It has been five years since Moon Babies came out, and it would be wise to say it’s been worth the wait. Instrumental rock, metal and fusion project Planet X are back. Driven by keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drum god Virgil Donati, their new album sees them returning to the composition-based style of Planet X and Universe, more so than its predecessor, which relied more heavily on mindblowing instrumental prowess.
Without doubt, the biggest plus of Quantum is that Allan Holdsworth appears on two tracks. Unfortunately, because of scheduling commitments, he could not do the whole album, but fear not, for another amazing guitarist, Brett Garsed, has returned to the fold, filling the songs with amazing chops and his unique legato phrasings. As most will remember, it was Garsed who played on the very first Derek Sherinian album Planet X, which still ranks as most fans’ favourites. Both Garsed and Holdsworth are known for their unmatched legato-style playing, backed by killer tone and amazing solos. The two Holdsworth pieces, “Desert Girl” and “The Thinking Stone”, are wildly improvised. “Desert Girl” starts out with nice symphonic keyboards and a beautiful piano melody before it picks up pace thanks to Donati’s funky playing. It then launches into a fantastic improvised passage, highlighting Holdsworth’s talents. Surprisingly, the song is also quite heavy compared to stuff we’ve come to expect from Holdsworth’s solo material, so it’s a much welcome change. “The Thinking Stone” has also some cool tribal drum beats and the guitar playing is mindblowing.
The band tests heavier waters on “Matrix Gate”, one of their most complex pieces on this disc, blending busy rhythms with groove-inflected drum and bass battery. Brett Garsed particularly comes to the fore on “Space Foam”, punctuated by simmering synths and big bass. Considering his timing and sense of melody, it is a shame he is still yet to be discovered by the masses. Anything with Garsed rules, so be sure to check out his solo material as well. The atmospheric colouring of “Snuff” and the playful “Kingdom of Dreams” demonstrate how such busy and complex numbers can be turned into relatively easy listens thanks to Sherinian’s keyboard acrobatics. On bass, both Jimmy Johnson and Rufus Philbot (Al Di Meola) do a great job. The bass is loud and central on pretty much every track, and complements the tunes perfectly. As for Donati, the drum solo on the final track is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Those kick drums are phenomenal.
Quantum is going to be one of the best instrumental discs of the year. Period.