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Caffery, Chris: Pins and Needles

Chris Caffery released his debut solo album Faces / God Damn War in a time when Savatage was on hold and every other member was doing their own thing. He also released an EP after that, and then put out the God Damn War CD again under the W.A.R.P.E.D. title adding in some bonus tracks, one of which featured Jon Oliva.

So Pins & Needles should, in reality, be considered Caffery's second full-length studio album, and a very different one at that. This CD finds Savatage and TSO guitarist experimenting with more different soundscapes, whilst retaining the classic heaviness of his debut. Caffery still sounds a lot like Jon Oliva on some of the songs, such as the title track which kicks off with the great drum rolls of Yael. Her (Yes - it's a she!) drum sound is arguably the finest aspect of this album - full and powerful. The song immediately gains pace and ventures into classic heavy metal territory a la Doctor Butcher, especially with Caffery trying to emulate the Oliva sound. This is immediately followed by "Sixty-Six", which sounds almost like an outtake from the early days of Savatage. It also features a terrific lead solo.

However, the overall flow and direction of this CD is a lot more defined and settled than its predecessor. Caffery has penned songs that have a more distinct vibe happening, with more varied instrumentation and unusual song structures. The Sabbathian and doomy intros of "Torment" and "Walls" are some of his finest riffs on this album. Caff also plays the marching drum section on the former, and it greatly complements the slap bass outro. "Walls" is a lot more experimental though, complete with unorthodox vocal harmonies, busy soundscapes, siren-like guitar rhythms and leads, and even a jazzy interlude. Caff truly showcases how versatile a musician he is by playing drums, percussion, guitars, bass, keyboards, and even the saxophone. "Worms" is a song that begins with weird guitar effects, funky bass, and angry lyrics, but it's the saxophone that diversifies the already complex piece. There are other pieces expanding on this newfound style of Caffery in the form of "Crossed", utilising a vast array of keyboard work, eerie spoken word passages, and an unusually fast-sung second verse.

Former Savatage axeman Alex Skolnick appears on one track as well. "Sad" is another song that features lots of effects and colourful guitar sounds, and Skolnick's wide-ranging tonalities exhibited during the solo are simply tasteful. I was able to tell it before checking the credits actually. "YGBKM" and "Chained" prove to be quite different works as well in that they are both filled with strong vocal harmonies where everything else takes a backseat and allows Caffery to take the lead with just his vocals. The former is a song that evokes "Pisses Me Off" a little, and is supposed to be the abbreviation for "You Gotta Be Fucking Kidding Me", so lots of cursing on this one. However, amidst all that aggression, the shift from heavy to super clean passages is quite interesting. "Chained" is the melodic staple of the record, featuring both bass and drum solos respectively and highlighting Caffery's intense lead playing.

There are also other guests on the CD, one of whom is the operatic vocalist on "The Time", and Ferdy Doenberg on "Metal East", inspired by songs on God Damn War. Doenberg's keyboard solo is sublime and contributes to the overall diversity of the song. The last two songs are just short pieces: "Qualdio" is an entirely acoustic track, and perhaps my favourite part on this disc, while "The Temple", also largely acoustic, provides some tormented backing vocals. There is also a nice bonus track called "Once Upon a Time", which sees Caffery returning to his Doctor Butcher type of material.

Overall, Pins & Needles is a solid album, but like the previous Caffery album, it doesn't quite hold my attention. Both Circle II Circle and Jon Oliva's Pain released new albums last year and I feel they have stronger replay value, the former for Zak Stevens' incredible vocal performance and the latter for pretty much everything. Still the average Caffery fan should love this - there is nothing here that will disappoint them.

Track Listing

  1. Pins & Needles
  2. Sixty-Six
  3. Torment
  4. Walls
  6. Sad
  7. Chained
  8. Worms
  9. Crossed
  10. The Time
  11. Metal East
  12. Qualdio
  13. The Temple

Added: June 12th 2007
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Chris Caffery website
Hits: 4956
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Caffery, Chris: Pins and Needles
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-06-11 18:38:27
My Score:

It's a real shame that Savatage/TSO guitarist Chris Caffery had to wait this long to get his third solo album released here in the USA. His former label Black Lotus Records went belly-up just as he was set to put the finishing touches on Pins and Needles, and now, over a year later, he's at home on Locomotive Records and finally getting this new metal platter into the hands of his loyal US fans. While Pins and Needles is not as immediately satisying as his debut Faces, nor as dark and menacing as W.A.R.P.E.D., this latest release has much more variety than either of those two, which may be a plus or minus depending on your tastes. Caffery's strong guitar skills are once again at the forefront, and he does not fail to impress throughout this CD. You get the feeling that he is still learning the capabilities of his voice, as he tries many different vocal styles on this one, some which work fine, others not quite. The quality of the songs though are what is key, and it's obvious that there's no shortage of metal ideas coming from the Caffery brain these days, and Pins and Needles contains plenty of good ones.

