Opus 2, the long awaited follow-up to Hess’s highly acclaimed Opus 1 is finally here. Opus 2 features a slightly altered line-up with Scott Hess taking over the drum throne and Mark Carozza handling bass duties. As with Opus 1, Hess features both Tom Hess and Mike Walsh playing guitar. Both are indisputable electric guitar virtuosos with a style and tone all of their own.
'Hess' is also a very well educated band, so it would seem, they have 6 music degrees between them! They play progressive, instrumental, neo-classical metal/shred, with lots of melody, emotion, and excellent backing musicians and orchestrations. Hess’s influences vary from Baroque and Romantic composers like Bach and Chopin to neo-classical shredders such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker and Marty Friedman, to the progressive metal giants known as Dream Theater. There are some definite improvements in the recording quality from Opus 1, and Hess has no doubt grown musically over the three year composition process of this album, so read on to find out more about it.
Opus 2 starts off with a bang with 'Nexuses'. This song seems to change moods a lot, with the chugging metal rhythm part sharing the focus with the lead guitar during the faster sections, and fading into the orchestral background for the slower sections, although it disappears occasionally to allow the orchestral background to be heard clearly during some of Mike Walsh’s solos. Thanks to the itemized solos in the CD booklet, you can easily tell who is soloing at all times, and it seems that the mood of the song changes seamlessly every time Tom and Mike trade places soloing.
The second track of Opus 2 differs from the first in that it has no rhythm guitar whatsoever. This shifts more of the focus to the drums and bass, which do well under the scrutiny. The drums stay interesting with occasional kick drum fills. The bass stays very melodic throughout the track while supplying all the low end and not interfering with the lead guitar’s melodies. That said, the lead guitar is still the main focus of the song. Both of Hess’s guitarists playing are excellent, featuring a good balance of jaw dropping technique and emotional melody. The best part of their soloing to me, seems to be their ability to keep their playing lyrical and melodic without it getting boring, and even their fast lines are catchy.
This song features some cool metal rhythm guitar and acoustic background guitar. I don’t think I would be too far off the mark if I said this tune has some progressive time signatures in it. The Metal rhythm guitar is very heavy, fairly fast, and very exciting. The lead guitar’s rhythm stays similar to the rhythm guitar except when they sneak in an amazingly fast speed lick, which never seems to sound out of place.
The tune slows down a couple of times and allows you to hear more of Hess’s soulful playing, and some arpeggiated acoustic chords in the background.
This tune rocks hard with heavy and interesting drums, and cool rhythm guitar at the start but it goes soft for a large part of the song, featuring Mike Walsh with a couple soulful delay tinged solos (with nothing but acoustic strumming and the orchestral background). After Mike’s first solo comes a completely orchestral section, followed by another solo by Mike and an awesome emotional acoustic solo by Tom.
Then the rest of the band and the metal rhythm comes back in and Tom solos until finally Mike joins him in a richly harmonized duel solo at the end, featuring some subtle counterpoint harmony. All of their solos in this tune are very emotional and interesting, and the rest of the band is great as well, including the orchestral keyboard/sequenced parts. Overall, this 7:37 second song seems like a 3:00 one, I guess time flies when you are listening to Hess.
This is definitely one of the slower, softer tracks on Opus 2. The background consist of both the orchestral sequences/keyboard, and some acoustic and clean guitar arpeggios, slow drums, and slow melodic bass playing. The distorted rhythm guitar only adds a couple power chords occasionally to the mix. Their clean soloing is wonderfully melodic and unpredictable, with a great “watery” clean guitar tone that reminds me of Jason Becker’s clean tone during his song “Altitudes”. Some of the clean soloing also has very interesting phrasing as well, which reminds me a little of Allan Holdsworth, the way he tries to emulate a saxophone. The few overdriven electric guitar solos add a fiery passion to the song that keeps it interesting for it’s entire 6:31 seconds.
Tom’s overdriven solo at 3:50 and Mike’s at 5:18 showcase more of their chops then the rest of the tune but the main feature of their solos is still the lyrical melody.
There is a lot of fast guitar shredding on this tune, but once again, it never take precedence over melody and never gets boring. In fact, most of their fast playing is as memorable and catchy as their slower melodies. This track also features a few fast, exotic sounding harmonized solos, which are really interesting.
Another thing I noticed is that Tom and Mike’s guitar tones are undeniably recognizable from each other but they still blend well for harmonies. Tom once again proves his sweep-picking prowess with several stunning arpeggio sequences, which start at the 2:15 minute mark.
This track features both exotic sounding harmony solos which remind me of Cacophony, and more natural, epic sounding harmonies which almost sound like vintage Iron Maiden (but faster). Both Tom and Mike’s individual solos are top notch as too. Scott Hess’s drumming is very heavy as well, featuring some cool double bass fills and rhythms.
This is one of the more consistently heavy tracks on the album. One of the main focuses of it is the very heavy and interesting drums and rhythm guitar, while the orchestral background seems to hold them together. Mike’s first guitar solo interacts very well with the rhythm guitar’s riffing, while Tom’s solo seems to soar above it. Tom takes advantage of the faster tempo with some insane shredding and huge bends and vibrato. Mike’s last solo is very interesting and unpredictable and is followed by a short acoustic guitar finale.
Beyond The Brink
The title of this tune made me wonder if it was in any way related to “On the Brink”, my favorite track off of Opus 1. I was not disappointed.
Beyond the Brink features a lot of acoustic and clean guitar playing, both in the background and taking occasional leads. There is a lot of trading between clean/acoustic soloing and overdriven electric soloing.
I find that the clean and acoustic guitar soloing makes you relax and strain your ears to hear every note, so that when the overdriven guitar solo comes in it really jars you emotionally. Overall, this is a very emotional and climatic song, with lots of “magic moments” as Jason Becker would call them.
Waves Of Far Reaching
This track features one of the faster rhythm sections on the albums. Scott Hess keeps it heavy with the double bass drums and drum rolls, while the rhythm guitar fast and heavy for the faster parts. Overall I would say this tune is very progressive and rhythm focused.
Overall I would have to say Opus 2 has lived up to my expectations. That is saying a lot considering that I have been waiting for this album ever since I got Opus 1, some time before I started this website. This album features some of the best progressive, instrumental, neo-classical shred music in existence.
Both Tom Hess and Mike Walsh have their own tone and style, and a great sense of melody and phrasing, besides having some of the best chops around, and the ability to integrate them into the music. Hess’s song structure is very good too, with lots of mood changes and climaxes throughout his songs.
Scott Hess’s drumming is heavy and progressive, just the way I like it. Also, I think the drums were recorded or mixed better for this album because they sound much more natural then on Opus 1.
Mark Carozza’s bass playing is often melodic and interesting, while always supplying the low end of the mix.
Since Mike Walsh’s tone is significantly different then Tom’s on this album, it is even easier to tell their solos apart. Another bonus is that the solos are listed in the CD booklet so you can be absolutely sure who is playing each guitar solo.
Influences include: Dream Theater, Symphony X, Yngwie Malmsteen, Jason Becker, Andy LaRocque, Marty Friedman, Fabio Lione, King Diamond, J.S. Bach (1685-1750) Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Henryk Gorecki, and Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849).