Review Summary: A six-string spectacular. An album which influence knows no bounds. Prepare to be dazzled by the most futuristic guitar playing this side of the universe!
Allan Holdsworth – Metal Fatigue
In one million years from now, it would not surprise me in the slightest if Allan Holdsworth were regarded as the single best guitar player to ever walk the earth. The legendary jazz/fusion axe-slinger has seamlessly avoided mainstream recognition for the entirety of his career, which has spanned forty-three years, thirteen studio and three live albums. Despite his underwhelming popularity among the masses, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single guitarist or guitar enthusiast who’s unfamiliar with Holdsworth and his work. The late, great Frank Zappa even stated at one point that Holdsworth was “The greatest guitarist in the world.” Metal Fatigue is the man’s shining moment as an artist, an album that not only showcases his raw technical ability and domination over his instrument but also proves that he is far more than capable of composing a catchy tune.
The first couple notes of the distorted, gain-driven harmonic guitar tone of the opening track “Metal Fatigue,” sets a blistering pace that holds up for the entirety of the album. Holdsworth plucks pinch harmonics and throws in acrobatic, effortless lead lines, as the main riff opens up into a bed of luscious, obtuse chord voicings. The clean sections that make up a large majority of the record are more akin to a delay infused keyboard than that of a guitar. The spacey chord progressions and movements usually make way to sporadic, profound and oftentimes challenging lead lines. Holdsworth is never hesitant to unleash a fury of notes and the albums most jaw-dropping moments come at the most clever and unpredictable of times.
The records middle track, “Devil Take The Hindmost,” could very well be one of Holdsworth’s greatest moments. The five and a half minute instrumental takes the listener through a series of catchy and complicated chord progressions that set up for a brain-melting guitar solo. I can think of no better showcase of Holdsworth’s technical prowess on his instrument than the clinic he puts on beginning at the tracks one-and-a-half minute mark. Whammy-bar dives pave way into blazing, break-neck legato, a Holdsworth signature technique. At times during this excursion the guitar work is so ludicrous, profound and impressive that one might begin to question if it’s a guitar at all, I sure did.
Largely understated is Holdsworth’s rhythmic ability. The multi-layered guitars hold down complex rhythmic patterns that hardly, if ever hold true to jazz standards. By deconstructing the guitar work in the album you might start to wonder where his inspiration came from, that is a question answerable by only Holdsworth himself, as he seems to be plucking these ideas from the very outskirts of the universe. Prepare to hear chords you’ve never heard before used in ways that you’ve probably never imagined.
It’d be a shame if I failed to mention the fabulous band backing up Holdsworth for this musical outing. Drummer, Chad Wackerman and bassist, Jimmy Johnson nail to pin-point precision the futuristic song structures and hold down the rhythm section wonderfully. Wackerman pulls off the complex grooves with relative ease, adding fills and nary repeating percussive patterns. Johnson puts on a memorable performance on every track, especially during the outro of “Panic Station,” where he shows impressive command and melodic execution during the albums lone bass solo. Metal Fatigue also features a vocalist, something rather experimental for Holdsworth as a majority of his recordings are solely instrumental affairs. The vox, performed by Paul Williams is featured on half the albums tracks and is subject to scrutiny. The singing is more than competent and very fitting for the style of music but I can’t help but feel that some of the vocals lines are quite cheesy. “In The Mystery” is especially cringe worthy, “I am the one who lives in your dreams, at nighttime I’m out reliving me. No earthly restrictions to hide what I see, ‘cause I live out in this mystery," per example.
While the vocals are certainly a hindrance at points, they do little to damage the overall feel and concept of the record. Holdsworth is on his game here, and Metal Fatigue is a more focused, original and downright fun collection of songs than any of his prior or post studio offerings. Although relatively unknown to the masses, Holdsworth’s influence stretches far and beyond that of just jazz/fusion guitar playing. Metal Fatigue is an amazingly focused, original and imaginative release from one of the world’s wildest guitar wizards, one that is criminally overlooked and by all means essential listening.