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T-Mac is back with his first official solo album since 2001’s Chromaticity. It’s his 13th solo disc in a career spanning 25 years. This self-produced new release is the heaviest thing he’s ever done, and it’s full of jaw-dropping shred, soothing classical flourishes, skull-bludgeoning rhythms, and epic 8-string guitar action.
With a 10-year hiatus behind him—and having worked off and on with Ring of Fire, CAB, Steve Vai, Planet X, and Devil’s Slingshot—MacAlpine now returns to center stage. As a classical pianist who multitasks in jazzfusion, funk, and metal, he brings a unique and harmonically rich point of view to his compositions. Planet X bandmate and drummer extraordinaire Virgil Donati guest stars on three tracks and their chemistry is super strong. The technical, melodic, and rhythmic concoctions these guys create together make for an intense listening experience.
Drummer Marco Minnemann plays on “Fire Mountain,” “Dream Mechanism,” “Pyrokinesis,” and “The Dedication.” He brings to this record the kind of super chops and musicality that made him a finalist for the Dream Theater drummer auditions. MacAlpine handles the rest of the drum programming, and gets some of the best guitar tones of his career using his 7- and 8-string Ibanez guitars through a Hughes & Kettner TriAmp. What he lacks in sonic earthiness, he makes up for with a smooth clarity that highlights the nuances in his playing.
MacAlpine moves seamlessly from high-intensity, alternate-picked passages to rubbery legato lines, angular harmonies, and brutal riffs. This is offset by the peaceful serenity of compositions like “Flowers For Monday,” a lovely Di Meola-esque duet for acoustic guitar and piano. “The Dedication” quotes 19th-century German composer Robert Schumann, and once again demonstrates MacAlpine’s knack for blending Romantic-era classical music with his own artistic vision.
On first listen, it’s a very hard and in-yourface record, but with repeated listens, one can’t help but notice the harmonic sophistication, passion, and the high level of intricate compositional prowess. Tony MacAlpine is one of the best instrumental records of the year, and it ranks right up there with his 1994 disc, Maximum Security.