3. Playing With Fire
4. The Stand
5. Wield My Sword
7. Legion of the Damned
8. Daemon Dance
9. Hangar 18, Area 51
10. Voodoo Nights
11. Asylum 1 - Asylum
12. Asylum II - Sky Euphoria
13. Asylum III - Quantum Leap
Pony Canyon 1999
Rising Force (1984)
Fire and Ice (1992)
Seventh Sign (1994)
Magnum Opus (1995)
|Isaac Newton is argued by many to be the most important scientist in human history, with important work in optics, the co-invention of calculus, a set of laws of motion that have remained until this day, and his incredible theory of gravity. Science was, however, not Newton's primary interest, and the majority of his time was spent studying theology and the spiritual science of alchemy. The latter was adopted by Yngwie as the name of his 1999 album, accompanying the return of the band name "Rising Force". It was Yngwie's intention to create an album of shred that would reward his long-term fans with complex and unmerciful neo-classical metal. His words were proven not to be pretentious, but more of a warning of what to expect. I personally loved Yngwie's first album, Rising Force, and bar flaws, loved a lot of Marching Out and Odyssey, (not having heard much of Trilogy). It was in the 90's, when the industry of guitar music became a parody of itself, that in my opinion, Yngwie's releases were not nearly as inspiring and tended to be more hard rock oriented rather than his traditional neo-classical style. My distaste for hard-rock is equal to that of my distaste for boy-bands and indy music, so I am obviously not entirely overwhelmed with the 1990's Yngwie; that is, up until Alchemy in 1999.|
As alchemy was one of the first albums I bought of Yngwie's, (together with War To End All Wars), Blitzkrieg was possibly the first Yngwie guitar playing that I had ever heard. My initial emotion was shock combined with relief and excitement about the quality of guitarists around; (I had thought that Megadeth were the pinnacle of skill, due to my lack of access to information about guitarists). I could hardly believe the grandiloquent baroque guitar marksmanship of this whole album, starting with Blitzkrieg. The scales were wholly familiar, but the delivery was like nothing I could imagine. Blitzkrieg is a very neo-classical, very baroque, very complex, and very fast guitar piece, which I later would realise contained definitive Malmsteen style guitar shredding. This song remains as a brilliant limit-seeking speed-classical shred eruption.
Leonardo de Vinci was a brilliant artist and inventor who suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, meaning that among other things, he started many more projects than he finished. Fortunately for Yngwie's album Alchemy, each song has been completed and refined to optimality, not discluding the second track: Leonardo. When I first played this song on my CD player I had no knowledge of Yngwie, and when I heard the Latin chant in Leonardo, I was lead to believe that Yngwie was French. For this reason I was all the more surprised to hear Marc Boal's vocals for the first time, and at first I didn't appreciate them. It was only after a couple of months of listening to Alchemy that I overlooked the cheesy melodrama of the vocals, and found that their relentless style gave the album great escapism qualities, whereby I found my self being lost in Yngwie's world of slayers, dragons, and mage. Leonardo has some atmospheric chanting, (like most medievil music), which begins an excellent semi-epic song about a man with the desire to learn and understand nature and the world: "Always tried my very best, To find what lies within, Put myself to the test, Judge me not, it's not a sin". I didn't want to copy the entire verse, but basically the latter quote seems to show the problems he has with people criticising his inventive work, which was undoubtedly met with scepticism much of the time: "When will you learn, The true depths of my work". I think historical topics are a great basis for Yngwie's work, and Leonardo is a prominent example.
3.] Playing With Fire
This song is a little more repetitive and predictably structured than the last two, but it maintains the feel of historical escapism. At another time it is likely that I would have criticised the quite heavily repeated chorus: "Playing with Fire You'll get burned Flames grow higher You'll never learn...", but since I have grown to like Marc Boals' choir-like vocals, this has become one of the high points of the song. Playing With Fire is the sort of song that could only belong to Alchemy, and if you listen to this album for a while I am confident that you will know what I mean. This song seems to keep a very masculine and serious delivery, combined with a near camp grandiosity, and overall it is an addictive formula. It is difficult to determine the specific inspiration for this song, and I think it was probably based vaguely on the concept of medievil war, and the vocals may be the voice of the leader of a strong and ruthless army. The cover art with War To End All Wars would suit this song well.
