Opus 2 by Tom Hess’s band, HESS, is quite an achievement. While Tom, in the album’s liner notes, talks of the pieces being " autobiographical in their expression of personal thoughts, emotions, ideas, events, regrets and desires…" it’s hard not to be in awe of it simply from a technical standpoint. This band can play.
The ten songs that comprise Opus 2 are more dialogue than anything else, conversations between the guitars of Tom Hess and musical partner Mike Walsh. Nexuses opens the CD with a jolt, and gives you a pretty good idea that you’re in for a fascinating and thrilling ride. The solos start out stately and get blisteringly fast in a hurry. And before you can catch your breath, Kingdoms carries you off on another flurry of guitar lines and driving rhythms.
And speaking of rhythms, Tom’s masterful use of different timings in his compositions is sometimes deliberately jarring, often catching the listener totally off guard. But then, in pieces such as Into The Pinnacle (featuring some incredibly lovely harmony work by Tom and Mike) and The Cynic, The Sad, and The Fallen, he creates marvelous juxtapositions of tone and styles, crunching one moment, lyrically pastoral the next.
While there is certainly a lot of technical skill on display here, there is also emotion and plenty of it. The haunting melody lines of What Could Have Been…And What Is Not… and the artful call and response of leave no doubt of the melancholy, hopes, sadness and joy that lie behind and bolster the artistry of the two guitarists.
Mark Carozza’s bass playing, while overshadowed at times, does a great job of holding things together, especially on pieces like Through The Trials, Behold, and Stained, the latter two pieces also demonstrating how well Mark and drummer/percussionist Scott Hess manage to provide a perfect place for Tom and Mike to spar. It’s almost like watching a sword fight being performed atop a moving bullet train, with Mark and Scott being the train!
Beyond The Brink and Waves Of Far Reaching close the CD in style, recapping many of the earlier stylistic and thematic motifs. All in all, Opus 2 is an exhilarating experience. I can’t wait for Opus 3.