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Derek Sherinian's fifth "solo" album, Blood of the Snake, is an interesting foray into keyboard-driven metal that is progressive without actually being Progressive.
For those of us who became Derek Sherinian fans by way of his work with Dream Theater and Platypus, the album is almost straight-forward to a fault. After the crushing 5/4 timed album-opener "Czar of Steel," the album veers into classic metal territory, featuring heavy metal mainstay players like Zakk Wylde and Brian Tichy. They're great players, to be sure, but not musicians you can expect much progressive rock from.
Indeed, the album's second track, "Man With No Name" is a vocal track, sung by Wylde, and almost sounds like a demo intended for submission to Ozzy Osborne. This fact is doubly underscored by the fact that Wylde appears to be doing an actual impersonation of Ozzy's voice. It's a bizarre thing, the Ozzy impersonation, because first of all I've heard Zakk Wylde's real voice, and he sounds nothing like Ozzy. Second of all, while there is surely significant overlap among Sherinian fans and Ozzy fans, I never would have expected to hear an Ozzy song on what I expected to be a prog-metal album.
From there, the album moves into fusion territory, with a swinging sax-driven tune co-written by Simon Phillips, who also plays drums on the track. It's a good piece in its own right, but doesn't exactly flow in its place on the album, sandwiched between on ostensibly Ozzy tune and a slow, plodding classic rock type number, "Been Here Before." At least this latter piece feels more like what we'd expect from a prog-rock keyboard player, and almost evokes Steve Winwood in some places.
By the time the album's title track comes along, with its 6/8 metal beat and its guest appearance by none other than Yngwie Malmsteen, it becomes clear to the listener that the album was intended to be more of a heavy metal album than previous, more fusiony, more proggy Sherinian releases. Ditto for its twin, "The Monsoon," which starts out with a pleasant Indian influence, before going back into that same 6/8 Tichy/Malmsteen shuffle. But if heavy metal is the name of the game here, why is there so much saxophone on the record? Why so much Simon Phillips?
It's a confusing record. My general impression of this album is that, despite a couple of strong tracks, it is somewhat of a confused album. It's unclear to me what the album is supposed to "be," beyond a collection of tracks Sherinian had lying around from his various collaborations with other artists. There are standout solos and performances, but the album doesn't resonate as a comprehensive whole. Maybe that doesn't matter, though. Maybe this is just an album for people who generally like heavy metal and instrumental music and don't want to get bogged-down by artistic statements.
It shouldn't be surprising that a progressive rock fan like myself would like the most progressive-leaning songs on the album best. I mentioned the album opener, "Czar of Steel" above. The haunting, Eastern-influenced "Prelude to Battle" is another excellent track. Between the two of them, we see what the album truly could have been.
But, no matter. The album is what it is. Over twelve years old at the time of this writing, I still find occasion to go back to this record from time to time, which is much more than I can say for a number of records in my collection. I rate this a solid three stars out of five.
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