By Mike Flavin
Since parting ways with Dream Theater in 1999, Derek Sherinian has released a string of exciting & musically challenging albums, both as a solo artist and with the band Planet X.
Molecular Heinosity, his seventh solo album, is no exception. Derek’s solo albums are legendary for his ability to construct extremely complex pieces, and then find players who can perform the music with an almost shocking ease. The revolving door of guests on Molecular Heinosity lets in some of the finest (and speediest) guitar shredders on the planet, along with the rhythm section of fretless bass virtuoso Tony Franklin and drummers Brian Tichy and Virgil Donati (whose playing I can only describe as scary). The guest who makes the biggest impression on the album is guitarist Zakk Wylde, of Ozzy Osbourne’s band and Black Label Society. Not known as a prog musician or a shredder, his aggressive, dynamic style gives his tracks a raw crunch that sets them apart from most other prog-metal you’ll likely encounter.
Although the album overall moves away from the jazz/fusion feel of some of Sherinian’s previous work and into a harder rock feel, it opens with a trilogy full of complex time signatures and some very impressive playing by all. The extended piece reminds me of the Chick Corea Elektric Band, but heavier (of course). Sherinian shows considerable tonal variety on this piece as well, changing from the thick modulated tones he normally favors on the rock numbers to more basic synth tones, along with piano & organ.
Zakk Wylde makes his first appearance on track four, “Wings of Insanity”, and drives the track with a crunching minor key riff, augmented by his signature ‘wide enough to drive a truck through’ vibrato. Something tells me you know Zakk Wylde has entered the room, whether he’s playing a guitar or not.
“Frozen by Fire” is the symphonic prog-metal showcase, with plenty of breakneck speed guitar & keyboard arpeggios, and a nice workout for Derek. I don’t have a listing of which guitarist is on each track, but the playing here is along the lines of Yngwie Malmsteen, and most likely will please fans of that classical-metal style. Likewise for the following track, “The Lone Spaniard” which is an instrumental ballad featuring guitar, keyboard, and fretless bass.
The albums signature track “Molecular Heinosity” is led by the deceptively melodic “Molecular Intro” straight into a riff that lets the drums and bass flex their considerable musical muscle while Derek showcases his soloing with his trademark modulated square wave keyboard lead sounds. Some more impressive guitar shredding here as well.
The final track, “So Far Gone” is the album’s only vocal number, with Zakk Wylde sounding a bit like the late Layne Staley. It’s an interesting track with more amazing playing by Wylde, but I think it might have been stronger with a more dynamic vocalist.
Progressive rock or progressive metal isn’t often thought of in terms of being ‘fun’, but Molecular Heinosity is just that. There’s a lot of great playing and a lot of notes, but it never comes off as excessive. For an album by a keyboardist, there’s a surprising emphasis on the guitarists, and they deliver on every track. It’s not exactly groundbreaking in terms of style, but very impressive in execution. The only real negatives I could say is that some of the guitar playing covers the Yngwie style a little too closely, and the album is rather short, clocking in at 40 minutes. It is fun listening though, and tends to auto-repeat if I have it on in the car.