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Alex Skolnick has shredded his way to legendary status amongst metalheads

There's nothing subtle about thrash metal, not to say it doesn't require buckets full of skill to play well. But, the presentation is balls to the wall, the pace exhausting and the assault relentless. Over 31 years, Berkley, California's Testament has savagely secured their place in the annals of thrash metal history. Through it all, original axeman, Alex Skolnick has shredded his way to legendary status amongst metalheads. So, it's surprising to hear Skolnick admit, "A seriously cross-cultural acoustic album has long been on my bucket list." Thirty-one years of thrash metal leaves an indelible mark, however, and subtlety is still not in the playbook. In the hands of a seasoned worldbeater the new album may have been called 'Alex Skolnick and Global Friends' or Alex Skolnick's Travel Book', but true to metal form, the disc's epic title is 'Alex Skolnick's Planetary Coalition'. The collection is also very literal; there's the Latin piece, the North African piece, the East Asian piece etc. It all raises red flags to the global music fan who has heard many of these 'rock god makes world music' dabblings before. The good news is Planetary Coalition is an honest study in cross-cultural, cross-genre music that plays like a thesis, where Skolnick, the god, submits to the role of student, willing himself to master all the modal intricacies and crazy time signatures that make the world go round. And, the guest-list is impressive from santoor to kora to pipa; Cuban piano, klezmer clarinet and Arabic percussion. Again, world music fans have heard it before, but given a rocker's sense of composition, these cultural references take on more melody and hooks than they would enjoy left to their traditions. That too is a good thing, making this Planetary Coalition an excellent introduction to world music for the uninitiated. The coalition in the grander vision is meant to motivate not just musicians, but all of us to join in as citizens of Earth. Interestingly enough, it's the jazz-influenced foundation that really cooks. NYC bassist, Moto Fukishima (Mike Stern and many others) and Greek-American bassist, Panagiotis Andreou both deliver stellar performances throughout the disc. But, the number one stop on this global journey is tastefully unadorned and plays out on steel and nylon strings. Rodrigo Y Gabriela (also undercover metalheads) recruited Skonick once before and he returns the favour on Playa La Ropa, a supersonic acoustic shred that will leave listeners shaken from the adrenaline rush.