It’s weird how sometimes you listen to a batch of albums and they all feel like they mesh together so well. That’s really how these four albums are for me. There’s a thread of great guitar playing throughout these records, but in the end, they all went beyond great guitar playing. Whether through an extravaganza of electronic and ethnic influences, huge synth tone, or just great phrasing and composition, these records managed to leap out as being not just another show of nice playing. Hope you enjoy.

Aszension – Aszension
Aszension turned out to be a great album that doesn’t quite seem eclectic, but is still totally weird in that it has a great way of putting together otherwise normal music in interesting ways. There’s a lot of really cool clean guitar work, and ethnic influences abound. There’s a ton of flamenco breathing through this record and quite a bit of atmospheric new age like elements, all presented in pleasing fashion. Actually, it surprised me that beneath all of the great melodic composition this is actually a rock guitar album that makes you forget that it’s a guitar album. All around there are beautiful textures and catchy beats that make this all instrumental offering a pleasure to listen to. There’s even a times where it sounds like video game soundtracks a la Uematsu, which is perhaps why I dig this album so much. From the large atmospheric swells to the chunky guitar riffs, Aszension definitely didn’t have in mind to sound like something particular, yet there’s a cohesive feel to the whole thing.  Some great tracks to listen to are “Time Dilation” with its fantastic blend of soundtrack with harsh and dissonant atmospheric keyboards kicking it off, as well as Crystal Caves, which somehow recalled the great minimalist electronic composers and mixed it with modern elements of film, new age, games, and Asian influences. Quite the enjoyable album all around.

Gandalf’s Project – Insights
Insights by Gandalf’s Project really had one of those openers that every album wished they had: “Grey Rain” just knocked me off my feet as ultimate epic, from the thunder crash to the vivid synths mixed with swirling pans and good use of narration; Gandalf’s Project immediately throws the listener into an uncanny dreamscape. Songs like “Imaginary Landscapes” present a great balance between eerie, somber and sweet, while tracks like “India’s Secret” throw in the grooves that really make you move. Like Aszension, Insights has a bit of a rock guitar album feel but with so many extra touches that it becomes something that goes far beyond the guitar. There are so many great moods on this record which always come enhanced by nice electronic ethnic feeling drumming, pretty arpeggiators, and really wicked synth bass. Haunting, dreamy, and funky are some of the words that come to mind when I listen to Insights. And for the guitar fans, you even get some cool shredding. Check out “Colored Waves,” it’s truly a highlight of the album.

Randy George – Action Reaction
Randy George: a guy who has done some incredible work with Neal Morse and Ajalon. Randy George: also a bass guy who writes great solo music on his own. Before going on to talk about his phenomenal playing, I really need to mention how much I loved his titles on Action Reaction. “Death By Chocolate,” for example; kinda silly, but could be true if you eat too much candy. “Who Threw My Kitty in the Pool” is just a great image that I think would give just about anyone a good laugh. At any rate, although this is a review of few words, and even less when it comes to commenting on the music, I loved the album; Mr. George is a phenomenal jazz, fusion, rock, and prog bassist. I believe he will satisfy the tastes of fans of all of these artists.

Aethellis – Northumbria
Aethellis is a band that’s kind of everywhere in their approach to symphonic rock, but there’s always the constant of great songwriting. “Northumbria” is an album full of great melody and atmosphere with production that pleases the ear. The organs sound absolutely fantastic, as do all other synths. The drums sound very live, and although not mind blowing, everything just sounds pleasing all around. Not just pleasing, but memorable. The beginning of “Awakening” starts with some really sick arpeggiator and electronic drumkit with a synth bass that just rocks my world. “Dire Need” made me smile with some great 80’s synth trumpet that was actually used in a really good way. About four minutes into “The Penal Colony” my mind got blown with the heavy synth percussion full of little blips and ringing and the like, and then sent me through a trip as it suddenly gots impossibly dark. From rockin’ Hammond riffs to gospel choirs and synth driven prog, “Northumbria” had my attention from beginning to end. Check it out.