If you are looking for a new dose of classically influenced (and perhaps even Spanish guitar influenced) instrumental metal then look no further than Hess's second opus, Opus 2. This is a fabulous album, demonstrating some beautiful guitar playing, whether in speed mode ("Nexuses," "Kingdoms") or in a more lyrical and light mode ("What Could Have Been…And What Is Not," "Beyond The Brink"), where in both I hear a hint of a Steve Howe influence (especially in the first) in some of the fluid lines Mike Walsh, or a track with a little of both (the monster highlight track "The Cynic, The Sad, and The Fallen"). Hess are comprised of the twin lead guitars of Tom Hess and Mike Walsh, bass of Mark Carozza, and drums and percussion of Scott Hess. Proof that this was intended to be a guitar centric album – and it is – comes in the liner notes, where who's playing when is carefully documented. Of course, since neither Mark nor Scott are trading off parts with another (though with one another as the composition demands), there isn't a need to point out that it's Mark playing in this section, Scott in another. What ranks this among the better guitar-centric instrumental album is that Hess compose songs – music with texture, shadings, balance, a direction – rather just 5 minutes or so of guitar flash – though both guitarists can run up and down the fretboard with amazing speed and agility, and fluidity. All the marks of a guitar hero, and Hess has two of 'em. "What Could Have Been…" features a bit of a country twang at times midway through, but it isn't "cheaply" done and seems a natural direction for the piece. It's one of those that should be a classic. In fact, most… all… of the album fits in that category. It's the kind of album that lends itself nicely to studied listening, as there is something telling in each note, and actually far more so than if there were a vocalist expressing the emotions and ideas. Here they paint a more precise picture, with much detail.
What holds it all together, giving these guitar flights of fancy some grounding are Carozza and Scott Hess. They may not be out front, playing the lead, but their foundation is solid. And Carozza isn't merely vibrating strings, as a close listen reveals that he's playing some very interesting progressions that help shade and provide texture to what Tom Hess and Walsh are playing over. Each do get their moments out front, most noticeably on the album's closing track, the thundering "Waves Of Far Reaching" (live, I'd imagine this what'd they play to lead into extended solos). And, it is they that kick this album into gear with the heavy "Nexuses," a track that brings to mind Dream Theater, Planet X, Symphony X, and host of others and yet not something I can pin down precisely. The addition of – rather, the return of -- Scott Hess on drums, replacing Chris Dowgun from the last album, gives Hess the band a much tighter feel, and with a separate bassist in Carozza (it was Tom Hess on Opus 1), it gives band a more interactive feel, allowing Tom to focus more on his guitar parts.
Walsh's keening guitar leads during "The Cynic…" really underscore the "…The Sad…" part of the piece's title, sounding not so much like sad cries by anguished cries, and yet done in a very subtle manner. It's the mellowness that surrounds this moment (and the acoustic guitar textures that bring in added warmth) that draws out the sadness. There's a point just out of the mellower middle section where Tom Hess' guitar tone reminded me the darker tones of David Gilmour during the latter period Pink Floyd (Momentary Lapse of Reason-period). The only thing that doesn't work for me are the intertwining leads that close out "The Cynic…." While the "top layer" lead guitar sounds wonderful, I find the "bottom layer" lead guitar just a little whiney in contrast. But it is otherwise a beautifully constructed track.
Wow. That's all I thought each time I played this. Great, great stuff. And work has already begun on Opus 3!