Burnt Shadows review

RICH FORTUNA, guitarist since long, contacted me around the end of 2007 for a review of his latest album at that time, "Heathen Machines", which came out in September 2006. I had never heard of the man, but I was pleasantly surprised by what he had composed on his first album. All songs were instrumental and that's both good and less good. Good, for there is already enough material out there WITH vocals. Less good, for vocals may somehow be needed after all, depending on the song. Rich used influences from METALLICA, SEPULTURA, and others very nicely to the point where I even could compare some of his stuff with DEATH. Since he does it all himself, it's a bit hard to get the name out, save for the area where he lives and plays. So, "Heathen Machines" out in 2006, but then it became silent around Rich Fortuna, although he did play gigs with, for example, THE SMALLTOWN WARLORDS, a band unknown to me. Anyway, as I was browsing through my list of reviews, I wondered what was going on in the FORTUNA camp and his MySpace player told me he had a new album out. "Burnt Shadows" was the title and in those three years Rich apparently found the time to even make it a double album. Given the fact no news was spread about this new release, I decided to contact the dear man himself for a review and he happily obliged. For this I'm of course very grateful, also because the new material sounded even better than "Heathen Machines". Truth be told, I'm a little/very late with the review and that's entirely my fault, due to circumstances, but anyway... let's get to it. "Burnt Shadows" came out on the 22nd of January and this time only three people are part of the line-up: Rich Fortuna (guitars), Rock Graziano (bass) and Dave Snediker on drums (also played on "Heathen Machines"). The debut album had Carmen Caramanica adding an accoustic guitar solo, Jose Lopez on bass and Ben Saltzman helping out with the drumwork. But as the inside of the album tells me, Carmen Caramanica played some guitar solos in "Smoke N Mirrors", while Monk Rowe played a flute solo in that same song. Other than that several people helped with adding voice or instrumental intros to several songs. Two CDs, the first lasting for almost 30 minutes, the second a bit less. And somehow all 16 songs could have been put on one disc, but that could have affected the listening experience in a bad way. Plus, there's probably a logical reason for the split, be it indeed the listening itself or songwise that there is a difference between the two groups. "Zombie Sector" is the first track and has the bass as key instrument to start with. There's also a spoken intro flowing along, as if the pilot is addressing the platoon that will be deployed soon. The Metal instrumentation kicks in suddenly and you could see that as the moment when the soldiers have landed and are checking out the area, ready to annihilate any zombie around. The backing keyboards create the right atmosphere and really make the action come to life. David's drumming is firm, not too technical, but active and powerful enough and adaptatble to the situation. Rich's guitarwork is obviously faultless and fits in perfectly. Overall, this is a short but pretty simple song, and you can differentiate each part. The production is, as I mentioned earlier, better than before. Everything sounds better and the whole is given more punch. The same radio voice speaks in the beginning of "Disaster Experience", but this parts sounds a bit like zombies took over. Something that could have been taken from the "Alien" movies. When all falls silent, that only makes the idea more vivid. The music is a bit slower now and darker. A bit Stoner-ish, if you will. Vocals are not needed, as Rich's leads perfectly fill that position. The drums are high in the mix, maybe a little too high, just a little bit, but they help the rhythm section to have equal power compared to the leads. In those 3 and a half minutes a lot happens in terms of rhythm and leads. It also doesn't feel as a short song. But clearly images are needed to complete the picture. "Sorrows Of The Earth" is next and features a sad guitartune in the intro, fitting perfectly with the title. All the while a clock is ticking, like a time bomb, and the radio transmission is distorted. The powerful music that follows makes this track one of the highlights. Clean leads versus grooving rhythm guitarwork, a marriage that works very fine. The drums proove to be an important factor, not just for its hits, but its general presence as well. The connection with the outside world is totally down now, as there's nothing but distortion. And the clock is still ticking. "Exodus" is a more relaxing song, very Jazzy and it's nice to such a song at this stage. Everyone left the place. Or did they? Yep, the fight continues and the connection is restored, though still distorted. Dark and heavy grooves with firm drumming set in a little later. The higher notes are reserved for the chorus, something you cannot miss. Over halfway all falls silent... tension is created, percussion now instead of regular drumming. Little by little it's growing towards something bigger and that shows itself once the full power is activated again and the guitar demands full attention, as if expressing a dangerous situation. All comes to an end with brutal forces, expressed through the heavy grooves and angry drumhits. It's music in the first place, but film footage or pictures would be a helpful tool here. The title track offers another dose of Jazz, right after the clock has stopped ticking. The bass is again the main instrument, while guitar leads in various flavours are added on top of that. All the while David is keeping a steady drumbeat, slow but on the spot. "Exodus" was a relaxing track and to some extent "Burnt Shadows" as well. Time for another power booster then with "Assassins", where Hidetosha Hama gives you a short welcome, or an order, I don't know. My Japanese is only limited to "Konnichiwa", meaning "Hello" or "Good afternoon". An evil sounding, growling rhythm guitar, a more vicious lead layer on top of that. The drumming remains simple, but tight, especially in the verses where David plays in a stop-start style, inline with the rhythm guitar and bass. The music flows more freely in the chorus. This is the second shortest track on the first disc, but it's amazing how Rich and his friends managed make this