Released: 2013, Guitararosity Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Instrumentals are funny old critters aren't they? Whilst everyone from thrash masters Metallica to guitar virtuosoes such as Yngwie Malmsteen have recorded them, an entire album without vocals is often seen as an oddity rather than the norm in the world of rock and metal.
Try telling that to composer/musician extraordinaire Randy Ellefson. The November 2013 release of 'Now Weaponised!' marks his fifth album on which he plays every instrument (lead and rhythm guitar, bass and drums) - all without a vocalist in sight.
That he can even play at all is astonishing given his medical history. Cramming four years worth of learning and playing classical guitar into two years in order to obtain his degree in the Nineties resulted in several bouts of severe tendonitis in Ellefson's arms. Reluctantly taking a break from music, he displayed a remarkable level of dogged determination to earn a living and still compose by learning to operate a computer (and a drum machine) with HIS FEET until his tendonitis subsided - hopefully for good - around a decade later.
2014 looks set to be a busy year for this talented, multi-faceted musician. In addition to releasing one video per month of him playing each of NW!'s tracks, and the videos from an accoustic album he is planning to release which will be broadly similar to 2010's 'Serenade of Strings', he is also planning to re-release a newly recorded version of his debut album 'The Firebard' in time for its tenth anniversary in June, as well as hopefully releasing an album with his metal band Z-Order which is currently being recorded. And as if that wasn't enough, he also writes fantasy novels...this is clearly a man who gets itchy feet during his down time!
The album begins in suitably impressive fashion with 'Serenade'. Its electric-accoustic, 'Only Women Bleed' sounding intro segues into a classic NWOBHM number, complete with chugging riffs and powerful lead guitar. Very 'Saxon meets Satriani', if you will. Track two 'Rapid Fire' gives us quick-tempo thunderous riffs and a rather atmospheric, almost power metal vibe. And all without vocals...impressed yet?
The whole album in fact proves to be one of diversity and extraordinary talent. Each song has its own identity, yet they are all tied together by the common thread of Ellefson's remarkable playing - the solos in particular are outstanding. There's electro-country ('The Thrill Of It All'), Eighties-tinged rock ('Crunch Time' and the Pat Benetar-esque 'Promenade'), modern metal ('Ostinato') and much, much more. The songs, for the most part, aren't overly long so don't outstay their welcome. Once you get past that anticipatory sensation of waiting for the vocals to kick in, the listener is free to concentrate on the stunning production and astonishing musicianship on display throughout this album.
Said talent is showcased brilliantly on the two main highlights of the album: the dark, grimy and secretive 'Surreal', and the deeply bass-heavy driving riffage of 'Moshkill'. The latter especially stands out; it's catchy as hell, a real toe-tapper/headbanger, all pounding beats and squealing guitar solos. It's simply...tough-sounding, for want of a better word!
The only (small) problem is that the instrumental format does tend to drag after awhile, most notably in the longer songs at the end of the album. The main offender is the aptly named final track 'Farewell': clocking in at around seven and a half minutes, it's certainly grand and epic-sounding, however it also comes almost like three songs tied together and in fact could easily have been split into three, or even two, separate songs. In fact, the album could have been cut by a few songs and still maintained its sense of diversity and completeness.
That said, this is certainly an impressive album, made all the more remarkable by the fact that it is so entertaining and varied without vocals. Ellefson is unquestionably an enormously talented musician to be able to capture the listener's interest in the way that he does here. 'Now Weaponised!' is destined to become a benchmark in the niche market of instrumental rock and metal, of that there is no doubt.
Review by Melanie Brehaut