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Planet X

Anthology (4 CD set)

Review by Gary Hill

I have to say that for my money Planet X was (and I say "was" because I doubt they'll ever do any music again, but I'd love to be proven wrong) one of the best instrumental acts ever. The musicianship, songwriting and general range were unparalleled in a lot of ways. So, this career spanning four CD set is a great thing to have. All the CDs have been remastered, and put together in a cool digipack with a great booklet.

The two constants throughout Planet X's three studio and one live album are drummer Virgil Donati and keyboardist and group leader Derek Sherinian. The guitarist on all but the last album was Tony MacAlpine. Bass work at different times was handled by Jimmy Johnson, Tom Kennedy, Dave LaRue. Brett Garsed and Allan Holdsworth were the guitarists on the final Planet X album, although Holdsworth was an additional guitarist on just two of the tracks. It should be noted that I reviewed most of these tracks when I reviewed the individual albums. For the sake of consistency I've used or adapted those track reviews for use here.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2023  Volume 4 More information and purchase links can be found at:

Track by Track Review
CD 1 - Universe

Screaming in with a hard-edged rocking sound, as the keys enter, the cut takes on a more jazzy retro sound. The mode keeps alternating between these two styles for a time. Then comes a screaming fusionish guitar-dominated segment that leads us back into the jazzier modes. This fusionish element is added into the alternating pattern, and the cut continues. Next the number changes gear drastically into a smoother, more melodic fusion segment in the mode of such artists as Al Di Meola. This leads to a more hard-edged and frantic sort of fusion mode, and then the cut returns to the original alternating format.

Her Animal
This is another that starts in a hard-edged way. This one stays in that tone for a time, with some overlaid keys being the only jazzish texture for a time. At about one minute in, the track really cuts loose, first in a frantic jam, then by building in interesting meandering ways on the original theme. After about another 30 seconds, the cut changes to a Yesish mode, then breaks loose into another frantic hard-edged jam. This one just keeps building from there. It features a definitely wonderful screaming fast segment toward its midpoint.
Dog Boots
Fast-paced drumming begins this number. As the other instruments join in, the piece drops a bit. The composition quickly becomes a very strong prog rock groove. This is one of the best numbers on the first disc. It is really musically all over the place while still maintaining a coherent texture.
A potent hard rock guitar-dominated segment begins this number. It starts to take on more progish modes as it evolves, but still within that hard-edged rock format. It does become a bit ELPish at times, and really scorches at some points.
King of the Universe
Beginning with a (tongue-in-cheek) spoken word intro that really showcases how pompous and overblown prog can get, when the music takes over, it is in a strong prog/fusion style. This is another that really covers a lot of musical territory and is definitely a prog tour-de-force, building to soaring power, then dropping back to a balladic sort of elegance and beauty. It gradually builds back up from there, eventually screaming back out.
Inside Black
Another metallic intro kicks this one off. The cut takes on fusion oriented textures as it continues.
Jazzish prog modes start this one. It changes styles quite a bit, presenting a very strong prog/jazz sort of approach that really soars at times. It gets quite ELPish occasionally.
War Finger
Ambient, processed sounds begin this cut. It then switches direction to become a very solid groove in a hard rocking progish fusion-oriented mode. It jumps out of that groove into a more adventurous sort of jam that surprises and thrills. This one really cooks. It drops into a nice bass jam at one point, and from there builds in strong prog directions.
Starting in a killer groove that really feels like a musical representation of the whole chocolate experience (dark, rich and creamy), this cut builds on that mode, running through many musical formats to be one of the strongest compositions on the disc.
Pods of Trance
This is mostly fast-paced hard-edged prog that really rocks. It does include a nice Di-Meolaish freeform jam.
Starting with keys dominated by a strong piano melody, this one quickly turns into a fluid and melodic progressive rock arrangement, still firmly focused on the keyboards. About two minutes in, the cut shifts gear, becoming much more guitar-oriented. It is a jazzy sort of jam with tasty classical influences. The song then shifts modes again, into a slower tempoed, jazz-oriented style. Then it returns to earlier textures, building a bit on them to end the piece.
CD 2 - Live From Oz
Ignotus Per Ignotum

A funky groove with a great meaty texture starts this one off. The track, through its various fusion-oriented segments, serves as a way for Planet X to introduce the members of the band through solos. This gets rather dark and foreboding at times. It really covers a lot of musical forms and styles.

