Sound — 9
Slash is possibly the most well known guitarist in the world. Despite the endless debates on whether the man in the top hat deserves that title, it is undeniable that he is as recognizable a public figure as anyone in KISS or Nickelback or any of the "commercial" rock bands. Many guitarists know Slash as the guy who has endless amounts of signature gear. With multiple signature Gibson guitars, signature Seymour-Duncan pickups, signature MXR/Dunlop pedals, a signature Marshall amp, and more, it's hard to go to a guitar shop and not see his signature signal chain somewhere.
As a musician, many know him as the man behind the legendary (and oftentimes overplayed) guitar solos in Guns N' Roses songs "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "November Rain" (my personal favorite is the solo in "Nightrain"). Since his time as the lead axeman of Guns N' Roses he has found fame in two more bands: Velvet Revolver (a GNR minus Axl Rose reunion) and his current, solo band, officially called Slash with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Note I will refer to the whole band hereafter as the Conspirators.
"World on Fire" is the Conspirators' second album with their current lineup of Slash, Myles Kennedy, Todd Kerns and Brent Fitz. Compared to their first album, "Apocalyptic Love," this album is a logical, but not radical, step forward. For one thing, the album is over seventy minutes long, which is twenty minutes longer than "Apocalyptic Love" and unheard of for a hard rock album in general.
Overall, "World on Fire" is better than "Apocalyptic Love," just not in easily expressible terms. Comparing "World on Fire" to "Apocalyptic Love" is like comparing two AC/DC albums - "Highway to Hell" is better than "Powerage," it's just hard to show how.
In terms of musical creativity, "World on Fire" is much the same as "Apocalyptic Love" except that Slash overdubbed guitars on this album. In "30 Years to Life," the overdubs allow for some great harmonies. Not as prominent elsewhere, the overdubs are nevertheless used masterfully to add color to the songs when necessary. There are none that feel out of place.
In terms of form, the songs are relatively the same as those on "Apocalyptic Love" (well, the acoustic/clean songs are refreshing). The riffs and guitar solos are much in the same style as those from "Apocalyptic Love" as well. The real growth derives from the increasing synergy the Conspirators have attained as a band. For one, I can actually hear Todd Kerns' bass on this album; he meant it to be heard. Brent Fitz, the drummer, more so than Kerns, opened up with this album. Although he says in interviews that he tries to be a modest drummer, he certainly seems to know which creative liberties to take and when to take them. No, there are no grandiose drum solos or anything that one would find out of place, but there is just a certain level of finesse, a certain feel that makes his drumming close to perfect. It just clicks.
That pretty much sums up this album: it just clicks. The more I listen to the songs, the more I want to replay them. At first, it seems like the songs are one relatively consistent barrage of hard rock, but over time, their differences, their details grow on me. More so than "Apocalyptic Love," I can't get the songs out of my head. I have had "30 Years to Life" in my head for the past few days so much that I've actually learned how to play it. "Avalon" has been starting to grow on me. One thing that is definite is that the album does not wear on the listener; there are seventeen songs of substance all worth listening through. Heck, I'm even getting some DragonForce vibes from the main riff in "Automatic Overdrive." While I guess there is no standout, altogether unique track, like "Anastasia" from "Apocalyptic Love," "World on Fire" is just a better album.
Aside from just the effects of the Conspirators getting tighter over time, the biggest factor in the success of this album is Elvis Baskette's production. "Apocalyptic Love" sounded cold, biting, and harsh from a production standpoint. While "World on Fire" is no silky smooth magic carpet ride, it is much better. Maybe it's just because Slash allowed for layered guitars on this album, but the songs are so much more sonically complex (from a production standpoint, not a musical one) than those on "Apocalyptic Love." At the very least, the song intros are starting to get interesting with more texture noises that dissipate after a short time. Baskette's use of effects is spot on as well; the phaser at the start of "Stone Blind" and the flanger in "Iris of the Storm" are stirring examples.
Lyrics — 8
I've thought for a couple of years now that Myles Kennedy has the best modern voice in hard rock. He hits all his notes with ease, in the studio, and, most importantly, live in concert. On "World on Fire," he never lets up. However, except for a slight increase in his use of long notes that modulate pitch ("wohhhh ohh ohhhh" type melodies and the sort), he hasn't changed at all from the last Conspirators album (or the last Alter Bridge album for that matter). Kennedy's vocals are the only facet of the Conspirators that has not exhibited growth from the first album to the second.
Lyrically, Kennedy baffles me as he always does; his lyrics border on some of incredible substance yet a whole song never fully connects as well as it should or could. Moreover, on this album his lyrical tone rarely connects with the vibe of the song. For example, "30 Years to Life" is a harrowing tale, but it doesn't seem fit for the thrilling, up beat rocker that the melody of the song suggests it is.
Regardless of my criticisms, Kennedy's performance, in the grand scheme of things is far above average. There is just less growth than I expected from such a great talent as him.
Overall Impression — 9
In summary, "World on Fire" is an excellent album, a surefire candidate for album of the year given the notoriety of its conceivers. It evinces why the Conspirators is one of the best hard rock bands of today and why Slash is still considered by many to be on top of the guitar world. This album can seem repetitive at first, but it is a grower. Personally, "30 Years to Life" made me keep coming back until I began to see the value in all sixteen other tracks.
The flag of rock and roll still flies high, though some struggle to see it. I have always been quick to chastise those few.
But right now, I can, if only barely, understand their blindness: there is a top hat triumphantly sitting at the peak of the pole. The question is can anyone knock it off its perch?