Review Summary: John 5 makes self-indulgence and structure work in perfect harmony.
Instrumental albums from a virtuoso player, they’re a tough nut to crack. Listening to a musician shred on their instrument for 40+ minutes certainly isn’t for everyone, a fact that general shows the appeal of an instrumental LP lying in-between the fan who is a musician themselves and wants to know just how far the artist in question can push their fret wanking abilities, to the obsessed fan of the artist who needs every bit of output they churn out. For me, I live in-between both reasons, I find these types of instrumental albums to be hit-and-miss, normally landing in the latter half. The problems largely stem from lack of structure, and if you’re down vocals, structure is made that much more important.
John William Lowery, aka John 5, is a very talented guitar player, not just his obvious abilities on the axe, but for reasons he manages to bat away most of the problems these type of album hold. All of his solo work is at worst solid, and this is mainly down to how he approaches the songs he writes. His knowledge and understanding of different styles are his biggest allies, and that’s basically what gives John such a strong foundation to work on.
The Art of Malice is by far the most diverse and interesting LP from his discography, showcasing his outstanding abilities on the guitar, while bringing an unbelievable amount of charisma and melody to songs. The way he plays makes you rule out this album as merely “just an instrumental LP”; the riffs in tracks like the opener “The Nightmare Unravels” manage to bring hard riffs with massive melodies and harmonies, ones so strong it feels as though there is a singer in the band. It’s an odd sentiment, but one that best describes how well done the playing is on this. But what The Art of Malice has going for it, more than anything else, is how well thought out the songs are: they know when to go balls out and when to bring the song back to a level head again, and that’s what distinguishes it from the competition.
Styles range from Hard Rock, Blue Grass, Folk, Metal, Country – you name it it’s pretty much on here, but style aside, songs on here rarely slip up or become dull. The production punches out massive amounts of energy, letting the soaring guitar wails on the epic “Can I Live Again” really shines, while the fast poundings of “Ya Dig"” bring the adrenaline levels up.
It’s hard to pick little fault with The Art of Malice, it’s interesting from the get go and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Multiple styles means there really is something for everyone here; it’s only handicap is that even though this album is a cut about the rest and brings all the qualities you’d want in a great album, it’s still an instrumental album and because of that it won’t reach out to everyone as it should. But, be it you’re a fan of John 5’s works, instrumental solo albums, or you’re a little open-minded to try something new, this will definitely deliver.