OHMphrey // Posthaste
Rating – 3.0/5.0 – Ex-Megadeth guitarist joins forces with hippies; chaos ensues
Label: Magna Carta/Border
Release Dates: EU: 2012.04.11 | US: 04.10.2012
Virtuoso guitarist Chris Poland has had an interesting career path, to say the least. After starting out with a little Christian rock group from LA called Megadeth (whatever happened to them, anyway?), Poland has dabbled in instrumental shred (Return to Metalopolis), progressive rock (the short-lived Damn The Machine), and more recently, jazz fusion with his trio OHM. His latest project, cleverly [Yes. Clever. That was the word. - AMG] named OHMphrey, consists of Poland and OHM bassist Robbie Pagliari alongside three members of Chicago jam/improv band Umphrey’s McGee. Posthaste is apparently their 2nd album.
Full disclosure: I know pretty much nothing about Umphrey’s McGee or the ‘jam band’ scene in general. As a young metalhead, my friends and I didn’t want anything to do with that whole genre, except occasionally going to the live shows because the drugs were better there (a decision that led a few of the guys into full-on addiction, or worse yet, actually liking Phish). Luckily, Umphrey’s seems to be more from the Genesis/King Crimson school of thought, which puts them a lot closer to both Poland’s comfort zone and my own.
So what does this unholy alliance sound like? Well, if you haven’t guessed by now, it isn’t metal. The band wisely avoids the heavy stuff, except for the odd riff here and there. For the most part, this is mellow, melodic stuff, performed amazingly well. Pagliari and drummer Kris Myers are pretty telepathic for two dudes that came from different bands, and both of them do all kinds of cool shit (check out Myers doing dub reggae echo in real-time on “Reggaelic”). Guitarist Jake Cinniger is a perfect foil for Mr. Poland’s lead work, and his own playing is intriguing as hell while being completely different from Poland’s. The band tears through free jazz, instrumental rock, and a variety of other styles, with Poland’s liquid guitar tones throughout.
Keyboardist Joel Cummins, however, seriously tests my patience at times. “Tom Bombadil,” [He should’ve been in the movies! – AMG] for instance, starts out as a mellow jam with a perfectly interesting chord progression, until he busts in with some harsh 80’s-sounding synths that could’ve come straight outta “Jump.” A couple other tracks are similarly interrupted by his keytar shenanigans. For the most part, though, his playing is tasteful and unobtrusive, and easy enough to tune out if you would rather have kidney stones the size of baby fists than hear keyboards as a lead instrument.
The album closes with two tracks, “Firestarter” and “20/20”, that are apparently live and completely improvised. As far as I can tell, these 2 tracks consist of the band fucking around for 10 minutes and 20 minutes respectively. I’m sure that there are some people out there who are really into the improv/free jam thing (translation: on drugs), and they will love this. To me, these tracks embody pretty much every negative stereotype of improvised/jam music, and are a huge drop in quality from the rest of the record. An unfortunate end to an album that I otherwise enjoyed way more than I expected to.
To me, the main draw here is simply hearing Chris Poland play. The guy has always been my favorite of the many ex-Megadeth guitarists simply because his style is so fucking weird, and therefore instantly identifiable. Even in the unusual context of a group like OHMphrey, as soon as Poland starts playing, the brain’s immediate reaction is “Oh hey, it’s the guy who did the solo on ‘Good Mourning/Black Friday!’” OHMphrey may not be your cup of tea, but you have to give Poland props for continuing to explore different musical avenues throughout the years (instead of, say, crying about his old band). And in this instance, the OHMphrey lineup gives him plenty of interesting canvas to paint on.