YNGWIE MALMSTEEN - "ALCHEMY" (PONY CANYON)
God has released another album to his faithful disciples who never cease to be ready to be flogged to death by yet another guitar-wanking assault of notes played at mockingly ridiculous high speeds with somehow familiar-sounding scales.
Of course, aforementioned disciples (among which is yours truly) are quite powerless to prevent themselves from purchasing, more or less as if in trance, whatever their god decides to commit to vinyl, tape, paper, video, or compact disc. Slaves to the power of neoclassical shred, they drool from their limply opened orifices, holding one hand palm-up while parting with some dosh.
For years, these disciples have chanted and prayed for their god - not just their god, but a god to the whole world of guitar - to harken back to his roots, to do more instrumentals, to not make any concessions where album sales are concerned. In short: The shred his fingers to, um, shreds, to fire his singer and generally do what he does best (besides simply being god): Play The Guitar More Brilliantly And Faster Than Anyone In The Western Spiral Arm Of The Known Galaxy (And Beyond).
God uttered a shril cry of...of...something or other, after which he released upon his Faithful Followers "Alchemy", his heaviest and most indulgent album since his debut, "Rising Force" (15 years hence, doesn't time fly when you're having fun?). Unfortunately he hasn't fired his singer, in fact he's hired old friend Mark Boals whom we know from some of his earliest albums. But, thank god, I mean, Yngwie, there are no true ballads and the album offers a fair amount of instrumentals for slaves of shred, discliples of strings and adorers of the ground Yngwie's walked on, to salivate over. Clocking at almost 70 minutes, so Yngwie extollers will be immensely pleased to notice, there's a sufficient amount of it, too.
All irony and other perfectly valid sentiments when talking about Yngwie aside, has he delivered? Is "Alchemy" the shred/neoclassical lovers' wet dream they expected?
"Blitzkrieg" certainly whets the appetite for much more - an intense instrumental with some amazingly fast twin electric/acoustic guitar runs. It's trademark Yngwie, of course, but that's what we've come to expect from him. And do his disciples mind? I think not. From "Leonardo" onwards it is quickly evident that indeed Yngwie seems not to have listened much to record company executives' wishes, not anyway if these includes the presence of ballads or songs otherwise with the name "April" in them. There's plenty of balls'n'chunks throughout most of the tracks, especially in "Playing with Fire", the somehow familiar sounding "Stand (The)", "Hangar 18, Area 51" and the sonic brick, the 7+ minute stomper "Voodoo Nights" (not at all like the song from his early Swedish demos, that ended up as "Rising Force" on "Odyssey"). "Daemon Dance (7,405,926)" has some Hellhammer-style (the band, not the drummer) drumming at start, Malmsteen doing death metal vocals in the background. Despite the way this must sound, it isn't half bad. Climax of the album is the three-piece track "Asylum", which is completely crazy and, using Malmsteen's own words, "more challenging than 'Far Beyond the Sun'". I believe him. Good thing is that we actually get to hear Mats Olausson, who seems to be stuck playing filler chords on keyboard throughout most of the rest of the album - what happened to the guitar/keys duets of yore? The third part, "III - Quantum Leap", also showcases John Macaluso's excellent drumming abilities, similarly withheld everywhere else on the album.
The Japanese version has a bonus track that will rank among the least impressive so far: "God is God". I don't know what to read in the title, but the song itself is a drum-heavy (drumcomputer?) track with delayed vocals (partly/wholly from "Disciples of Hell" - "incantations/burning candles/human sacrifice") and fading away without much of a conclusion after about three minutes. Just get the 'regular' version of the album, is my advice.
"Yngwie always does more of the same," his main critics say. I can't say anything against it. "Alchemy" is primarily made up of stuff you've heard before, or at least stuff remarkably similar. I wonder myself how the hell Yngwie distinguishes the solos he plays, it's all just "flick into the highest gear and do x minutes of wild shred into A/C/E major/minor/whatever". It's clever, it's technically flawless, his tone is perfect, the scales are immaculate. On "Alchemy", the main thing is that the 'x' factor is a bit longer: Basically boiling down to more minutes of Yngwie-type shred. But don't you, at the end of a working day, want to cuddle the same loved one you've cuddled before? Don't you want your life to have a certain well-known feel to it, like slipping in a pair of snugly fitting sneakers, more comfortable than the new, expensive office shoes you bought a few days ago? For those who want safety, not a lot of surprises, and who are (like all Japanese, so it seems) deeply appreciative of technical virtuosity, Yngwie delivers time and again.
And after god had delivered His Latest unto his disciples, unbeknownst to the ignorant masses, he beheld their heads and lo! they didst bob and hark! their satisfied moans and cries of ecstasy, and happy seemeth they as playeth did their fingers the Air Guitars and closeth did their eyes whilst listening to The One And Only Notes.
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Written November 1999
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