Don’t let the silly title of this instrumental guitar album throw you. Shaolin Monks in the Temple of Metal is a serious rock record helmed by one of rock’s unsung guitarists. Rising from the band Death, Floridian Ralph Santolla has played in easy-come, easy-go bands like Eyewitness and Monarch. But he has made a name for himself in some circles with Millenium, a melodic hard rock outfit that has released three albums — including 2000’s Hourglass with singer extraordinaire Jorn Lande.
Part Joe Satriani, part Michael Schenker, part Randy Rhoads and part Jeff Beck, Shaolin Monks in the Temple of Metal is all good. Santolla shreds when he has to, but for the most part, the eight tracks here are melodic, majestic and slick. He effortlessly shifts musical gears, easing from heavy shredding in the first half of opener "Red Baron" into neoclassical soloing in the bridge. Santolla even shows off his keyboard talents at the beginning of the progressive-tinged "Starlight" and at the end of "Echelon."
Backed by a solid rhythm section that gives Santolla his space, the guitarist employs guest players like former Ten axeman Vinny Burns and Dreamtide guitar player Helge Engelke. Santolla also invites the members of Canada’s Emerald Rain (think Harem Scarem meets Dokken) to join him on the moody closer "What Might Have Been." Shaolin Monks in the Temple of Metal is a brief record (34 minutes) that doesn’t wear out its welcome.