Hard Reviews 3
by Martin Popoff

Sigh - Imaginary Sonicscape
(Century Media)

Japan's Sigh have been making some of the most unusual music ever recorded over the last eight years, but not until this album have they gained a force akin to hypnosis. Sigh gleefully admit they rely on drugs ("mushroom - ed. no s! - and weed") to come up with such brilliant nonsense and frankly, I can see no other way. What Imaginary Landscapes offers, I find hard to put in words. The metal (and there's lots of it) is like compressed, slightly clean and commercial Celtic Frost mixed with NWOBHM, maybe a little Maiden, but much darker. Add to that classical music, stupendous, awful synthesizer sounds, several kinds of joke music, pop, soundtrack hijinx, and doomful, mournful German prog and you sort of get close to the wicked, unclean sound enclosed. Anton LaVey had this strange predilection for cheesy carnival barker music, funhouse stuff, and that eerily springs to mind here. You feel tainted because the whole thing is sweet and sour , like Death SS covering Supertramp, like Bathory taking over the elevator muzak system, then letting in sarin gas. Vocals are a hunchbacked snivel, guitars sound lethal but pointy, and every song barely holds the centre. And I'm playing it way too often, very surprisingly on my part, for pleasure. Convention-shattering highlight, and probably the most creative song I've heard in 30 months: 'A Sunset Song', which gently rocks with melodies that steal the soul and tuck it into the well-tailored breast pocket of The Confidence Man. In fact, just go there, track 4, and you will become hooked and quickly gangrenous, thenceforth manipulated as the bug spreads and you drift to and fro reality.
Rating 9

Steve Vai Alive In An Ultra World
(Sony)

Joe Satriani was Steve's revered guitar teacher and mentor, and as I write this, both have double live albums out on the same label, and the two are sharing the stage on a stupendous G3 tour. Alive In An Ultra World is the fresher set of proposals though, Steve turning in a daredevil collection of mostly spontaneous new titles written and recorded first virtuoso sprint, in the style or spirit of the countries he has recently toured. The result is a pleasantly disorienting frequent fly through flash, chops, humour, musicality, traditional vocal songs and instrumental shredfests in Steve's inimitable crying sighing style. Some of the countries are loose matches (Poland, Germany, Japan) but others, like the Queen bombast of 'Blood And Glory' (Britain), the wayward gypsy pulse of 'Babushka' (Romania) and sunny life-affirming ballad 'Light Of The Moon' (Australia) take you there vividly. Kudos for reinventing the (mostly) instrumental genre, Steve knowing full well can potentially constitute entertainment for layers inside and outside the snobby guitar realm. New prog monster trucks like Extreme's Mike Mangini and Mike Keneally (see many Magna Carta records) add to the jittery Zappa-zesty creative environment.
Rating 7

Hard Reviews Page 4