Sherinian, Derek - Black Utopia

Year of Release: 2003
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 124SPV 085-65692
Format: CD
Total Time: 43:37:00

Yes, I'm going to begin another review this way: Hot damn! Hang on to your head kiddies as Derek Sherinian and friends are like to rip it off with this searing CD. Hell, you might just find yourself in bits an pieces when all is said and done? though don't think about that statement too logically, ok.

Black Utopia, the 2003 release from Sherinian, is a volatile mix of guitars, drums and keyboards - it begins that way with "The Fury" and ends that way with the title track, a track that is an amalgam of nearly everything that precedes it. Not everything is a firestorm, though, as there's the comparatively languid ballad "Sweet Lament" that features a particularly? well, sweet (in a good way) guitar solo from guest Steve Lukather (so pretty and sad you'll wanna cry), "Stony Days," and "Gypsy Moth." Sherinian's guest list will tell you quite a bit about what you can expect - sort of - from Black Utopia: Yngwie Malmsteen, Al DiMeola, Zakk Wylde, Brian Tichy and Lukather on guitar, Simon Phillips on drums, Billy Sheehan and Tony Franklin on bass, and Jerry Goodman on violin.

Although this is a keyboard album, the keyboards don't dominate with the guests playing a cursory or mere cameo role. This is one of the things I keep noticing about Sherinian. He gives space and time to whomever is playing with him, whether it is on his "solo" projects such as this or with Planet X. Which means it's about the music, not stroking an ego. It could easily be that way, given the often gonzo way Sherinian attacks his keyboards. The first track, "The Fury," illustrates this - though Sherinian's keys rumble quietly at the beginning, it's the squeal of Malmsteen's guitar the first hits you. "The Sons Of Anu" is a white-knuckle ride that will have you grinning from ear to ear (and maybe right around your head) and not just from the virtual g-forces exerted by all. Oh sure, there's a few moments of freefall as we get more elegant guitar solos over keyboard washes and shimmering percussion, but you know at the back of your mind it's a momentary calm. I guess because they've been in the news of late, the thought that came to mind was? it's the false calm of the eye of the hurricane? and that back eye wall is going to hit you and hit you hard. A keyboard and guitar duet illustrates that moment as that wall approaches? Whew. And that's just track 2!

Just a quick tour through the rest of the album, though a longer stay is called for. "Nightmare Cinema" mixes a ballsy sound with a high sense of drama and suspense, as the title suggests; "Stony Days" is a more restrained piece that puts Lukather's jazzy guitar up front, atmosphere provided by sliding keyboard effects, and Franklin's throbbing bass. "Starcycle" is a rumbling, funky track not unlike what he creates with Planet X, for once the keyboards put at front and center. As the title suggests, there's a sci-fi feel to the arrangement that almost begs from some high-tech animation (I'm thinking of the detail NASA creates for their illustrations, or what the folks behind Babylon 5 created). Just as thrilling, it's not quite the scary ride that "?Anu" is, and that's okay. Sherinian and co don't want to repeat themselves. On the other hand, the acidic metal (and metallic) storm of "Axis Of Evil" sure comes close; it is certainly menacing? well, this just as easily could have called a nightmare as flashes of The Terminator 3 come to mind. Guitar furies here come from both Wylde and Malmsteen? and like Anu, we do get a few moments respite as guitars keen and swoop over keys (almost electric piano in tone). Sherinian answers with some just-shy-of shrill solos of his own. Again, having seem him play, I can tell you that he is the guitarist of keyboardists and so this is a natural fit for him. And I shouldn't fail to mention the authoritative drumming from Phillips that concludes this epic.

"Gypsy Moth" is a piece such that, if you know DiMeola, you know instantly that his fleet fingers are plucking those guitar strings. Sherinian plays here lyrical and sometimes classical piano-like tones (and maybe it's even a real piano) over DiMeola's old world guitar sound. It's a piece that lasts all too briefly. The more "refined" piano-like tones return with "Sweet Lament."

It's an album that will leave you breathless, with your finger on the play button. Hot damn, indeed!

Released in North America by InsideOut Music America (IOMACD 2055-2)

The Fury (0:51) / The Sons Of Anu (7:09) / Nightmare Cinema (5:25) / Stony Days (6:16) / Starcycle (5:04) / Axis Of Evil (6:09) / Gypsy Moth (1:59) / Sweet Lament (3:14) / Black Utopia (8:50)

Derek Sherinian - keyboards
Simon Phillips - drums
Yngwie Malmsteen - guitar (1,2,6)
Al DiMeola - guitar (2,7)
Zakk Wylde - guitar (3,6,9)
Steve Lukather - guitar (4,5,8)
Tony Franklin - bass (2 -9)
Billy Sheehan - bass (2,6,9)
Jerry Goodman - Violin (2,3,6,7,8,9)
Brian Tichy - additional guitars (2,3,6,9)

Dream Theater - A Change Of Seasons (1995)
Dream Theater - Falling Into Infinity (1997)
Dream Theater - Once In A Livetime (1998)
Planet X (1998)
Platypus - When Pus Comes To Shove (1999)
Planet X - Universe (2000)
Platypus - Ice Cycles (2000)
Inertia (2001)
Planet X - Live From Oz (2001)
Planet X - Moon Babies (2002)
Black Utopia (2003)
Mythology (2004)
Blood Of The Snake (2006)
Planet X - Quantum (2007)
Molecular Heinosity (2009)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: September 19th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 808
Language: english


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