4.] The Stand
Stephen King is a very famous novelist, and although much of his recent work has been disappointing for fans, despite being commercially successful, there was a phase of time when King wrote some impressive stories. Many consider The Stand to be King's magnum opus, but I, as many others, think that too much emphasis is placed on boring characters between about page 400 and 700, (on which I quit the book), and I feel that IT is King's masterpiece. The Stand is nonetheless a fascinating concept, (of a pandemic obliterating the majority of human life on Earth), where the story starts with survivors patched across the continent of America. Yngwie was also clearly inspired by this concept, and has created a very distinctive song that represents the world described in King's novel very well. This concept may seem a major divergence from the historical emphasis of the previous songs, being most easily categorised as SF as opposed to history, but there seems to be a very intimate link between the songs. I believe that Yngwie realised a link could exist between these vastly differing genres, that would make them feel coherant on the same album, and I think it is the concept of reflection in exhausting or profound situations. I will elaborate on this theory in the album summary. Yngwie has written the vocals from the perspective of a survivor, or the collective thoughts of a group of survivors, and there is one line that is obviously from Garbage Can Man, the arsenist in the story: "No one left to burn". The factor that makes the Stand more than just a catchy, atmospheric song is the quality of the guitar solos. The two solo sections are sensitively articulated, displaying some amazing guitar playing layered over an extremely catchy backing track, and remain some of my favourite Yngwie moments.
5.] Wield My Sword
If I depended upon my memory to state a definitive example of a neo-classical song, Wield My Sword would be a wise choice. This song is based on the classic image of a heroic knight, defending his church and country; I could try to quantify the clichés but I would probably loose count. Virtually every line distinguishes the character of the song, and using so many clichés may sound audacious, and few would be likely to pull it off convincingly, but Yngwie certainly seems to be one of the few. It would be challenging to suggest a vocalist as suitable to the task of giving this song credibility as Marc Boals eminently does, and this song is not only definitive neo-classical, but also definitive of the album. The chorus is fast and fairly 'happy' sounding, but never fails to culminate in rewarding minors, as done in good Bach pieces or other compositions of the baroque period, and the verses are fast, vocal heavy, and again I am tempted to use the word grandiloquent. This song uses the same sort of formula as Playing With Fire, only it is faster and more typical of neo-classical music. For any admirer of solid neo-classical style songs, Wield My Sword is a treat, and Yngwie's South American fans received it especially well. For some quick examples of the lyrics: "I'm set to attack, No daemons or dragons will hold me back". Notice the archaic spelling of daemons, (as opposed to demons), shewing that Yngwie was really in historical mode when writing the album.
I am not a fan of pentatonic driven music, (by that I mean blues and sole whereby the pentatonic scale is depended upon very comprehensively), yet Yngwie still makes this song appealing to listen to, even if it becomes a little cheesy as is inevitable. Anyone with a special interest in blues would be astounded by Yngwie's work here, and he does a very good job of not incorporating too many of his familiar scales in the song. As I have failed to mention hitherto, this song is an instrumental, and it is also a neo-blues song in a way, but using a minor 'key' rather than a major, (which I suppose is typical of blues, hence being called "blues"). The result is a black sheep of a song for the album, but one that helps to showcase Yngwie Malmsteen's talent, and one which is often a welcome interlude in a heavily neo-classical album. This is not a compromise; Blue is an over-the-top song just like the rest of the album, but the style is minor pentatonics rather than his usual baroque vocabulary.