Inside Black
The rhythmic pattern to this one is quite cool, and the overall groove of the song is a great fusion jam. It moves along very organic lines, creating new melodies within the framework until a very tasty keyboard sound takes it for a time. Then a new energy hits. It carries on for a while, and then all the instruments stop, and the guitar scorches out alone for a couple measures. When the other instruments rejoin, the piece has a harder edge. A new, slightly off-kilter segment enters late to take the piece to its outro. This number originally appeared on the Universe album.
Dog Boots
Percussion begins this one, a frantic fast-paced piece that for some reason I can't place makes me think of the theme for The Munsters. It doesn't really sound like it, yet the early segments consistently make me think of that song. It moves through several changes, each member of the band getting his chance to shine. This is another from Universe.
Atlantis Part 1-Apocalypse 1470 BC
Meaty hard-edged fusion, this one breaks down to a frantic off-kilter jam for a time. This feels a bit like UK at times. It, like the rest of the Atlantis trilogy, was first heard on Sherinian's Planet X album.
Atlantis Part 2-Sea of Antiquity
Ominous tones start this, and then an intricate, pretty segment emerges. The cut is a solid fusion number.
Atlantis Part 3-Lost Island
This one somehow feels a bit like both the Flower Kings and Nektar. Other sounds touched on here are King Crimson and Yes. It gets a bit dark, but is a killer prog jam.
Derek Sherinian Solo
The first true solo of the CD, Sherinian starts it off with atmospheric tones. He brings in some off-kilter fast-paced segments, but eventually the original tone returns. The final surge of sound comes in the form of a jam that feels a bit more like guitar than keyboards.
War Finger
Another that is originally from the Universe album, this one comes in with weird sounding waves. A chunky guitar line takes the piece into metallic territory. Then the keys enter, and the cut becomes all fusion. As if to tell us that that is the case, an all new "no question - it's fusion" movement enters later.
Virgil Donati Solo
This solo comes mid-song. I personally am not a big fan of drum solos, but Donati mixes it up quite a bit to make it interesting.
War Finger Reprise
More fusion continues the piece and takes it through to its conclusion.
Tony MacAlpine Solo
This is a guitar solo that has both speed and substance, although not necessarily at the same time. The coolest segment comes when he brings it down for the jazzy, contemplative segment that includes minor keyboard accompaniment.
Her Animal
Another that comes from Universe, this one has a very hard-edged intro. The remainder of the composition is more fusion and traditional prog related.
This song comes across as a dynamic, frantic, hard-edged fusion number.
Pods of Trance
This track, as the previous few, was originally presented on the Universe disc. It is quite a good prog jam that includes some guitar work that at times gets a bit bluesy.
This is a powerhouse screaming hot live stomper. It is fast-paced, heavy and mean. Yet it's also proggy but with a real metal edge to it. There is some great technical jamming further down the road. This was an unlisted piece on the original release of this.
Disc 3 - Moonbabies

Trippy, spacey electronic textures get us underway here. It eventually morphs into more of  mainstream rocking sound as it continues. That is definitely tempered with plenty of prog and angles that lean in on heavy metal. There are some powerhouse twists and turns. It has some crazed fusion-like keyboards. Smoking hot guitar seems to straddle a fence between fusion and thrash. This just keeps reinventing itself as they drive this jam. There is a drop back later that includes some smoking hot bass work.

The Noble Savage
Mellower, freeform jazz is on the menu as this gets going. Some Holdsworth-like sounds are in the driver's seat. It turns super-heavy after a time as fires out from there. We get a series of twists and turns that ensue in some killer hard-edged fusion ways. Various instruments take the spotlight at different times. At points this turns quite metallic. At others the fusion concepts drive it. This never stays in one place very long.
QMGC82300029 (Ataraxia)
A melodic fusion groove gets us underway here. This evolves from there, feeling rather freeform at times. This has plenty of twists and turns, but in some ways it's more constant than the others that preceded it on this disc.
70 VIR
We are taken through some killer fusion territory on this screaming hot jam. While it's less metallic than some of the others here, it still manages to rock out really hard.

There are some decidedly mean sounds on this thing. It has some fierce prog meets fusion textures. This is not a big change from the rest here, but just some scorching hot jamming. There are parts of this that make me think of UK. I dig the fast paced keyboard playing later in the tune. This has some particularly scorching frantic music at play. There is definittely some Holdsworth like guitar work on the piece, too. This gets into a mellower melodic interlude later before firing back upward into more screaming hot jamming.

Interlude in Milan
Tastefully off-kliter, this has some great twists and turns as it drives forward. This shifts and turns and really gets frantic and crazed at points. Yet there are also more melodic, but still driving, breaks. Fusion, prog and almost metallic textures are all heard along the road here.
Digital Vertigo
Here we get more fierce fusion jamming. Everyone gets a chance to shine on this screamer. I really love some of the soaring guitar work on this, but you can't ignore any other instrument, either. This works toward technical metal at times.
Ground Zero
There are some parts of this that feel really soaring and triumphant. As you can imagine, this is packed full of twists, turns and differing movements. This covers a lot of territory as it makes its way through its various movements and themes. It's both prog and fusion, often at the same time.
Midnight Bell
This is dramatic and potent. In some ways it feels a little more mysterious. Yet, it's every bit as driving and crazed at others. It's another fine example of the magic this outfit was always capable of producing. There is an awesome bass solo section where that instrument really gets the spotlight. The whole thing explodes out from there with hard rocking fusion fury that ends it.
Ignotus Per Ignotum
Coming in fast and a little rubbery, this drives outward with style from there. There is some seriously screaming stuff further down the road. It has some intriguing changes and differing moods. There is so much power and smoking hot instrumental work built into this thing.
CD 4 - Quantum
Alien Hip Hop

Starting with symphonic textures, this quickly shifts gears into a killer fusion stomp. They move it towards more melodic territory on the “chorus” section. This thing rocks out quite well, but still manages to amaze and captivate with its prog fusion motifs, staggered timings and inspired changes. There is a lot of majesty packed into this arrangement, and I can't imaging a better opener for this final CD of the set. There is a cool section where it drops back to a mellower fusion mode for a tasty guitar solo.

