If you pay any attention to Gus G, the guy who delivers the killer axe work in Ozzy Osbourne’s band you will know that he seems to be a workaholic. His exponential creative energy has seen the guitar maestro do stints in Dream Evil, Arch Enemy (briefly to replace Michael Amott) and of course his very own power metal act Firewind, a band I absolutely adore. However with creativity oozing from his fingers Gus has already put out his debut solo effort called “I Am The Fire” that he also toured with earlier this year and left me stunned at his shredding prowess but also baffled at the low attendance in Manchester where I saw him play. However with Firewind on temporary hold the free time has given him time to pen the sophomore solo effort that follows seamlessly from the debut but adds a few tweaks here and there. Before I continue, I know there is another album called “Guitar Master” that Gus G recorded from 2001, but that is a totally different beast to the latter two which see a far more commercial approach than the all out instrumental virtuosity of “Guitar Master”
From the moment “The Quest” starts you can detect a noticeable increase in heaviness, something Gus states in the promo information accompanying the release, though that heaviness is, I feel, attached to the drumming courtesy of Firewind compatriot Johan Nunez. The opener is an instrumental as well which is slightly different to the traditional approach of a couple of hard hitting catchy numbers before exploring the depths of his song writing. Similar to the Firewind instrumentals initially the tune blazes away with deft hooks and a tornado of riffing before braking for a very sublime acoustic section that fades away. Like the debut various vocalists are employed as Jacob Bunton does stints on just less than half, Mats Levén performs on four tunes, Jeff Soto on a couple and Elize Ryd on one. Bass is played by Marty Fried to round out an eclectic array of artists that continues with the title track and possesses a quirky hard rock styled riff that is exuberantly catchy. Vocally Jacob does a fine job, his tone suits the commercialised approach of the song with soaring choral breaks and pristine tonal inflections that capture vivacity and colour excellently.
With a title like “Burn” you’d expect this song to be a trailblazing fret scorching riff and solo infestation but prefers to retain a hard rock vibe but with a gritty more garage rock feel. There is a tendency for artists doing side projects to sound too much like their parent band but here Gus ploughs new ground even compared to the debut, still with propulsive leads but softening the songs with an arena rock stylisation that is very ear friendly but not tacky. “What Lies Below” offers a pulsing beat that sees Elize Ryd (Amaranthe) airing her very fine larynx and whilst I did slate her in my review of the Czech Metal Fest, she adds an extra level of texture to the ever increasing armoury of Gus G’s song writing talents. The song is extremely melodic vocally but the guitar has a crunchy feel that fills the song to brimming point and is sure to catch the attention of female fronted fans with ease. As we hit “Behind Those Eyes” you can detect a touch of AOR from the likes of Journey, Foreigner and of course Asia where the ballad like feel caresses softly with a semi-acoustic tune laced with guitar hooks and a rousing chorus. “Gone To Stay” features Jeff Soto and when you hear the different vocalists you can see why a particular singer was asked to contribute not just to the vocals but also to the arrangements and I guess possibly even the song writing process. The tune pumps like an adrenaline filled heart, steadily pulsating with a foot tapping beat and wondrously delivered singing.
Mats Levén’s contribution sees “Come Hell Or High Water” adopt a far heavier guitar sound and riff as Mats vocals lend themselves to more rugged traits but still enveloped in a shroud of commercial acceptability that I found very relaxing without being clichéd or forced. Continuing with Mats “If It Ends Today” is a faster more urgent rocker that pauses for the verse vocals and is possibly the closest to Firewind on the whole release but this is hallmarked with a supremely catchy riff and fine cruising guitar hooks and leads. “Generation G” swings into new territory with Jeff Soto back on vocals and a nicely raspy riff and a chorus that sounds very similar to Evergrey and I mean that as a compliment wholeheartedly. Closing the album is “The Demon Inside” which begins with heartfelt guitar work as though struggling with said titular demons and gives Mats a perfect tune to showcase his considerable vocal proficiency. Building slowly the tune is effused with sadness, but gathers momentum incrementally for a grunge like riff and listening to the singing I could easily envisage the ever missed Ronnie James Dio, lending his voice to this track. Evoking a morose atmosphere but balancing it with dextrous leads and hooks is not easy as past masters in the 70s used to do and this tune does just that, building the tune on successive layers of guitar work that encompass everything that makes Gus G the guitar genius that he is. I could easily award this a ten as there isn’t a single filler tune on here but I am sure that superior things will emanate from the guy in years to come.
(9/10 Martin Harris)