7.] Legion Of The Damned
My first criticism of the album would arise upon the repeated chanting of "Legion of the damned" by Yngwie during parts of this song. This melodramatic silly sounding backing vocal is probably sung by Yngwie, and reminds me uncomfortably of Metallica in their latter years trying to sound hardcore, but sounding a bit anoying. Despair not however, as after the reiteration of "Legion of the damned", this song becomes one of the best on the album. The verse is quite catchy and stays well within the style of the album, but the chorus, and chorus build-up, stand out. The pre-chorus rhythm work is so rewarding you can almost taste it, with thumping low chormatic sounding progressions, and the chorus itself is one of the best on the album, (once you adapt to Marc's vocals): "Battling the enemy that we don't know We're strangers in a strange land Losing it all we are sinking so low We're the Legion of the Damned". In full, this song is most comparable to Voodoo Nights on the Alchemy album, being long and dark, but whereas despair is the main focus of Legion Of The Damned, Voodoo Nights is more of an account of an evil force.
8.] Daemon Dance
This is another great song that although is less distinguishable from some other songs such as Wield My Sword. It is at this point that I should mention that after initially playing the album, I thought that although the guitar playing was the most over-the-top I had ever heard, the album sounded the same the whole way through. It is the sort of album that needs multiple hearings to do itself justice despite many lead sections immediately distinguishing themselves, and some songs like Daemon Dance and Hangar 18, Area 51 take more time to distinguish themselves.
9.] Hangar 18, Area 51
I was surprised at the name of this song due to the success of the great Megadeth song "Hangar 18", and as I suspected, this song definitely does not beat the Rust In Peace favourite, but it is still a very good neo-classical song nonetheless. H18A51 doesn't stand out on the album and is not profound in it's own right, unlike many of the songs on Alchemy, but it is a very good 'filler' song; although on a lesser album it would certainly not be considered a filler. My point is that this is a 'filler' on an album whose general style is great, and it succeeds in not disappointing the listener but simply prolonging the experience and atmosphere of Alchemy. I have grown to like this song's quite innocent sound, epitomised by the chorus and the quite cheerful, (but certainly not cheesy), overall feel of the song. The song could basically only be a child of Alchemy, (in the same way as Playing With Fire), and is pre-eminently neo-classical.
10.] Voodoo Nights
This song is a favourite of mine on the album. The theme and style of the song are fantastically dramatic, with Yngwie delivering more low evil voices such as on Legion Of The Damned, only with more success. This is a big song that grinds at a haunting and slow pace and it abounds with atmosphere. Few songs are free of flaws, particularly where vocalists are concerned, yet I think the blame lies with Yngwie in this song, as the writer. Boals does a superb performance common with the rest of the album, (apart from the instrumental songs), yet some of the verses on this song are less than meticulously composed. By way of example: "Obeying all the rules won't get you anywhere Obeying is for fools and fools are everywhere", cannot have been much of a treat for Boals, yet he gave as good a delivery as could be expected. The verses generally carry a high cheese quotient on this song, but the chorus is great: "Oh, you know too much, just a little touch Of the forbidden knowledge", which is sung in a very distinctive and atmospheric way. It is the latter kind of touch that is probably not planned but just works out well in the studio. The pace of Voodoo Nights is generally slow and the song sounds atmospheric throughout, with one of the nicest outroductions, (alongside The Stand), on Alchemy, or most other albums for that point. (Intro stands for introduction and outro is a commonly used word, which logically should stand for outroduction, hence my employment of this word on the previous sentence).
11.] Asylum I - Asylum
This is one of the most impressive songs of Yngwie's that I have heard. It is abundant that the guitar part has been very carefully planned; hence no improvising and as a result a very directional guitar piece. It sounds nice that Yngwie is playing a piece that is so thoroughly planned and written beforehand. The general style of the song is extremely baroque and acts as a heavy prelude to the amazing Sky Euphoria. Instead of the pattern of a light interlude into a louder section as in much historical music I have heard, (ie, classical, baroque, renaissance, etc), Yngwie's opposite approach is very creative and makes Sky Euphoria a lot better.
