Toby Knapp returns in a slightly different guise on latest release, “Blizzard Archer”. My previous experiences have been with his Waxen and Affliktor projects where his prowess as a guitarist combined with churning, aggressive black metal tones. This time around he goes out under his own moniker and has arrived with a collection of compositions set to highlight just how much dexterity he has in those fingers. Pure guitar instrumental albums do run the risk of falling into sterile, self-indulgent territory and in a way might seem like a very 80’s concept when the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani adorned the covers of guitar magazines around the world and enthralled a new generation of budding axe heroes. Knapp is a man of many talents though and this release definitely finds him reigniting the shredders flame as only he can.

The fretboard pyrotechnics explode on opener “All Hands Planted” with a simply stunning display that noodles and screams over a chugging riff. Neo-classical mid section stylings that lean on Malmsteen mesmerise while an Iron Maiden gallop underneath keeps a momentum that is heart quickening. This is a jaw droppingly powerful opening statement that only begs the question of “what could possibly come next?” This question is answered with the joyous heavy metal of “Midnight In Guyana”with its languidly fluid and joyful shredding. Losing oneself in the obvious, attention needs to be paid to some of the foundation riffs on tracks like “Astral Gateways” and “Bear 141” which are full of crunch and tight as a trout’s proverbial.

The back end of the album is stuffed with pure heavy metal hooks that lay the perfect foundation for the swirling vortex of sounds that Knapp conjures. What emanates from his guitar doesn’t so much feel like an attack on the instrument but rather an exploration of its possibilities which is displayed brilliantly on “Cold Warrior” and “The Eye Of Providence”. The blink of an eye will take you from head banging glory to singing, floated notes that could lift you off the ground. Each excursion is measured and focussed with few tracks breaching the five minute mark so it all stays very fresh and doesn’t threaten to fall into the dreaded pit of self-indulgence. The beauty however, constantly lies in the warmth that is ever present which truly opens these tracks and while the immediate thought is of Malmsteem due to the technicality, the heart is more with a Ritchie Blackmore.

In a word: wow. Right down to the cover art, you know this is pure guitar worship at its finest. I may have said this about Toby Knapp before, but oh to see this live. Again a certain depth would be explored with an actual band around him which is a tantalising thought. Perhaps it’s too much to ask though – could the thing that might appear this make this greater actually be the thing that threatens to reduce it? Perhaps the master Knapp is actually his own servant and is best displayed within his own confines – such an extraordinary character. Anyone who wants to indulge themselves in the sheer head banging, shredding joy of electric guitar wizardry really needs to own this album.

(8/10 Johnny Zed)