It's very evident from the first few listens here that there's a newfound sense of groove, a reliance on heavier, chunkier riffs, as Caffery seems to be allowing some modern metal influences to sink into his writing, relying less on classic metal elements and opening his music up to new sounds. Listen to the crushing yet tongue in cheek title track, or the groove-laden "66", which is sort of a bizarre 'metalcore meets Frank Zappa meets Faith No More' hybrid. His deliciously evil yet playful vocals on "Reach Out and Torment Again" sound like a head on collision between Alice Cooper and Mike Patton with a dash of Devin Townsend thrown in for good measure, and the heavy riffs and blazing synth passages give the song a nice progressive metal touch. "Walls" works from a musical perspective, but I think Chris tried to get too complex with the vocal layers and different singing styles, as it sounds a tad claustrophobic. It seems like he wanted to go for a gothic rock meets black metal avenue, and it doesn't quite work, but I give him credit for trying it. Oh, and check out the stunning guitar solo on this one, followed by a jazzy electric piano segment-again, the tune as a whole is pretty schitzophrenic and reminds a bit of Devin Townsend's solo work. Balls to the wall, heavy, complex metal thumpers like "Y.G.B.F.K.M." and "It's S-A-D" have a strong Savatage feel to them, and rock hard.

"Chained" has some great hooks (especially the chorus) and impressive guitar harmonies, but some of the vocal lines during the main part of the song sound a little awkward. Caffery throws an assortment of vocal styles at the listener on "WORMS", a real crunchy, groovy rocker that really works on every front. Combining funk with extreme metal, this one is memorable from the get-go, featuring some hot licks and effective vocals. Progressive and power metal fans will love "The Sign of the Crossed", complete with manic drum work and symphonic keyboards, and the CD's melodic potential 'single" is "The Time". Perhaps the highlight of the album is "Mettle Eastern", a real adventurous progressive metal tune featuring violins and cellos and Caffery's devilish vocals, which recall a young Jon Oliva. "In the Midst" sees Caffery indulging in a short classical guitar instrumental, that is sure to please fans of Al DiMeola or Yngwie Malmsteen, and he keeps the acoustic out for the mysterious "Quaaludio". "The Temple" is a brutal metal number, with bone crunching riffs and pounding rhythms, and an almost black metal middle section that just drips with atmosphere and menace. The CD ends with the soaring ballad "Once Upon a Time", which just might be Caffery's most beautiful song to date, but he might have been better off singing it in a less aggressive style. Regardless, it's still a gorgeous piece, and contains a blazing, melodic guitar solo.

There are two bonus tracks here, the 2007 version of "Pisses Me Off" from the Faces album (even more venemous this time around perhaps?) and an alternate take of "The Time". The album as a whole is a varied, dark, and dense affair, that will take multiple listens to really appreciate and understand. There's a lot of material, and while a few songs falter a bit from Caffery trying to do too much vocally, metal fans will find much to like here from this talented and busy musician.

Caffery, Chris: Pins and Needles
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-06-11 09:25:50
My Score:

For many years we have seen all of the different faces that Chris Caffery musically possesses. His level of skills across the wide variety of Metal and Hard Rock genres led him to give us his first solo album appropriately titled Faces which he followed up with God Damn War. Each of these albums and the re-issue of his work with Doctor Butcher set the clear path for him to deliver Pins And Needles, a recording that finds the Savatage/Trans-Siberian guitarist at his heaviest yet. "Pins" is not continuing the experimentation that he first gave us with Faces but instead relies on shredding guitar and thunderous drums to focus more on the Metal side of things. My thoughts are that the fans of his work with both Metalium and Savatage will appreciate the choice to remain heavy as opposed to trying too many different things. The album opens with one of the best numbers I have heard Caffery do and this is the actual title track of "Pins" itself. The drums here are delivered by the talented Yael, but she is not the only drummer on the album to enjoy. I also took notice that the album required a couple of more listens before settling on how the tunes were affecting me. Faces gave you a wide assortment as we have noted but with the heavy groove remaining on each tune here one will need to sit and absorb them a little more carefully. Overall there is a higher level of musical complexity showcased, and the album is very dynamic at almost every turn. It's the most consistent in sound for the player as he rallies the army with one Traditional Metal laced rocker after another. One of my favorite such tunes is "Chained" which rocks with abandon and definitely "Walls" because of the unique vocal styling he is delivering during that one. The cast of players who recorded the album reads like a directory of musicians and among them are such notables as Alex Skolnick (Testament/TSO/AST) and Mark Wood (TSO/VHC). This influential talent allows this to be sound musical journey and Chris' vocals sound better than ever before. He touches upon the pains of loss during "S.A.D." which at times makes one think he is speaking of reaction to the tragic death of Criss Oliva and how it affected Savatage. The line that tips me off is "thousands screamed insane, now we sit and trade the rumors, 'twas it all in vain". Anyone who has read Caffery interviews knows full well that the musician would put his solo work on hold if it meant the return of Savatage. I am sure that there are legions of Metal fans that would stand behind him in this decision if it should ever happen. Only time will tell on that, but at least while we wait he does not sit idly by and instead keeps the Metal coming on a regular basis.

"The Time and "Mettle Eastern" are also a among the albums strongest tunes and his work with Doctor Butcher is revisited with "Reach Out And Torment Again". The main portion of the album closes out with a passionate ballad which I think will please the fans of that side of the guitarist but it really doesn't end with this song. His sense of humor and view on that which annoys him returns in an updated version of "Pisses Me Off" which is presented as one of the albums bonus tracks. It's sad to find Starbuck's still pissing him off but amusing to hear how he finds MySpace and his website doing a little of the same this time around. There's a lot of songs to enjoy and that is another good thing about Chris Caffery releases he gives you your money's worth (this one has 17 tracks and lyrics in the enclosed booklet). For a third solo release this one still finds him sounding fresh and not yet out of ideas. There is a riff or two that might sound Savatage like but that will happen with anyone who was in a band that influential. I think that those who have never followed any of his solo efforts will find this a great jumping on point and those who were fans in the past might like this one better based on its consistent execution of many different Heavy Metal styles. Nice work Chris.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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