Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yngwie Malmsteen - "Rising Force" (LP Review)

Driving through the Ward's Corner section of Norfolk (the corner of Granby and Little Creek) this morning, I saw that the former Tracks record store building had been razed.  Remember them?  I can't even find a good URL to link to for them, not even a newspaper article about them going out of business.  That building eventually became Wherehouse Music, and then most recently it was AJ Gators Sports Bar

I don't think I went into AJ Gators, but I went there several times when it was Wherehouse.  But more importantly, I remember the first time I went there when it was Tracks.  It was probably 1985, and after attending a Friday night (!) Peninsula Atari Computer Enthusiasts (PACE) meeting at NASA Langley with my father, he drove me to the Tracks in Norfolk.  You have to remember that growing up in Denbigh in 1985, Norfolk seemed (to me anyway) like the other end of the world.  I don't remember who brought up going there -- I might have asked, but I don't recall.  And I think there may have been another father/son pair with us, but I'm not clear on that either.  But I do recall that at the time, Tracks had a dedicated "metal" section, with all the imports and other hard-to-find LPs that other stores would not carry.  It was on that trip that I bought Yngwie Malmsteen's 1984 LP "Rising Force" as a gift for my HS (and later, college) girlfriend.  She had told me about him but did not have the LP (remember that the "local" stores did not carry it).  Also, at ~$20 it represented quite an investment for me at the time -- remember when music cost big $?

The LP itself?  It is hard to overstate the importance that it had on shredding, arguably defining it as a stand-alone genre.  Sure, there had been "Eruption" and other amazing tracks on various LPs, but I believe Yngwie was the first to release a popular, metal LP focused only on guitar.  There are two vocal tracks which are best skipped, but the other six tracks form the nucleus of what every other LP in this genre wishes it could be (including later LPs by Yngwie, which were never in the same class as "Rising Force").  Yngwie wasn't the first guitarist to shred, but he arguably released the first shred LP.  (Context: recall that at this time Eddie Van Halen had all but abdicated his throne with the release of "1984" and his pointless fascination with keyboards.  Who thought that was a good idea?!)

Yngwie was the first to really popularize metal as a modern extension of classical music, explicitly namechecking artists like JS Bach and Paganini, as well as using actual harpsichords (not synths) in the songs.  Of course I thought that was beyond cool at the time.  Metal always had the culture of the virtuoso, but Yngwie took it to another level.  Yes, this was dangerously close to Metal Opera, but the mostly instrumental focus of the LP helps curb its worst tendencies.  Prior to "Rising Force", Yngwie had released some forgettable LPs as the guitarist for Steeler and Alcatrazz, on which he had only brief moments to shine (e.g., Steeler's "Hot on Your Heels" intro, which was also used in the radio program "Metal Shop" -- remember that?), but this is the LP where he blossomed as a solo artist. 

I probably still have a tape of the LP in question some where in my stuff, but in an interesting bit of symmetry I also have the CD: I acquired it from Danette, in a box of CDs from a friend of her's that was purging his CD collection after ripping them.  So while the Ward's Corner area has been in decline for quite some time and the planned renovation is welcome, it is with a nostalgic fondness that I recall Tracks, that night with my father, and my excitement at selecting a perfect gift. 

Standout songs: Black Star, Evil Eye, Little Savage, Far Beyond the Sun, Icarus' Dream Suite Opus 4, Farewell

Skip 'em songs: Now Your Ships Are Burned, As Above, So Below

Final score: 9/10.  The LP is hugely influential, but replacing the two vocal songs with something as good as "Black Star" would have made for a perfect LP.

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