Oh boy, are you folks in for a treat come this April. As if there hasn't been enough smoking hot Planet X releases in the past couple of years, keyboard wiz Derek Sherinian is ready to unload another instrumental solo album filled with loads of intense metal fusion. Joining Derek is a stellar cast of musicians, including guitarists Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, Al DiMeola, Steve Lukather, and Brian Tichy, bassists Billy Sheehan and Tony Franklin, drummer Simon Phillips, and violin player Jerry Goodman. Sounds like a shred fest is on the menu doesn't it? Well, that, and then some!
After the brief opening interlude called "The Fury", which features a majestic classical tinged solo from Malmsteen, the listener is assaulted by the raging sounds of "The Sons of Anu", a blistering cut that is simply breathtaking. Yngwie Malmsteen unleashes perhaps his most impressive solo in years here, while Sherinian complements him with his cosmic synth lines. Just to make things interesting, once Malmsteen and Sherinian back away, DiMeola and his fleet nylon string guitar come in for a peek, then he switches to his electric for a stunning duel with Sherinian that is like an outake from Electric Gypsy. Malmsteen, not one to be left out, then rampages back into the mix for some savage barbs with the keyboard maestro, and from nowhere comes Billy Sheenan and his monstrous bass runs, who pulls everyone together for a rousing, complex finale that is a total mindblower.
One might be a bit dizzy after that, but there is much more. "Nightmare Cinema" is a crushing metal dirge, led by Zakk Wylde and his screaming, heavy guitar riffs. Add vocals to this one and it could easily fit on the next Black Label Society album. Wylde and Sherinian trade insane solos dripping with distortion and wah-wah, while Phillips and Franklin hold down a heavy groove. The melodic "Stony Days" slows things up a bit, and is a home for Lukather's intense emotional guitar breaks and Franklin's slippery fretless bass grooves, while the same musicians tackle a cover of the Jan Hammer/Jeff Beck classic "StarCycle." Sherinian and Lukather play the Hammer/Beck parts pefectly, turning this fusion classic into a modern day hard rock masterpiece.
Another heavy number, "Axis of Evil" is up next, this one started off by some sinister guitar riffs from Malmsteen and Wylde that eventually leads to the two of them virtually exploding with some mind-bending solos. Sherinian, with his electric piano and various synths, mellow things out a bit, before the two guitarists come rampaging back in for a fabulous battle with the keyboard player. Add in a brief but impressive violin solo from former Mahavishnu Orchestra member Goodman and a manic spot from Phillips, and you have another tune that will leave you breathless. "Gypsy Moth" is an all-too-fleeting classical piece featuring DiMeola and Goodman accompanied by Sherinian's gentle piano and Franklin's yearning bass lines. Simply stunning in its beauty, I wish it was longer. The same can be said for the emotional rocker "Sweet Lament", highlighted by the sweet melodies of Lukather, proving why he is regarded as one of the best guitarists in the world. The CD ends with the progressive metal bombast of "Black Utopia", layered with crunchy riffs from Wylde, virtuoso bass from Sheehan, and lightning synth blasts from Sherinian.
Derek Sherinian, either solo or with Planet X, has released so much high quality stuff in the last few years that I forget most of the time that he even recorded with Dream Theater in the mid-90's. Black Utopia is a blistering release of lethal metal, fusion, and prog rock, and my early pick for instrumental album of 2003.