House of Shred (USA)
by Kevin Ryan
Guitarist Tom Hess' twelve track debut album, Opus 1, showcases some of the cleanest soloing I've heard on an independent release in quite some time. Hess' natural ability is apparent throughout this instrumental journey, as is that of the second guitarist here, Mike Walsh. Hess also handles bass and keyboards on the album, and Chris Dowgun does a very respectable job banging the skins, although in some spots it would have been nice if the mix brought out the drum sound just a bit more.
The opening track, appropriately named "Exploration," really highlights Hess' versatility as a guitarist and as a songwriter, as he takes the track through neoclassical, rock, fusion, and progressive themes. The end result is one of the more sonically interesting instrumental guitar tracks that I've heard recently. The second song, "Homage," would seem to be a tribute to most or all of Hess' musical influences listed in the liner notes: George Bellas, J.S. Bach, Yngwie Malmsteen, Andy LaRocque, Jason Becker, Fabio Lione, Marty Friedman, King Diamond (not sure I'd recognize a tribute to King Diamond without those vocals!), Johannes Brahms, Dream Theater, and Fryderyk Chopin. It's an amalgamation of styles, but boy does it work!
Other highlights include: the 6 minute, 28 second long "Lydian Speaks," which has some awesome tug-at-your-heart guitar passages — it is a very beautiful song; "Imperial," a heavy, Dream Theater-meets-classic Metallica prog-metal rocker which ends somewhat abruptly (Mastering error? Or possibly my player?); "Through Space And Time," a galactic prog-rock track with some jazz/fusion elements and some interesting odd meter; "Golden Colloseum," which features some interesting guitar harmonies; and the sensual "Queen of Me," which has some cool acoustic playing and a nice jazz beat.
Opus 1 has some great, rocking songs to get you going during those long morning commutes, but it also has a soft side. Overall, a great CD for laying on the couch, with eyes closed and headphones on (or speakers blasting) and recharging the mental batteries. Tom Hess has released a killer debut, and I cannot wait to hear what he comes up with next! Fans of instrumental guitar and of progressive or neoclassical music should definitely buy this one.
Shred Pick - "Imperial" (4:08)