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Derek Sherinian

Blood of the Snake

Review by Gary Hill

Derek Sherinian always seems to be looking for new ways to stretch out musically and this time around he's brought a lot of friends on board to help him in that process. The end result is Blood of the Snake, a disc that is arguably his most diverse. It also might well be his strongest album ever. This thing really rocks. I'd have to say that progressive rock purists might be a bit put off by the heavy metal nature of a couple of that tracks. My challenge to those folks - give it a chance, I bet the disc will win you over. This thing is definitely quality. While a lot of Sherinian's music is instrumental two (well technically three) songs on this one include vocals. I think that helps to add to the diverse feel of the album. It also serves to strengthen it. Derek Sherinian seems never to disappoint. He's thrilled me once again with Blood of the Snake.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Czar of Steel
Sherinian is joined on this track by Simon Phillips (drums), Tony Franklin (bass) and former Dream Theater band mate John Petrucci (guitar). Not surprisingly this cut feels a lot like DT. It does a great job of combining progressive rock stylings with heavy textures and some serious melody lines all in the course of a smoking instrumental number. There is an awesome solo segment where Petrucci and Sherinian seem to use their instruments to duel. Phillips also gets a bit of a solo on the track. Then it is reinvented into sort of a stripped down, almost techno sort of jam with lots of fusion characteristics for a short interlude. I can't imagine a better opening number than this screamer.
Man With No Name
 This time around Sherinian's cohorts are Zakk Wylde (guitar and vocals), Jerry Goodman (violin), Brian Tichy (bass and drums) and the aforementioned Franklin once again on fretless bass. As might be expected, this track feels a bit like Ozzy's solo material since Wylde was a big part of that sound. Wylde's vocals feel a lot like Axl Rose. There are cool symphonic type lines that skirt across the top of this at points and the violin occasionally wanders almost hidden over the top. There is a smoking Black Sabbath like break down that repeats on this one, too. It drops back to just keys and then other instruments, including the violin, join in gradually to bring this upward. As the vocals re-enter over the top of this basis they feel a bit like a cross between Ozzy and Rose. This pumps back up from there ever so slowly, but eventually explodes out for a screaming (but tasty) guitar solo. The latter part of this solo turns into a Sabbath-like segment, but with more of a modern twist. There is a lot of metal in this piece. I'm sure a lot of hardcore progressive rock fans will be turned off by it, but I think it's pretty awesome.
Phantom Shuffle
From a full on metal stomper Sherinian moves into a cut without any guitar. This one features his keys, the bass playing of Jimmy Johnson, Brandon Fields on sax and the return of Phillips' drumming. It's a fast paced fusion jam with strong leanings on the jazz side. This one should have the prog purists back in Sherinian's corner. There's a lot of drama and some seriously soaring melodies on this one along with plenty of strangely angled corners. The sax lays down some definite jazz soloing from time to time, too, and the bass manages to work in some cool walking patterns at points.

Been Here Before
Another alumnus of Osbourne's band is playing guitar here. This time it's Brad Gillis (also known for his work in Night Ranger). Jerry Goodman, Tony Franklin and Simon Phillips all return in their familiar roles. The melody that starts this one feels just a little bluesy, but it's also very pretty and the song has a lot more sedate tone than anything else we've heard before. I can hear shades of Pink Floyd on this instrumental, but also some Beatles. This is one of my favorites on the disc, but with everything this strong it's really hard to choose one. This arrangement gets quite lush and those Beatles elements more prevalent later, but it also manages to make a shift toward the fusion end of things. Overall the track moves between all of these varied styles to create a killer jam.
Blood of the Snake
Well, when a track features both Yngwie Malmsteen and Zakk Wylde you have to expect some serious guitar pyrotechnics. That duo joins Sherinian, Tichy and Franklin here. This comes in feeling like the intro to "On The Run" by Pink Floyd. It begins to grow up out of that into something very different, though. This actually starts off quite tentatively, though, but there is a definite sense of anticipation building until it explodes into a frantic fusion oriented jam. This takes on neo-classical elements and Eastern overtones at times. It gets quite heavy without losing any of its prog rock integrity. Later it drops to a slower paced, rather heavy groove that feels a bit like Pink Floyd. That opening sound, but with a lot of oomph this time, takes it later on and the musicians take that as an invitation to move back into the neo-classical jam.
On the Moon
This time it's Sherinian, Gillis, Franklin and Phillips laying the tunes down. Here they provide us with a full on mellow jazz groove. This is a nice change of pace and reprieve from the fiery fury of the last number. Both Sherinian and Gillis get in some tasty soloing and the cut eventually makes it ways up to a more energetic fusion mode, but still with a nice melodious approach.
Prelude To Battle
The lineup on this one is Sherinian, Franklin, Goodman, Mahlis and Tichy joined by Jivan Gasparyan and Mike Shapiro. It comes in gradually with a decidedly Arabic flavor. And by that I don't mean a rock take on Arabic sounds, but right down to the instrumentation and singing a legitimate Arabic musical motif. Eventually a pretty jazz like melody emerges from this, at first playing accompaniment, then seeming to take the track over. However, the lead instrumentation is definitely in the mode that began the piece and those vocals are back, too in this reiteration. This one is certainly the most unique composition on the CD and a definite change of pace. It basically serves as an introduction to the next number, but I wouldn't see this strictly in that way, though. It is certainly too fleshed out and extended to be looked on only as an intro.
Viking Massacre
They turn the Arabic themes from the last cut into a full on metallic jam on this one that feels rather like a whirling dervish. The musicians here are Sherinian, Malmsteen and Tichy. This cut is quite heavy, but also furiously fast. It's another that features some incredible guitar work from Malmsteen. The arrangement also has some intriguing left turns into more symphonic prog sounds. This one is another of the standouts here. Of course, I should say that I am a sucker for Eastern tinged music like this. Still, this is one of the best examples you'll find. Plus Sherinian lays down a cool retro sounding prog rock organ solo later in a nice change up. It drops back later, though to a reprise of the sounds from the previous piece before powering back out to the more metallic. This one really cooks!

In The Summertime
Yep, Sherinian takes on this Mungo Jerry song, and plays it pretty true to form (at least at first). His cohorts here are Tichy and Franklin joined by none other than Slash and Billy Idol. After a couple minutes of a faithful performance they crank it up a bit with Slash providing some great talk box guitar sounds. They don't really change the general atmosphere that much, but rather simply power it up and make it a bit more gritty. While I'm not sure I would have closed the disc with this, it is definitely fun. A few minutes of silence are followed by what sounds like a party at the Sherinian house that gets interrupted by his neighbor at his door complaining about the noise. The rest is funny enough to be worth a listen.

 
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