Mistheria is the stage name of Italian keyboard, organ, and keytar player Giuseppe Iampieri, and it would be quicker to list whom he hasn’t worked with in the metal world. Besides his enormous discography, he’s the producer of Vivaldi Metal Project, an endeavor based around turning Vivaldi’s four seasons into symphonic metal. About nine billion metal musicians participated in the project, so it’s no big surprise Mistheria drafted a few of them for his solo album Gemini. The cast alone is enough to make any connoisseur unload their custard cannon into their tighty whities, including the likes of bass player Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death, Soen,) drummer John Macaluso (Symphony X, ARK, Riot,) and among the guitar players, Roger Staffelbach (Roger Staffelbach’s Angels of Eden, Artension) with Christopher Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) and Rob Z (Bruce Dickinson) as guests. With this much talent aboard, this has to be good, right? Right?
If only it were that simple. Completely instrumental albums are more difficult to compose, I think because we are automatically drawn to voices. Without a vocalist, the tracks must be carefully crafted to guide the listener’s attention and keep a sense of structural flow and integrity. Gemini is not carefully composed. Gemini doesn’t have flow and barely any structure. Rather, Gemini is a group of very talented musicians wanking onto a biscuit and hoping you’ll eat it. The songs are either original works or adaptations of classical pieces, but both come down to an endless pastiche of guitar and keyboard solos and bridges loosely connected by the percussion. Don’t expect much in the way of tension arcs, build-ups, and climaxes. If a great album is like an intense episode of your favorite TV-show, Gemini is more like a documentary where the runtime is filled with a series of musicians going, “Look what I can do!”
That isn’t to say it’s not impressive what they can do. Moment to moment, the virtuosity of the performances can’t be overstated. The keymaster himself is an enviable talent, either saturating the background with pulsing synths or taking the spotlight on the piano. His range of guitar players sweep, tap and shred like men possessed. DiGiorgio hardly needs an introduction, and he creates a solid rhythm section alongside Macaluso.
But my gripes are not with how the performers play, it’s what, and the blame for this lies squarely with Mistheria himself. Considering the five guitar players (including guests) sound interchangeable across the album, I deduce he kept a tight leash on playing style, and by his command, every note gets bent whenever possible. Though a technical accomplishment, this creates a warbling effect that makes the shredding sound sloppy and uneven. The instrumental nature of Gemini would not be nearly as much of an earsore if it hadn’t included several sections where guitars play obvious stand-ins for vocal lines, and it’s as effective as buttering bread with a golf club. Pile all this on top of the issues with the structure, and you get an album that’s not just boring and emotionally inert, but one that regularly crosses into annoying, and that is the last thing I want to feel when listening to music.
I once had a conversation with a classmate about Dream Theater. He loved how much of their music was just technically proficient solos strung together. As he was a musician himself, it taught me that some musicians may listen to music differently, focusing more on skill and less on the structure and emotional impact. I feel that people like him may get more out of Gemini than I did. What I get instead, is an hour-long tunnel vision, the initial spectacle of shredded strings suffering diminishing returns before the third track is out. Mistheria has done great work with numerous renowned artists, and I admire the amount and quality of his output. His solo affair, however, is nothing more than a blemish on his discography.