BERND STEIDL - "PAGANINIANA" (SHRAPNEL)
In 1992, I got a CD entitled "Ominous Guitarists from the Unknown". It was, basically, a sampler containing various Shrapnel recording artists that hadn't yet risen to fame (unlike the Friedmans, Beckers, Gilberts, Tafollas, etc.). It contained tracks by, among many others, Todd Duane and Ron Thal, as well as a German by the name of Bernd Steidl who managed to coax from his acoustic guitar licks and solos I had hitherto only heard (and indeed so far only considered possible) on electric guitars. I simply had to check this out, which I did by buying his debut, "Psycho Acoustic Overture". The CD contained no electric guitars, and the speed and awesome technique just about literally blew me away. I contacted Bernd, interviewed him, then he moved, I moved, and we lost touch.
A few weeks ago I was surfing the net trying to find out what had happened to this acoustic guitar progidy. As it turned out, there was now an official web site, he'd done a lot of teaching stuff, and indeed he had released a new album (released in 2001, in fact, but I still considered it worthy of inclusion here). I immediately decided to buy it. This I had to hear. Getting it through his web site was too much of a hassle (no online ordering, for one), so I got it at CD Now.
The first impression, a very short track called "Hrx", put me on the wrong foot a bit. Had Bernd joined the American Head Charge school of minimalistic music? The bit of guitar in this track sounds like I could have done it. And, let me tell you, I am not in any way as prodigious a guitar player as Mr. Steidl. I don't think there have every been people, in fact, who have found it necessary to use the word "prodigy" or "prodigious" in the same sentence as my name, unless it was firmly entwined with a negatory particle (such as, indeed, "not" or "never").
The rest of the tracks deserve a new paragraph in order for them not to be in the vicinity of any potentially negative opinions (or, indeed, references to yours truly). Because tracks 2 and up really prove that Bernd Steidl may conceivable be He Who Plays The Acoustic Guitar Most Brilliantly In The Known Universe (And Possibly Beyond). I can't help it, when my ears get this kind of brilliant input my mind cannot do anything other than concoct these worship-like descriptions. Be that as it may, track 2 and up display the kind of Bernd Steidl guitar wizardry I expected. "Made in Germany", despite the title, sounds very Spanish. After that follow a selection of tracks harking back to different styles. A few of the tracks are guitar transcriptions of things by Paganini and Albinoni. These sound amazing - I really didn't think this kind of thing could be done on an acoustic guitar. I'd heard similar things done on an electric guitar and that had already been jaw-droppingly impressive, but the acoustic versions are in a different technical ball park altogether. The Albinoni-based track will be recognized by most guitar fans as Yngwie's "Icarus Dream Suite", but then Yngwie did "forget" to quote his influences on that particular album. Bernd turns out also to be a talented pianist, most evident in his rendition of a a piece by Scriabin in the track of the same name. The remaining tracks are more in the vein of the things you could hear on "Psycho Acoustic Overture", such as "Dreams" and "Infinity". "White Nights" has a theme that had me wondering for hours, seemingly Parkinson-ridden, why it sounded so damn familiar...until I suddenly recalled it seems to be based Vangelis "Bladerunner" end title theme. I wonder if that was intentional or not. After the short "Hrx", only "Apocalypse" is not quite what I had expected - it's a bit too repetitive to my taste. The CD draws to a close with "European Heaven", which is a good track, but the ending is rather sudden: One moment you're in acoustic guitar, um, heaven, and literally the next moment the CD has ended abruptly.
In Germany, the CD is available as "Burnt Steel". The tracks are ordered differently and it includes extra tracks - "Cobra", "Odyssey" and "The Bunker". It can be bought through the official Bernd Steidl web site (see link below).
It's not metal, and it's not even rock. But no guitar enthusiast worth his salt should be without this album. And, while you're at it, you might as well buy Bernd's even more impressive debut, which you can find by clicking here :-)
Click here to check out or buy this CD
Written April 2002
Go to the Official Bernd Steidl site
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