as interesting as possible. "Dissect" puts a very nice end to the first part of "Burnt Shadows". Radio connection once more before the music takes over. Slow tempo, very melodic and a stop-start rhythm (incl. the drums). The overall atmosphere is very strange, suspicious, hypocritical in a way. The guitarwork is very well done, both rhythm, leads, effects, the whole package. In the last minute or so the keyboards have their say in short waves. The radio is once again disturbed, while gentle guitarplucking carries the last notes. On all levels did Rich progress: compositions, production and even the vocal problem I mentioned in the review of "Heathen Machines". He managed to let the guitar take that role better than before. This first disc is full of very good Rock/Metal tunes which you listen to like that, but somehow it feels a story is being told, if you really concentrate. Let's see for disc two. And the music comes tumbling in with "Nubian Sea". Midtempo, grooving Metal and a catchy chorus. That's a key factor whe going fully instrumental, adding catchy melodies, hooks and more. Rich very much succeeds in doing so. "Nubian Sea" is also one of the better tracks, but somehow its ending is comes quite sudden. I mean, the music is rising to a height and with two quick hits the song's over, not even allowing +/- two seconds for "Coffin Nail" to start. This one follows instantly, no time to waste. Ah, the accoustic guitar, finally getting more attention. It was used previously, but only very faintly. Now it's given a spot in the intro. Soft, gentle and relaxing. But then it's all about electric instrumentation, which comes bursting in. Double bass, high energy, dark atmosphere. The double bass is a nice change and honestly, it should be used more often. Perhaps on the third album. The music is very much listenable, also quite moving in the way that at least I want to play along on drums. The accoustic guitar does return in the chorus, playing nicely together with its electric equivalent. "Coffin Nail" is a short, linear song, but sounds oh so good. Direct start for "Shaken Not Stirred", too. At least after Zachary Kane's welcoming ("No one beats the man."). Firm grooves, Jazzy drumming, melodic leads as far as the verses are concerned. The material gets less heavy, more melodic and more smooth as the bridge and chorus come in sight. That's also the moment where the accoustic guitar falls in, offering gentle assistance. Full power is of course reserved for the chorus. And again the guitarwork is simply splendid. Very nice melodies. The drums, while high in the mix in the previous songs, has been pushed a bit to the back here. They sound less loud. We go to France then, in "Ming's Daughter". Or better, the spoken intro is in French: "Chaque ville a ses secrets, chaque ville a ses seigneurs de la guerre." ("Each town has its secrets, each town has its warlords"). Drums alone to start with and that gives the song a special feel. Gentle guitar and bass fall in neatly. A very Jazzy track, but a very nice one. Strangely enough, Rich and co. decided to let the music fade out instead of playing on and adding a proper ending. They may have had their reasons, but personally speaking, it feels strange. Same intro for "Possible Felons", only now it's Zachary again doing the talking: "Every town has its secrets, every town has its warlords". This time the music sounds bigger, more melodic, more powerful. But that soon softens down to straight-forward Jazzy Rock, although the full power of a few seconds ago is in fact the chorus, which does come around very rapidly each time. The solo part has the accoustic guitar trying to push through the barrier, but only during that moment. The last tens of seconds are devoid of heaviness and form one relaxing part that puts the song to sleep. A flawless track, if you ask me. Very well done. Guitars fading in in "Bitterest Man" like low-flying jets. It's not the same as METALLICA's "Damage Inc." intro, but it very roughly similar. And those guitar waves take up about 2 minutes before semi-accoustic music take over. Full power, while the accoustic guitars carries on, comes out in the chorus. Then the drums also add more power. All heaviness then melts away and it's only accoustic music that remains, with a melody that in a way reminds of METALLICA's classic hit, "One". "Bitterest Man" may be a bit too short, in that more music could have been added or different touches, more variety. But regardless of that it is a solid song. More accoustic guitarplay can be heard in the intro of "Saviors And Creators". This is one of the lighter songs on this album. The music really flows freely, everything feels carefree, smooth, and anything else you can stick to it. No heavy riffing, no evil grooving, just atmospheric guitar-driven music. And in my opinion, too short, sadly enough. Last track then, "Smoke N Sinners", which begins with a dirty laugh before the music starts. Jazzy, relaxing, anti-stress medicine as I would like to call it. Have a beer orsomething else to drink, get comfortable and just enjoy the music. This is as good as what Kiko Loureiro did on his "Universo Inverso" album. And in the last part the aforementioned flute solo does gets its moment of glory. The music fades out into complete silence at the end. Why? I mean, why so soon? This was excellent material here. I now know why Rich decided to go for two discs instead of one: the first contains the heavier songs, the second is lighter, more relaxing. That contrast would not have been clear or in fact completely lost if all songs were put together or if all 16 songs were put together in a random way. It's similar to what THERION did when they released "Lemuria" and "Sirius B". The latter was about the heavier songs, the more Metal ones. But to focus back on Rich Fortuna and his newest output, "Burnt Shadows"... the man simply outdid himself and smoked "Heathen Machines". He also solved the two problems I mentioned in the other review. Three years of waiting, enough time to come up with new and better material. JOE SATRIANI (capital letters to indicate the band) also has calmer and more energetic songs and what RICH FORTUNA presents here can, in a way, match with those. Some exaggeration is possible. Don't expect superfast shredding and arpeggios and all of that. Rich is not that kind of guitarist. But his work is very much worth checking out.

Leave a comment