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A band Gothic Empire was founded in the year 1994 by the Hess brothers - Tom and Scott. Later on its band's name was changed for Hess to point at composer (like Tom is). Yeah, he is the main pillar in Hess! I treat him very special, because he has a lot to do with Poland. His wife Iwona, is from my homeland. She comes from Krakow (an industrial city in southern Poland on the Vistula river) and caused a few Tom's visits in Warsaw (the capital of Poland), Danzig (a.k.a. Gdansk - a port city of northern Poland on a gulf of the Baltic Sea) and in concentration camp - Auschwitz-Birkenau. The latter place was a Nazi stockade for Jews in southwestern Poland during World War II. I mention it, because of Tom's last name. I'd like to stress that an American has nothing to do with Walther Richard Rudolf Hess who was one of Nazi leaders. Names' convergence is accidental!

Tom is a man from another world. He listens to many music genres, but I'd like to emphasize his interest in Polish classical music, e.g. Frederic Chopin's and Henry Nicholas Gorecki's works. He started to study 19th century piano techniques thanks to them among others. Tom is a graduate from Harper College (Associate of Arts in music theory) and Roosvelt University (Bachelor of Arts in composition). His private music teachers were George Bellas and Jack Wilson. Tom writes special articles for Guitar9 Records, leads guitar clinics and teaches in traditional way and through the Internet. He recorded the guitars, bass and keyboard sequences on the debut. Another guitarist is Mike Walsh who graduated from Harper College (music theory) and Elmhurst College (Bachelor of Arts in music education). You can associate his name with a band Sage. Like Tom, he is also a guitar teacher. The trio was then completed by a drummer - Chris Dowgun.

As you have read, there are two guitarists on "Opus 1", but I want to make this review cleared up. A duo Hess-Walsh isn't as same as duets of Cacophony or Racer X, because two mentioned bands' axemasters have had similar styles - contrary to Hess' instrumentalists. I guess it's the same in HolyHell - a super group in which Tom plays next to a neoclassical virtuoso - Joe Stump.

Music recorded on "Opus 1" was written between the years 1995-1998. There are both classical guitar-oriented tracks and specific classical numbers composed for piano. Tom's idea was to compose the stuff that could be performed by a string trio or orchestra.

I am not disappointed because of string trio's and orchestra's absence here. It turned out that Tom's music had defended itself. Since the first tones of "Explorations" I have known that his music would appeal to me. Hess' and Walsh's progressive lead guitars, atmospheric interludes, electric-acoustic fragments and a musical portrait of "revitalizing nature" leave no doubts. The heaviest track is turned to be "On The Brink" that is stuffed with progressive riffs by both guitarists. But my favorite composition is the most melodic one - "Lydian Speaks". As far as "Empire" goes, all these furious accelerations and emotional retardations following them act on senses very intensely. As an interesting fact, I can mention that "Queen Of Me" was composed during one day only! This track isn't worse than the rest ones as regards artistic level, and it just goes to show that all Hess' musicians are professionals.

Summing up a brief review of "Opus 1", I'd like to make a division concerning both guitarists' styles. Progressive components make me think of Michael Romeo's playing, however neoclassical gambits - of George Bellas' guitar manner (e.g. "Homage"). When I listen to a mentioned track (especially its accelerations) and "Golden Colloseum", I get to remind of magicians of Cacophony and particularly instrumental feats by Jason Becker and Marty Friedman. I am very pleased with such exemplars' choice by Hess' musicians. I'd like to add that the main factor of Hess' music is a contrast of mood - best audible in a guitar voices' exchanges. Here we won't hear a distinct differences between Hess' and Walsh's guitar styles, since they used similar equipment at the studio. I can own up I am enough sensitive to such a music and always feel spiritually purified after the listening. Communing with Hess' music is, as one track points out, like a journey "Through Space and Time". If you are open to musical diversity oscillating between shredding, romantic and film music, and if you aren't afraid of an mixture of virtuoso progressive rock & cinematic neoclassical metal, let's start searching for this CD to hear velvety tones out of your loudspeakers!

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