By what criteria do you rate a progressive rock fusion album on steroids? If I was rating this merely on musical skill on display, it would have to be 5 stars.
Yes, there is mind-blowing technical prowess on display throughout this album and I laugh at the the sheer audacity of what these musicians present with finesse. I am sure Vinnie and Simon Phillips are grateful they were not invited to play drums on the opening track – for drummers out there – listen with caution – as Virgil kicks serious poly-rhythmic butt! Complexity that most rock drummers wouldn’t comprehend, and if this isn’t enough wait for the double-pedal speed kick in the final track’s extended drum extravaganza!
This progressive drumming master class never abates and as much I believed it was Virgil who keeps the excitement going through their live album I hesitantly suggest that there are just too many time changes on every single track and that his compositional style weakens this album. I would have thought that Derek Sherinian, as the awesome keyboardist he is, would have surely been able to at least share 50% of the compositional credits. I would have preferred a variety of compositional styles as the repeated minor motifs that appear in nearly all the tracks make this almost repetitious towards the second half of the album. [Hence my initial award of 3 stars].
The second track is the highlight for me and the very different piano approach in the opening bars with the unmistakable touch of Holdsworth’s shimmering chords is wonderful. His solo is like most if not all Allan’s work – unmistakable tone, breath taking speed and beauty. It is indeed a loss that instead of playing on the whole album, Holdsworth contributes only here and on track 4 with another master solo over an impeccable Donati groove (I loved the openness and space here).
What I did note was how similar Derek’s keyboard solos sound to Holdsworth; indeed even Garsed’s guitaring had tone and approach that approximated the ‘noodling’ of Holdsworth. One can’t help but think what might have been. That’s not to say that Brett Garsed’s playing is lacking; on the contrary I believe that with not much notice he came to the rescue and pulled out some amazing playing. One does sense though that overall this album is more keyboard dominant and that rhythm guitaring in particular was lacking or so close to the keybooard mix that it’s not noticeable.
The track ‘Poland’ has grown on me with each listen and ends with Sherinian’s keyboard providing an alien soundscape including dolphin-like cries over which is there is a great Jimmy Johnson bass solo. This stands out as a beacon of melodic light from the dark sheets of keyboard and at times muddy bottom end that permeate through the album.
[UPDATED PARAGRAPH-December 2008: When I initially wrote this 3 star review I stated that I wasn't emotionally engaged and that perhaps with time this album would grow on me. Well it certainly has. A year later and I regularly play this album - the 'Alien Hip Hop' opening track is now one of my favourite hard fusion/prog metal tracks of my collection. I'd now give the album 4 stars.]
The production and musical standards are high – even the packaging and great cover art make you hold this CD with anticipation and appreciation.
This all instrumental album – a hybrid between Dream Theater meets Return to forever on steriods, establishes the unique Planet X style. In spite of some criticism, if you like intense frenetic rock fusion, then you’ll enjoy the ride.