To be honest, and perhaps I should be ashamed to admit it, I bought this album because it has Yngwie Malmsteen guesting on three tracks. Derek Sherinian is one of the two former keyboard players of Dream Theater, who played on "Falling Into Infinity" (to many fans their weakest album) and the live album after that. He was OK, but his style was not as fitting to the music of Dream Theater as his predecessor's (Kevin Moore) or their current player (Jordan Rudess). Arguably, though, Derek is more versatile. He's played with Kiss and Alice Cooper, and last year toured South America with Yngwie Malmsteen. No doubt I am not aware of the true extent of his employers, but I hope to have made my point nonetheless.

"Black Utopia" seems a collection of tracks more or less custom-written for a variety of guest musicians. The Yngwie tracks (one of them funnily called "The Fury") are very Yngwie-like. I have to say Yngwie's playing on these tracks (in particular on "The Sons of Anu", which also features guest acoustic guitar by al DiMeola) is better than on his recent few albums.

Other guest musicians are Zakk Wylde, Tony Franklin (all fretless bass), Billy Sheehan (all 'regular' bass), Steve Lukather and Simon Phillips (all drums). An interesting mix, which reflects on the music. "Black Utopia" makes for a pretty varied listening session. However, said listening session lacks something in the field of heaviness. Throughout the album I get the feeling the drums are too much back in the mix, that everything should have been a bit heavier. Maybe Simon Phillips was too modest a co-producer, who will tell?

"Black Utopia" is an interesting album, however not much more than that. I can imagine most of the Wylde/Malmsteen/Lukather/DiMeola fans turning to file sharing services to download the relevant tracks.



Written April 2003


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