This might sound like a strange comparison, but I like metal for the same reasons that I like jazz. Both of these genres appreciate the level at which an artist can perform more than almost any other aspect of the music. Jazz musicians are know for their chops, their technical skills, and their deep knowledge of every part of music theory. This is also where seasoned metal musicians shine. Guitarist Xander Demos has chops for days. His technical prowess is undeniable, but I also believe that his artistic vision for his sound is what makes Guitarcadia stand out.
I usually have a hesitant approach when it comes to metal, because so much of metal these days falls into the death or emo-ish sub genres. But Xander Demos' particular flavor of metal is anything but dark. While it could be called serious and possibly epic at times, its a triumphant sound that is honestly more uplifting and just straight rocking than anything else. Surprisingly, much of this album is based in major chords and progressions. This was a really pleasant change from the norm. I found Xander's sound to be a blend of prog rock and hair metal in the most delightful way. I say prog rock because Xander's guitar lines are always very fast and complex. In fact all the compositions for the most part are pretty complicated. On top of that, the progressive rock sound of Yes or Rush can be heard in the accenting instrumentation of mono synth solos on a few different tracks. The guitar tone constantly has distortion and overdrive on it, but not in a grimy way. The overall guitar tone is fiery yet clean.
This is a dense album with 10 tracks that often come in at way over the 5 minute mark, but the content really lives up to the name Guitarcadia. From the first note of the first song we are being dropped head first into a landscape of guitar, and it's excellent. The longest song on the album, "Under a Darkened Sky," is one of my favorite original songs. I love this track because it's huge and epic. It reminds me in subtle ways of the artists who gave metal it's name, Led Zeppelin. While this song really doesn't sound anything like Zeppelin, the narrative of the lyrics gives me that feel of an epic story. Nostalgia for 90's video games is strong when listening to this composition as the rhythm guitar harkens back to F-Zero and the wailing lead melodies remind me of Mega Man X.
Another one of his originals that really stuck me was "Woodshed Sonata" as it was one of the few times on the album that the tempo dropped and gave all the instrumentalists some room to breathe and bounce around the composition. Additionally, I am a sucker for Back to the Future, so when a sample of Marty McFly kicks in saying "watch me for the changes and try to keep up," I lost it. It was a perfect transition out of the down tempo portion of the song back into a wailing finish.
It may feel like a cop out, but my favorite songs on this album are the cover songs. The cover songs work exceptionally well, because the songs structures force Xander to reign in his skills to fit the overall composition. This is when we actually get to feel a bit of contrast between the amazing technical skills and the more subdued artistic choices that really make an artist worth listening to. It's hard not to love Demos' cover of "Boys of Summer." I think that I would say this is my favorite song on the album. This cover is an interesting choice, but it makes a lot of sense. I feel like music from this era is a major influence on what Xander is creating in his music. To hear this song covered by him somewhat encapsulates all the different influences I can feel flowing through his music.
The final track, "Lady in Red," really caught my attention as it is the only song that uses a drum machine. The choice to use a drum machine makes sense as it recreates the same feel as the original song, but here it was especially refreshing as it opens up the sound of the album for the first time. I think Xander Demos could definitely open up the overall sound of future albums by taking some risks with more decisions like this.
You can pick up Guitarcadia on iTunes and all major digital music retailers.
You can also find more fro Xander Demos at his website www.xanderdemos.com, his Twitter, www.twitter.com/xanderdemos, his YouTube Channel, www.youtube.com/xanderdemos, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/xanderdemosmusic.