I’ve been getting into Derek Sherinian’s solo material and Planet X (which he started with drummer Virgil Donati) for about the past four years. I must say I’ve been impressed with most everything he’s done since leaving Dream Theater. He takes progressive rock, metal, jazz fusion and electronic and combines them in unique ways. His keyboard sound and style are somewhat similar to Jan Hammer — however he loves to get the hottest guitar players on earth to solo all over his music, so you only get so many Derek solos per album.
(I refer to this as Derek’s solo material only because I’ve always viewed Planet X as really being a Derek Sherinian solo project. However I’m wrong, because Donati contributed heavily to this album, and he’s the other half of the band. Either way, to me Derek’s solo albums and Planet X are pretty much interchangeable.)
In this case he has Alan Holdsworth and Brett Garsed sitting in on guitar. Holdsworth, who should need no introduction, appears on only a few tracks while Garsed, who is equally superb, handles the bulk of the work.
I think this new release is fantastic, a real solid effort. In fact, I’d take this release over the new Dream Theater hands down. The compositions are creative and unique, the musicianship defies human capability and the engineering is superb.
Unfortunately, at times this also suffers from some of the same pitfalls that plague the genre: that is to say the music becomes so technical at times that it loses its “soul.” And there are times when it just overwhelms you: the first night I was listening to this with the headphones, I had barely made it through track 5 when I had to take a break. The rapid time changes and the endlessly cascading runs of notes just started to confuse my poor brain. I thought, “wow, it’s like the Japanese animation — this stuff could cause a seizure.” It is that super fast paced.
Now, after many more listens, I don’t feel that way as much — now that I’ve come to anticipate what’s coming and to understand what the band is trying to accomplish with each composition. In that sense this music kind of grows on you. But then again I was into the Flower Kings a few years back and now I’m not for some reason. I guess my only complaint is that there are certain passages in the music that are “mechanical” sounding. And at times there seems to be a certain air of pretentiousness, a sense that its “chops for chops’ sake.” (At the same time though I give Planet X with credit for sounding less contrived than Dream Theater or Liquid Tension Experiment.)
Despite these criticisms I still find it really enjoyable, thus I give it four stars. So, if you’re into Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, Transatlantic, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Neal Morse, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani or any of that complex instrumental rock that is oh so indulgent — and you also have a taste for jazz fusion — you’ll probably find this release highly entertaining and well worth the money.