Impellitteri – Venom (2015)

Impell

Artist: Impellitteri

Album: Venom

Label: Victor Entertainment

Chris Impellitteri might not exactly be a household name, but he has earned a well-deserved reputation in the guitar virtuoso world as one of the heavy hitters. The most common comparison to his style of shredding is to his Swedish predecessor Yngwie Malmsteen. Like Malmsteen, he knows his place in the band, and that is of a guitarist and composer and he correctly leaves his vocals to those more capable, in this case to Rob Rock who has been a session vocalist in more than a dozen heavy/power metal bands over the last three decades. Rob’s tenor vocals are the perfect accompaniment to Chris’s scorching licks and together the duo have churned out six very consistent albums since joining forces in 1987.

Those of us who enjoy tastefully executed guitar heroics occasionally grow tired of the complaint that guitar virtuosi are all pure technicians with no musicality or sense of songwriting. And truthfully, this isn’t an invalid complaint much of the time; there are plenty of fellows who fit squarely into that category. But in the case of Impelletteri, it’s simply an unfair accusation as his riffing hails right back to the classic traditional metal giants of the eighties. Every single track opens with riffs that are as heavy and original as one could hope to expect from any metal band, let alone an aging rocker thirty years into his career.

He bursts out of the gate with all cylinders blazing and keeps the pedal to the floor throughout. However, in spite of his relentless playing, he still manages to maintain enough variety in the mix to hold the interest of the listener. The title track and album opener set the stage nicely with a fantastic and fiery riff which is a microcosm of the rest of the album. It actually contains a musical theme that Impellitteri revisits several times throughout the album, each time with a variation to set it apart from the others. When viewed this way, it could be an interesting way of tying the album together into a cohesive whole. For others, it could be seen as unoriginal and lazy. I favour the former perspective, but I would have a hard time arguing against somebody who favoured the latter.

Vocally the album suffers a bit, even in spite of Rock’s nearly perfect set of vocal chords. But the problem (obviously) isn’t the quality of the singing, but rather the lifeless hooks and sterile melodies and harmonies that punctuate the choruses. There isn’t anything bad about them necessarily, but there is something glaringly absent and that is where most average listeners will likely fault this record. Because let’s face it, aside from a few teenage guitar students, people don’t listen to music for the purpose of evaluating technical instrumental prowess (nor should they) and at the end of the day, if you’re listening to this record, there just isn’t a whole lot to sing along to. Perhaps with repeated listens I could see a few tracks standing out as examples of fine power metal songwriting. In fact, songs like “Holding On” and “Reach for the Sky” fit the bill nicely, but too many of the rest of the songs simply don’t measure up and all of Chris’s stellar riffs just aren’t going to make up for that.

For those of you who enjoy guitar virtuosi, this album is practically a must-have for your collection. For the rest of you, seeing that the album clocks in at around forty minutes, you wouldn’t be put out too much to give it a listen. At least check out the title track; if you like that, you’ll probably like the album.

Rating: 6.5/10

– Dave

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