Shadows Between The Sky was a record to restore one's faith in humanity to, offering a getaway to a naïve, pristine land of childlike innocence, where none of the woes of the world around us exist. Once the last notes ring out, one just wants to snuggle in with someone close and stay that way forever, oblivious to everything else.
Captain Eo's Voyage is not a continuation of that mindset. This album will not try to make you happy... quite the opposite, in fact. Buckethead was a great Michael Jackson fan, and he supplied a rather mournful tribute song days after the renowned musician's passing. The title and artwork suggest that this album is a fully-fledged expansion, showing a more in-depth process of Buckethead coping with his idol's death, and the solemn and dignified music does not let down expectations.
The first few cuts sound like they're actually taking the listener out into space. “Captain Eo's Voyage” starts off with a few very uneasy sounding notes, amplified in their queasiness by a peculiar and hollow production job. Don't worry, kid, it's just weightlessness, you'll get used to it in a bit... and one does adapt to the unique sound styling, as it works in the album's favor. When the engulfing blackness and weightlessness set in, the somewhat aurally richer “Light” takes a few minutes to show the listener the ship aboard which Eo awaits – a rather gargantuan beast of a vehicle, stylized down to every last 80's futuristic spaceship cliché, complete with lasers (convincingly emulated with quick slides right at the beginning of the track). Now that everything is set and a little tour was given, it's time for the journey proper...
The tracks drift on by, unfolding sheer aural delight for the listener to behold. The universe is rather broad, and there's a lot to see. With Eo behind the controls, the listener is taken on a voyage throughout the numerous beautiful corners of space, but the beauty (“Stained Glass Hill” with its Shadows Between The Sky'ish vibes) never manages to eradicate a certain peculiar feeling of nostalgia and longing. Eo somehow isn't really talkative, the universe is quite empty, and in spite of all the miraculous things outside a certain sadness sets in. With time, the whole stellar setting starts fading, becoming less and less real... and the listener realizes that all of this is just going on in their head, never really having been taken anywhere.
The music never really meant to create Eo or his ship, it's a trip through the most painful human emotions and what they can do with one's head. The occasional moment of happiness (the mentioned “Stained Glass Hill”, as well as “Backwards Footprint”) is in fact a joyful memory of old remembered though eyes stinging with tears, under the realization that it isn't happening again. No matter how cheerful one may be when approaching the CD, a certain nostalgic and depressive mood will set in within a couple of tracks. What Shadows Between The Sky denied, Captain Eo's Voyage embraces and focuses on – there's so much hurt out in the world, irreversible happenings that take away who we love, what we enjoy, and there is nothing we can do about it.
With the exception of the very tight and catchy “Star Chasing”, the featured songs are brooding, meandering jams with a somewhat logical, evolving structure. Buckethead's playing on the tracks is some of the most mature and brilliant guitar work he has ever laid down, both live and on record. His approach is very sparing, never engulfing the listener in a barrage of shred, instead opting for a more refined and soulful way of conveying his message. Every single note is picked perfectly, the phrasing is very tasteful and emotional. “Trails of Moondust” and “Tarantula Crossing” easily climb high up the ranks of Buckethead's most incredible leads, with the rest of the album not tailing too far behind.
Of course, Captain Eo's Voyage wouldn't be anywhere near this incredible if the other instruments did a poor job. This is not the case, as the bass provides a sturdy, laid-back foundation and the drumming is just complex enough, with the occasional sprinkle of keyboards aiding the atmosphere tremendously. The overall extraterrestrial vibe is unique to this release, though one can find some discrete stylistic throwbacks to Shadows Between The Sky, A Real Diamond In The Rough (“Siphoning Sequence”) and Colma (“Chase The Darkness Out”).
Whilst the album does not end on a happy note, it does a pretty decent job of not leaving the listener in a total slump over all the mishaps past, present and potential. “Tarantula Crossing” is easily the most emotional song on here, and it's bound to affect the listener quite strongly with levels of grief flying off the perception scale. However, as anybody who had a solid cry at any time in their life will say, one actually feels a bit better after calming down. “Tears in the Mirror” is the calm-down, relieving the pent-up emotions in a detached, disembodied manner. It's still a sad tune, and it doesn't intend to undo what the other tracks did, merely make you somewhat more endorphin-filled and calm. The effects of this semi-astral internal journey are cleansing, but in a different way than the denial of Shadows Between The Sky – after dipping one repeatedly in the depths of misery, the final song helps achieve a sort of cathartic acceptance of the surrounding reality... one may not undo all the encountered wrong and sadness, but it is essential to live on, minimizing the harm one does in order to make the world a better place.
Do yourselves a favor and check this one out – it's quite impeccable, both from the perspective of the performance and emotional value.