12.] Asylum II - Sky Euphoria
This is quite a lengthy acoustic classical piece and is one of the most outstanding pieces of clean guitar playing that I have received aurally. The high speed clean picking up and down the frets and strings bear resemblance to Vinnie Moore's playing on the first part of Saved By A Miracle, (from Mind's Eye - 1986). This is probably the best classical work I have heard from Yngwie, and although candidates abound on War To End All Wars for his best playing, the production on Alchemy makes it the winner in my mind's eye. Yngwie's personality seems to be stamped all over this work. I would rate this as almost alongside Jason Becker's 'Air' on Perpetual Burn (1988), although Yngwie focuses on amazing solo work, (like his idol Pagannini), but Becker used around three guitars in harmony.
13.] Asylum III - Quantum Leap
When I first listened to this track I thought it sounded just like the 'boss' music on a computer game, and I was amused as well as bemused. The only other time I have likened music that I have to that of boss music is a riff in Divine Wings Of Tragedy, (from the album of the same name - 1998 - Symphony X). This is a suitable conclusion to the album, with a lot of power and a twisted quality akin the deterioration of a human mind, as indicated by the song name. Due to the variety of influences for songs in the album over so many time periods, Quantum Leap does seem a fitting outroduction instrumental. As Quantum Leap was fading quietly into the distance, I found myself often in awe of the album that I had just heard, even if a few seconds later I had flicked it back to Leonardo.
It is rare for me to review an album without playing it meanwhile, but I remember all the songs on Alchemy like I remembered that an alkene has a double bond in my last chemistry exam, (whilst failing to remember much else, hence I am not being pretentious). The point that I want to express is that this album will grow on you, and after several listens it is not unlikely that you will listen to the album an obsessive amount, as I did during my geography coursework suffering period last October and November. This album proved to be unique, and for almost a year I have looked up at Alchemy as one of the great albums of my collection, (my CD tower is quite high justifying acclaim for Alchemy, and also a literal interpretation of "looking up" which may for some individuals, including myself, have been a worthwhile joke). My advice for prospective Alchemy buyers would be to not take the CD too seriously but simply enjoy the great atmosphere of this neo-classical monarch of an album. I feel that although the emphasis of destruction, dread, and witchcraft is high in general on this album, Yngwie would be doing us no favours by censoring this stuff and tranquilising the impact of the themes. This album is melodramatic, yet that is exactly what it aims to be: a dramatic study of medi-evil warfare, witchcraft, epidemics, religion, and history. This is a creative album and has a great emphasis on profound themes, rather than vague songs about relationships like on many vocal orientated albums. This is great neo-classical work that is difficult to beat, as even Yngwie himself is most likely finding, although after this expression, (Alchemy), Yngwie may not be as inclined to repeat these themes so comprehensively in the future; (although I quietly think that this kind of album suits Yngwie's playing perfectly). One good thing about Alchemy is there is no outstanding song, there are many equally good songs with a few less good ones, and when asked their favourite Alchemy song, widely varying responses are given by people. The theme of alchemy seems to be a human's reflection on profound events affecting them, and this seems to run through the varying song, (from Leonardo Devinci taking on science in Leonardo, to The Stand being the aftermath of a pandemic, to Blue which is self explanatory, and Daemon Dance being about a large number of inhospitable demons among it's underlying meanings). I think it is no coincidence that this album culminates in the three-piece piece, Asylum, which seems to me to be a result of the pressure and situations that the people throughout the album have experienced: madness. Madness was a running theme to say the least with Howard Phillip Lovecraft, often regarded as the greatest author of horror stories ever, and Yngwie's "Asylum" seems to incorporate this theme. Part I could be the process of turning to madness, part II the complacancy and peace found in the fatalistic void of madness, and part III being either the uncontrollability of a ruined mind, or simply a memorable end to the whole concept of the album.