Sound — 9
UG Community member and lesson writer Sam Russell has been quite busy through 2017, preparing his debut rock/metal record, and a follow-up to last year's rendition of Bach's 1st Cello Suite, which I had the chance to review last April. A very different beast to the Cello Suite rendition, which consisted solely of Russell's clean guitar playing, his debut album "Impetuous Desire" combines influences from around the rock and symphonic metal map, and features such talented names as Jason Bowld (touring drummer for Bullet For My Valentine) playing drums and Doro Pesch performing guest vocals on one song, Russell has come a long way from humble beginnings to sharing the stage with Steve Vai. Also featured heavily on the album is the vocal performances of Daniel Leigh on all songs but "Fire, Desire", which has Ryan Mueller performing. Even though this is an album meant to showcase Sam Russell's performance, it doesn't come off as simply another "showboating" shred guitar album, but contains some particularly strong songwriting and creativity.
"The Disciples Hand" opens the record strongly, with clean guitars giving way to an epic guitar solo and a great, powerful verse that immediately reminded me of some of Alter Bridge's more epic material. The opening riff of "Waves of Tomorrow" has shades of Fates Warning, with some rather interesting chord work taking over in the first half of the tune, while the song's final half is an instrumental showcase for Russell, culminating in a three-part sweep-picked harmony with many layers of thick-sounding guitars underneath. "Passing Light" brings even more of a prog-metal influence to the sound with its 7/4 time signature and loud-soft dynamics, as well as the use of somewhat less-conventional techniques as slide guitar for the opening solo. It doesn't keep the song from being incredibly catchy, however, with some really catchy vocal parts in the middle of the tune. "Longing" is a tune that's probably about as close as the album gets to sounding like his Bach Cello Suite recording, featuring only clean guitar and cello, performed by Brook Ensemble's Jacqueline Phillips.
Featuring the vocals of the Queen of metal, Doro Pesch, "Leigh Woods" starts with a calm intro and stands as the album's resident power ballad, picking up in intensity near the end, with a great impassioned performance from Pesch. "The Darkest Night" returns to a heavier atmosphere, taking its lyrical influence from the first three canto's of Dante's Inferno, and musically evoking a combination of melodic power metal bands like Sonata Arctica with more modern bands like Alter Bridge and Dorje. "Tonight" opens with some wicked shred lines and cool traditional heavy metal verses, before going into a very laid-back solo and a very climactic, epic outro chorus. "Fire, Desire" starts with a calm part that fits in perfectly with the rest of the album, but it's a false sense of security when the track launches into something much heavier featuring harsh vocals, the only track on the album to feature that style. The song is rather short and punchy, and features a pretty cool, but rather short, solo in the middle. The album closes out on the second instrumental track, "Riffstrumental", which unlike "Longing", lets loose a little bit more and is more of a guitar solo showcase for Russell, but it still falls short of being "pure instrumental wankery", still delivering some really effective melodies and showing a fair amount of restraint, especially near the end of the track.
The production is rather clean, with the production, mixing and mastering done by Phil Kinman. It's a very clear mix, with every instrument cutting through the mix just right. However, there's still just enough of a rawness to the takes, especially in the lead guitar parts, to give the album a very authentic, almost "live" feel to it. It doesn't sound like an overproduced album at all. With all of the guitar and bass parts performed by Russell himself, one would think that this album would be a very egotistical showcase of his musicianship, but Daniel Leigh's vocals and Jason Bowld's drumming sound absolutely pristine here, and underlines the idea that no matter how much virtuosity you show on an album, your record is only as good as its weakest link, and thankfully, none of the musicians here sound like they're only "phoning it in". Bowld's drumming in particular sounds huge and organic, a welcome change from the propensity for current guitar virtuoso solo artists relying on sampled drums.
Lyrics — 8
While not a concept album per se, there are definitely themes on this album of detachment from reality, facing one's beliefs head-on, and each song on the album is sort of a self-contained narrative focusing on some sort of theme of redemption, whether it's a track like "The Disciples Hand", which contains a message of finding freedom by challenging your beliefs, a realization in "Passing Light" that your past does not dictate your future, or the idea that evil prevails when good men do nothing in "Fire, Desire". The lyrics on this album are quite well-written, with even the one song on the album that deals with the topic of sex, "Tonight", coming off as far more poetic than most tunes written on the subject. Russell even takes on a bit more of a literary theme with "The Darkest Night", basing the story on the first three canto's of Dante's Inferno. "Leigh Woods" is a personal lyric about unrequited love, sung passionately by Doro Pesch.
Vocally, the album is mostly great, with Daniel Leigh's soaring vocals bringing to mind Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy at times. Along with his excellent lead vocals, he impresses us with his penchant for powerful harmony vocals. Doro Pesch's performance on "Leigh Woods" is also incredible in its own right, full of emotional intensity. The only real weak spot on this album was Ryan Mueller's growled vocals in "Fire, Desire", which felt perhaps a bit too cartoonishly "brutal" for the otherwise still rather melodic backing track. But it's a rather minor issue in the grand scheme of the album.
Overall Impression — 9
For this UG Community member's debut rock album, "Impetuous Desire" is an incredibly strong effort that will absolutely please fans of symphonic and melodic metal groups like Xandria, Sonata Arctica, Delain, and Axel Rudi Pell. Great guitar and vocal performances throughout as well as some very strong drumming make this album less of an egotistical showcase for the guitarist, but a very song-oriented, tightly-composed album with some incredible songwriting values to go with the amazing musicianship all around. As well, the songs are very concise and not at all overproduced, a rarity in this genre of music.
If this first release from Sam Russell showcases his best this early in the game, then I look forward to what the future will bring for his upcoming releases, and I predict that it will be a bright future for Russell.
P.S. You can download some songs for free here.