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11/20/2014
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FAME Review: Alex Skolnick's Planetary Coalition

Not many metalhedz cross over from the raucous world of thrash to acoustic World musics, but Alex Skolnick, long worshipped by headbangers for his daunting prowess, is among that miniscule coterie. A student of one of what Frank Zappa called "daredevil guitarists" who could "play the impossible parts", Joe Satriani, Skolnick has paid his dues in numerous fashions, including a stint with one of my all-time fave melodic crunch ensembles (Savatage). Now he's stepping out to tackle a highly complex, often high speed version of the evolving World mode, not just one of its splinters but several.

The Carnatic Passage to Pranayama, for instance, sounds as though from Matt Montfort and Ancient Future in that band's prime (which means: from the second it incarnated to this very moment), and Playa la Ropa is a rip-snorter, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Skolnick tearing through trade-offs on steel strung and nylon-strung axes. Alex gets up to DiMeola uber-speed as Gabriela takes a distinctively more Latinate tack, the two at times reminiscent of DiMeola's famed guitar LPs with McLaughlin and DeLucia. Django Tango goes WAY trad, Rachel Golub's violin work hitching the rest of the players to a gypsy caravan trundling over hill and dale, tarn and mountain, town and backroad.

Skolnick purposely selected as many top players as he could over a range of five continents in order to soak this release in highly skilled nuances bridging days of yore with permutations peeking backwards out from tomorrow. Old World Dance is a perfect example of that, everyone putting in heady chops, Vasko Dukovski's clarinet work particularly muscular and exhilarating. Alex is at the top of his game throughout the affair and frequently reminiscent of the period in which DiMeola made his crossover to this style. I'm a tiny bit surprised this didn't emerge on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label, but then fans of that imprint already know the reason: FN is mainly tech and shredmetal while this is pre-Raphaelite.