Sound — 7
Look, I'm a fan of extended range guitars. Frankly, I think the people who say "Why play eight-string guitars? Just play a bass!" are morons at best. And so much absolutely stellar music has been made on guitars with more than six strings. From shred legend Steve Vai to nu-metallers Korn to prog-rockers like John Petrucci, to death metal legends like Morbid Angel's Trey Azagthoth, to Meshuggah, to the current crop of djent and prog-metal pioneers like Tosin Abasi and Misha Mansoor. The extended range guitar has a huge and impressive repertoire and string counts seem to keep climbing every single year. And when you include players of more obscure extended range instruments, like the Chapman Stick and Warr Guitar, there's really no shortage of impressive musicians to check out.
But this is 2017, and the extended range guitar is starting to hit a bit of a wall. More and more players are using them, and that means that creative uses for them are fewer and further between. Venezuelan-American guitarist Felix Martin has made a bit of a name for himself in the extended range guitar community by playing a rather unique instrument that consists of two left-handed seven-string guitars mounted side by side into one neck, a sort of Chapman Stick-like arrangement. And much like a Stick player, he generally plays parts by tapping bass lines and melodies in a very pianistic way. Felix's Venezeulan background means that the music on this seems to have a fusion of very South American melodies and rhythms, and that's perhaps reflected in the album cover, which features a graphic of a map of South America. But overall, the general tone of this record is very similar to the work of Tosin Abasi of Animals As Leaders. And Felix's guitar tone doesn't really do anything to differentiate him from Tosin. Largely clean, and "thumpy" (not the same as his "thumping" technique, though) with boatloads of delay and reverb.
His newest instrument is a 16-string monstrosity that features a 7-string on one part of the neck, and a 9-string on the other, seemingly in standard tuning across the board, meaning he can reach a low C# in the bass register, and he seems to go nuts with this all over the album. Especially on the intro to "Eight Moon Headdress", which is actually really decent for a tapped tone on such a low-tuned string. Unlike a lot of his contemporaries, though, he almost never unleashes distorted guitar sounds or traditional guitar solos at any point on the album, with the exception of the tasty soloing of Angel Vivaldi (a name I really hope to see on the cover of guitar magazines soon!) on "Santos." Sometimes, the tapping takes on a bit of a Primus-esque quality, such as on the track "Barquismetal." And some of the riffs, while still quite clean, are actually good headbangers, like "Four Handed Giant." Clean chords make up the majority of tracks like the jazzy "Canaima."
Bassist Killian Duarte and drummer Victor Alvarez also provide a great rhythm section, and often lock in so much with Felix's guitar playing that the band almost sounds like one single instrument. The production is nice and clean, and does a lot to capture the groove of the tracks on the album, but without getting too muddy or overwrought with the low tones on the guitar and bass. But despite this, the songwriting does feel a little lacking at times. It's a bit too derivative, and at times, the album seems to plod along a bit too much (15 tracks of mostly very similar-sounding material is a bit much). They are very well-written and well-executed tracks, but I find the album a bit difficult to sit through as a whole.
Lyrics — 7
As with all instrumental releases, it's hard to give this a definitive rating because of the lack of lyrics, but I am rating it how I am because I feel like a well-placed guest vocal could have gone a long way to break up some of the monotony on the album. Given his friendship with fellow guitar tapping wizard Sarah Longfield, I feel like a collaboration featuring her on vocals would be incredible. But a good vocal collaboration would have really helped this album, and this is one of those rare times where I feel an instrumental album suffers a bit for lack of vocals.
Overall Impression — 7
Felix Martin has done some really good music in the past, and this album really is no exception to that, but with so much of the album sounding kind of similar and samey, and much more emphasis on the tapping and not as much on making memorable melodies, this is really an album that's better suited to a crowd that enjoys technical displays to good songwriting. Had I reviewed an album like this a few years ago, I might have had a better opinion of it than I do now, but this really isn't what I'm looking for when I'm searching for a great new instrumental album. There's absolutely no denying Felix's killer talent, and it is on full display on this album. If you're a fan of Animals As Leaders, or even of instrumental math rock bands like Don Caballero or Tera Melos, this is definitely a good record to check out.