You’ve got to respect a man who isn’t afraid to put his influences on display, and Joe Stump is definitely a shredder who sends a nod to all his heroes through his playing and quite explicitly in his liner notes. What we have here is the latest effort – Virtuostic Vendetta – from a player who has both been named one of the ten fastest shredders (Guitar One Magazine) and one of the top 20 shredders of all time (Guitarist), and this album certainly has moments that make me tend to agree.
Stump is a classical shredder in the vein of Yngwie Malmsteen and a great exponent of the neo-classical style of playing (influenced by composers such as Back and Paganini), but he also includes quite a lot of metal inspired heavy riffing, soulful blues rock and a good deal of such 70s heroes as Richie Blackmore, Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower.
The album starts off at full burn with ‘Chasin' the Dragon’ which delivers a heavy dose of classical influences and lots of fast picking which is followed by the thrashy ‘Pistol Whipped’ that offers some pretty intense soloing and riffing. Once the oriental sounding ‘The Dance of Kashani’ (an homage to Rainbow’s ‘Gates of Babylon’ according to the artist) opens up, I begin to really enjoy myself. Whereas the first two tracks relied primarily on speed and technique, this track has a cool groove and some very tasteful soloing throughout, although clocking in at close to eight minutes it lacks the variation to keep it from becoming rather monotonous towards the end.
There is no doubt that this cat can play … and I mean really play. To me, however, his strongest compositions are the ones where he slows down enough to make his emotional playing shine and can build the track towards a climax instead of doing 180 mph from start to finish. ‘The Beacon’ is a real power ballad that starts off slow and gradually takes off where Joe churns out some really intense licks interspersed with bursts off fast picking – a real highpoint for any sucker for guitar ballads – and tracks such as ‘Old School Throwdown’ and ‘Strat Sorcery’ are truly bluesy rockers that minute by minute turn into shred fests. Those are the moments when he really stands out as a great player. 'The Witching Hour' is a delightfuly sinister, mid-tempo track that also allows Joe to excel, but once again I would have preferred a five minute rather than a nine minute dosage.
On the whole, Virtuostic Vendetta is a mixed pleasure. On the one hand there are some great tracks with very convincing playing, but stuff like ‘Chasin’ the Dragon’, ‘Fire and Brimstone’, ‘Allegro #2 in A minor’ and ‘Symphonic Pandemonium’ simply leave me cold – well executed pyrotechnics that are just as difficult for me to enjoy as they probably are to perform.
While Joe himself stands out as a great player, however, the remaining members of the constellation fail to make an impression as they deliver a rather lackluster performance. Also, the sound on the album seems quite distorted as if it’s fallen victim to the ‘loudness war’ during mastering, which means that it sounds pretty bad if you play it loud (and unfortunately my air guitar doesn’t work properly at low volumes).
My reservations notwithstanding, fans of the genre, and of Joe in particular, will probably find little fault with this album, so do check it out.