exchange showy guitar leads, it suffers the same fate as ‘Ground Zero’ in that it’s often just too much to take in. A take on Ponty’s ‘Mirage’ is preferable thanks to an easier melody, but once again, the subtleties of Ponty’s 1977 original are often lost here.
The self-penned ‘Colors of Infinity’ presents the best side of Drover’s playing. A much cleaner tone and use of vibrato lends plenty of atmospherics on a number which, in places, hints at Gary Moore’s mid-eighties work. He still has a tendency to lean towards metallic playing in places (but then, that’s his forte), but in all, the softer side presented here makes far more interesting listening. Just as you think you know how the rest of the piece will sound, Drover throws in a jazz-funk-metal refrain over the mid-section which at first throws the listener off a little; he then returns to a more standard rock arrangement where multi-tracked guitars provide some great chorus sounding work. The layers of keyboards and off-kilter rhythms driving ‘Illusions of Starlight’ are a dead ringer for Dream Theater’s softer, more accessible works; Drover appears very comfortable playing in a progressive metal style and while the sweeping notes get overtaken by showmanship on occasion, the six minute piece makes fairly smooth listening. A special mention must go to Saga’s Jim Gilmour guesting on keyboards here; he provides some great atmospheric accompaniment throughout.
In general, Drover’s metal-fusion works well on most of his own compositions; these are tunes which, naturally, are very sympathetic to his playing style. Bringing the metal aspect of his playing to numbers by Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Zappa doesn’t always seem appropriate – the heavy guitar style smothers the quirkiness which should be found within the works of two highly original composers. With that in mind, it’s hugely surprising Drover managed to capture such a good performance of Al Di Meola’s ‘Egyptian Danza’, but even so, it’s certainly one of this album’s standouts. Despite help from the aforementioned guests (plus Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis and Forbidden’s Steve Smyth), ‘Metalusion’ is a hit and miss affair, and one which may have been stronger if more of Drover’s own compositions had been included.