Desert Girl
Starting with keys, this is another scorching jam. If the last one had a lot of changes packed into its course, then this one is purely constant shifts. The modes run between frantic hard-edged prog and furious fusion. All of it works quite well and none of the changes seem pushed or artificial. They do work some melodic, mellower modes into the mix, as well. These guys can do no wrong as it's one awesome track after another. It even turns a little metallic at times.
Matrix Gate
While the overall motif of this track doesn't differ much from the first couple cuts here, it doesn't suffer because of it. That theme itself is diverse enough that it holds tons of variety within each composition. The guitar is simply on fire on this one. Yes, my mouth is held firmly open through much of the track. Shorter than the first couple tracks (at 4:10 the shortest track on the final disc), this one definitely does not fall short on drama or powerhouse instrumental work.
The Thinking Stone
Here we have a bit of a change of pace. This is a little slower and more melodic in its overall texture. I suppose comparisons to Joe Satriani would be warranted, at least on the early modes. They don't stay there for long, though, screaming out into crunchy prog that simply scorches. As good as the rest of the disc is, there are sections here that rise even higher than the peaks provided by the other cuts. They bring us back to Earth with more of the melodic sounds, but with a revitalized and energized structure. There is a great textural sound with just some hints of Eastern textures nestled in the middle of this cut. I also love the section with a rather staccato beat and piano pounding over it that comes in later. In many ways this one shows even more dynamic range than the compositions that preceded it. It may well be my favorite tune on the final disc.
Space Foam
As one might expect from the title, ambient sounds start this off. That doesn't last long, though, as they launch out into a killer funky groove. This moves toward a heavy metallic sound that still has plenty of fusion to make the most prog hungry fanatics happy. This has some of the most angular shifts and turns of anything on the fourth CD. It is without question one of the highlights of the disc. There are moments where you might think of the legendary supergroup UK. Earlier discs by Planet X have called to mind that act, but it seems even more obvious now as Holdsworth was a founding member of UK, and while he's not on this track, he is on the album. Still, those sounds are only short sections. I love some of the soaring soloing that takes this cut into new thresholds of musical exploration. This is a killer, but there is little (or nothing) here that falls short of that label.
The song structure that leads this one off is among the most jazz oriented music on the final disc. It's also joyfully off-kilter and extremely cool. They work through a series of changes on this, but always manage to thrill and amaze. There is some extremely potent instrumental experimentation on this one, but that is sort of expected by this point. This turns the most chaotic and dissonant of anything on show. It also resolves out into some of the most traditional progressive rock sounds here. With some killer metallic segments and a great mellower movement, this is a piece that presents a fine example of how contrasting sounds can be used to their fullest potential. While the guitar work doesn't try for a million notes a minute on much of this song, it also produces some of the tastiest guitar work on the whole disc here. This is without question another highlight of the disc. Considering how strong everything here is, that says a lot.
If there is a weak cut here (and that's doubtful) this would be it. It's not that there is anything wrong with this. Taken by itself its lines of stellar fusion and powerful changes and textures are great. The main issue with this track is that it just seems a little pedestrian when standing up to the rest of the music here. For certain it has less of a dynamic nature than the rest of the material.
Kingdom of Dreams
From the “average” to the “superb,” this is one of the best cuts on the final disc. It starts with a cool keyboard texture that's full of tension and drama. They work it through a number of hard rocking fusion segments in fine fashion. Each one of the musicians is playing their best on this and the musical motifs they create are top notch. This has enough cohesiveness to really shine while altering enough to keep it very interesting. I love the swirling patterns that emerge in the musical progression from time to time. I also love the way that the opening keyboard element returns at varying times throughout the piece, accompanying different soundscapes as it does. It is definitely one of my favorites the final CD. The UK leanings appear on this one, as well.
Quantum Factor
This one is as close as we come to a title track. Metallic textures lead it off, but they quickly work those into a fusion motif. A new riff emerges after a time, this one feeling like the metallic sounds of King Crimson's Red era. More melodic elements are laid over the top of this for a time until the whole track shifts more in that direction. They wander back into more metallic territory, this time with a nicely odd-timed segment. Then it transforms into a soaring, triumphant sounding progressive rock jam. We get a killer King-Crimson-like segment with guitar that feels like Fripp goes metal. As if all of this wasn't enough, we get some short bursts of unaccompanied percussion and then a shift out into a killer jam that reminds me of something Birdsongs of the Mesozoic might put together, if they had a lot more crunch in their sound. Then a killer fusion movement takes over. While this may not be my favorite cut on show here (and it's not far from it) it is a powerhouse and makes for a great conclusion to the album that it was originally included on, and actually this set.



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