|Musical Style: Instrumental Hard Rock||Produced By: Bill Menchen|
|Record Label: Roxx Records||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 15||Rating: 80%|
If you are into instrumental rock in all its forms, then 1.5, the Roxx Records fall of 2015 debut full-length of veteran guitarist Bill Menchen’s new Blues Metal Trance project, makes sense. 1.5 represents the first output from the artist since 2012, when he released three albums with his signature group The Seventh Power, Eternal Power, Power And Glory and The Power. First two encompassed original material while third is a re-mastered and re-mixed version of the self-titled The Seventh Power debut (initially released on Retroactive Records) from 2006. In between Bill Menchen put out The Seventh Power sophomore effort (also Retroactive) Dominion & Power in 2008.
The artist has maintained the productivity throughout the years, starting with his eighties bands Redeemer (recording a lone demo tape) and Final Axe (a partnership with vocalist Keith Miles that produced the 1989 custom cassette release Beyond Hell’s Gate). Two more albums with Miles as part of Titanic ensued, Maiden Voyage (1996) and Screaming In Silence (2002), while a third, Full Steam Ahead (2007), featured new front man David St. Andrew. Bill Menchen has remained every bit busy from a solo standpoint, with four additional albums recorded during the nineties under the Rev Seven moniker in addition to his magnum opus, the 2008 Menchen debut Red Rock in which vocalist Ken Redding (His Witness), drummer Robert Sweet (Stryper) and bassist extraordinaire Tony Franklin (Blue Murder) participated.
While Bill Menchen has recorded the occasional instrumental track, such as “:45 Scream” off the original version to Beyond Hell’s Gate and “Seven Golden Lampstands” from The Seventh Power debut, it is on 1.5 in which he makes his first full length instrumental statement. Now, when instrumental rock is referenced what most often comes to mind is the metal shred variety produced by the likes of Joe Satriani (Surfing With The Alien), Steve Vai (Passion & Warfare), Joey Tafolla (Out Of The Sun) and David Chastain (Within The Heat). No doubt, the instrumental shred crowd will find 1.5 to their liking, but there is also more to the album at the same time. One need consider how the artist reinforces a foundation of hard rock and imbues it with elements of the blues, jam fusion and jazz nuances and even groove and funk to create a work I might describe as experimental if not outside the box- in a positive sense either way.
Opener “Ball Peen Hammer”, for instance, plays up hard rocking guitars but also occasional jazzy piano and hints of organ along with soloing of a bluesy nature. Likewise, “Nuts & Botz” emphasizes organ and wave-like guitars to create a laid-back seventies classic rock effect, while “Concentric” features keyboards and piano to establish an atmospheric setting. The forward keyboards on “Hot Patch” almost lend an industrial imprint as edgy guitars sear in and out of the mix, but play a highlighting role on the heavier direction to “Monkey Wrench” (with its cool lead guitar and keyboard trade off) and “Pinion Shaft” (giving rise to a pleasing fusion flavor).
At this point, I am sure you have noticed the tool and auto part related song titles, which attribute to the artists background as a full time mechanic.
Those into instrumental music of the metal shred variety will identify with “Gearbox Grinding”, elevated in terms of its forward guitar presence and heightened tempo, and “Radiator Grill”, every bit upbeat as snarling guitars and catchy harmonies lead the way. “Hydraulic Pump” might lighten the tempo but not the heaviness as muscular guitars prevail, as does “Jacks” in descending into bluesy lower register territory while a distorted voice names off the various forms of ‘jacks’ (hydraulic, railroad, pneumatic, etc.). My choice track might be “Slo Wrenchen”, a return to up-tempo form in which metal laced guitars, more distorted backing voices and lead guitar that slowly builds and grows prevail.
Speaking of which, I appreciate the tasteful manner in which the artist exhibits his soloing abilities throughout 1.5: rather than attempting to play as many notes a second as possible as some shred guitarists, he instead allows for a bluesy and more moving side to his playing reveal itself. In no way is he not afraid to stretch and showcase a more fiery side to his abilities - he can still cut loose with the best of them - but otherwise chooses to settle into a focused and laid back groove throughout.
In a more melodic heading but not without forsaking the heaviness is “Ignition Module” in terms of its mirthful and bouncing tempo as spacey keyboards decorate the backdrop- easy going but guitar driven is the feel at hand. In similar fashion, “Impact Gun” is underpinned by groove (if not funk based) bass and unwavering guitars but also gives rise to an engaging side in terms of its warm and inviting presence.
Some of my favorite moments to the album are its most bluesy- the project is not called BLUES Metal Trance for nothing! “Dual Overhead” makes generous use of bass and organ over a foundation of light but earthy guitars as the artist’s bluesy soloing wails away in the background. Every bit relaxed and easy going, “Fuel” makes a classic rock statement with its composed guitar flavorings and heartfelt front to back essence.
Lone constructive comment is that the album borders on the longwinded in featuring 15 songs, with my initial inclining that perhaps the artist could have reduced it by 2 to 3 cuts to lighten the overall playing time. That said, since most songs are in the three to three and a half minute range the overall feel is not excessive either; the album seamlessly flows its length in this regard. I also miss the creative presence of drummer Robert Sweet, who has gained renown for participating on many previous Bill Menchen projects. It must be understood equally how the plate of the “Visual Timekeeper” might be full in light of Stryper’s heavy schedule the past several years, at least since the 2013 release of No More Hell To Pay.
Cover art is a bit basic but gets the eye-catching job done in featuring the album title in a blue font over a stack of Marshalls in the backdrop.
Blues Metal Trance shines as a good fit for those into instrumental rock in all its forms; not just shred but also blues, jazz, fusion, groove, funk, etc. Good variety accordingly comes to the forefront in terms of the 1.5 songwriting. Credit the artist equally for varying his guitar work as opposed to going the as many notes as possible per second route- he proves himself a consummate player as opposed to one considered one-dimensional. Yes, the album might be top heavy at 15 tracks but nothing comes across repetitive either. When further factoring the solid production and effective artwork, 1.5 adds up to a winner in the instrumental rock category.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Ball Peen Hammer” (3:34), “Concentric” (4:17), “Dual Overhead Cam” (3:17), “Fuel” (3:08), “Gearbox Grinding” (3:33), “Hot Patch” (3:15), “Hydraulic Pump” (3:47), “Ignition Module” (3:47), “Impact Gun” (3:25), “Jacks” (3:20), “Monkey Wrench” (3:11), “Nutz & Boltz” (3:31), “Pinion Shaft” (3:35), “Radiator Grill” (3:14), “Slo Wrenchen” (3:30)
Bill Menchen - All Instrumentation