Virtuoso guitarist Joe Stump has released several solo albums as well as band-type albums with a vocalist. The latter includes "Reign of Terror" (released under his own artist name in 1996) and "Second Coming" (as Joe Stump's Reign of Terror, 1997). Now, a third album had been added in the form of "Sacred Ground" (as Reign of Terror). The biggest difference is the vocalist. Brian Sarvela and Brian Troch never really appealed much to me, but with Michael Vescera singing there's a definite improvement.

Musically, you pretty much get what you'd expect from a neoclassical guitar player like Joe Stump. The album could have been an Yngwie Malmsteen one, with the difference that the guitars seem to be more distorted and there's no keyboards to speak of. Joe Stump plays the usual barrage of chops, relenting only when there's singing going on. I couldn't help but notice that several guitar segments reminded me perhaps a bit too much of things I've heard before: other Joe Stump albums, a bit of Malmsteen here, a bit of Blackmore there. It doesn't actually bug me because everyone knows Joe Stump cites these two as one of his main influences. Maybe it's just the scales he uses, I don't know enough about music theory for that.

Most of the songs are up-tempo rockers, such as "Save Me", the excellent title tune, the heavy "Set Us Free" with some good guitar work, "Set us Free" or the cool "Hellbound". Some of the more ballad-type tracks ("The Unknown" and the heavy sounding "Still Holding On"), are well done, too. Besides the aforementioned songs, there's the rough-sounding instrumental "Paganini's Purgatory" and the Spanish-sounding acoustic instrumental "Dante's Danza". "Undercover" has a typical Blackmore riffing thing going on, and there's the logical Rainbow cover, this time "Kill the King".

Production is a bit rougher than you might perhaps desire, but other than that this is another fine album of melodic yet unmistakably neoclassical onslaught.



Written March 2001


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