Angel Vivaldi and I have had our brushes in the past, but despite his considerable back catalog, I’ve never found myself with the racing heart and flushed cheeks that many other younger instrumental/shred fans seem to exhibit when his name comes up. Perhaps it’s my general perception of his persona as egregiously narcissistic, or maybe it’s just that his works, while technically impressive, have never struck me as having much “heart” or consistency. As much a visual showman with his presentation as a fret-scorcher, Vivaldi has certainly built up Synapse to sound like an immensely personal album. As such, I reckoned that if the guy was ever going to impress me, this would be his shot.
Synapse is a hard-hitting, predominantly up-tempo piece of work. The name of the game here is, pure modern shred. Effects are heavily employed and with constancy – a behavior typical for Vivaldi, and sometimes polarizing for instrumental virtuoso fans, myself not generally included. Synapse is, at least nominally, a “concept” album. “Concept” in this case referring to a loose gathering of the names of a bunch of hormones and neuro-transmitters, thrown together in a somewhat disorganized heap with Vivaldi’s musical interpretation of the effects and behavior of each pervading its eponymous song. That seems as pretentious as marketing this as a full-length, frankly, though in the end, it’s probably just as well this is limited to nine relatively brief tracks running bare;y half an hour.
If there’s one thing I’d generally say that Angel gets right, it’s keeping track times down. Shred often walks a fine line between self-indulgence and memorability. While I find ripping opener “Adrenaline” and the subsequent refrain hooks of “G.A.B.A.” easy to follow and enjoyable, the almost ceaseless staccato chug-riffing results in a tendency to lose oneself amidst the songs. Embarrassingly, my next favorite track is a fifty second interlude: the chorus-laden, acoustic-electric arpeggio strains of “Noradrenaline.” Not because everything else sucks, mind you, but merely because Angel actually makes some different, pleasant sounds for about a minute.
I found myself at an indifferent middle ground with this whole affair, my appetite for tasty shred being only partially and irregularly sated. Between my love for heavy instrumental prog, the icons of shred and solo guitar, and even the cleaner, instrumental side of djent, I was starting to pump myself up for Synapse, as it reconciles elements of all three to a certain extent. But I ended up struggling to understand why this didn’t click. I finally realized that I’m supposed to be an Angry reviewer now, and so brooding was likely to be more effective than simple pondering. Sure enough, giving myself a case of the grumps got me rolling, and here’s the rub: this album feels extremely synthetic and detached – this is fine for djent, for example, but that’s not at all how the album is marketed, nor what I’ve come to expect from master guitar virtuosos who perform at Vivaldi’s level. Heck, even when I don’t like them that much, I find Satch’s studio albums to be wildly varying, bleeding-heart exposés. Vivaldi, on the other hand, has about two speed settings and two rhythmic approaches that lie beneath his multitude of frenetic solo antics – and honestly, a lot of those techniques are repeated song after song with different formulas. I’m really rather bothered that there’s not more to sink my teeth into with all of the talent on display. I can only say I’m captivated by a few minutes of the two lead tunes, as well as a few scraps of “Dopamine” and the title track.
Synapse just furthers my impression of Angel Vivaldi as being too self-contained within his own songwriting limits and ego. It’s a technically superb but holistically lacking album that’s too redundant to be enjoyed as prog, too stoic and structurally bland to measure up to many solo guitar contemporaries, and…not djent (which I only keep bringing up because other, less musicologically-inclined listeners and reviewers seem to think this album goes in that direction). I’d classify it as closest to the music from Jeff Loomis’ solo work, Abolish The Echelon, and perhaps Scale The Summit, but without the same kind of variety and hefty emotional clout. Unless you’re a devoted fan of Angel’s or really keen on the idea of some fast, distilled shred, sit this one out.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Seek and Strike
Releases Worldwide: October 6th, 2017