Arz - _Serai_ / _The Magi_
(Independent, 2005)
by: Quentin Kalis (7.5 and 7 out of 10 respectively)
Arz is the name given to the progressive metal / rock solo project of Steven Adams, centred around his indisputable skills on the axe. Both albums consist entirely of instrumental numbers, and there is little to fault at a performance level in his six stringed sojourns. His instrumental travels are arguably more rock than metal and possesses a strong Eighties flavour, with a focus on composition and expression rather than virtuoso leads. The percussion indirectly testifies as to his comfort with stringed instruments, as the drums are rudimentary at best.

_Serai_ is the debut album, and as with _The Magi_, both electric and acoustic guitars are used, but Mr Adams appears to be more comfortable with the acoustic guitar -- the neoclassical finger picking of "Spindleshank" or the dancing flamenco notes in the title track bear testimony to this observation. Even the countrified melody of "Stomp" is bearable, if not enjoyable! Some tracks, such as the opener "Jjinn", are a bit too much like Mr Satriani, but Mr Adams generally manages to maintain his own style. Alongside "Spindleshank" the title track is the highlight, consisting of two acoustic guitars played over riffs, a crunchy rhythm guitar and occasional lead.

_The Magi_ consists of five songs in just under an hour, with the monstrous "Ur" and "The Magi" clocking in at 15 and 24 minutes respectively. With frequent tempo changes and banjo and mandolin providing some variety, there is no threat of boredom.

Whether Adams intends a rock or metal sound, the guitar tone is way too thin, almost insubstantial. Actually, everything could use a bit more potency -- I am all too aware of the limitations of a home production, but that music is as thin as any teenaged black metaller's.

As mentioned earlier, there is no faulting Mr Adams guitar playing skills, and his songwriting and arrangement skills are of a more than adequate standard. However, I can't help but think that an improved production, or at least electric guitars with a bit more bite, would assist in creating a superior product. Similarly, additional members on keys, drums and perhaps bass could provide a more accomplished performance that does not detract from Adams' virtuoso playing, but allows him to focus attention solely on stringed instruments.


(article published 3/2/2008)

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