Personnel includes: Derek Sherinian (keyboards); Yngwie Malmsteen, Al DiMeola, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Brian Tichy (guitar); Jerry Goodman (violin); Billy Sheehan, Tony Franklin (bass); Simon Phillips (drums).
Back with his fourth solo album in as many years, erstwhile Dream Theater keyboard player Derek Sherinian is once again pushing the prog metal/hard rock agenda with his ever intense, always impressive chops. But to his credit, Sherinian seems fully aware that his amazing keyboard skills can't carry the load of virtuoso performances on their own, and he calls in every favor to employ the assistance of an astounding group of shredders, including Zakk Wylde, Al DiMeola, Steve Lukather, and, perhaps most surprising of all, the notoriously arrogant Yngwie Malmsteen. Sure enough, the latter's involvement is likely to pose the greatest interest to guitar fanatics (who undoubtedly constitute a huge portion of the consumer base here), as Black Utopia offers a rare opportunity to hear the intractable guitarist performing in any way, shape, or form outside his regularly dazzling, lightning-fast, but ultimately repetitive Euro-metal template. Such stylistic digressions are minimal, to be sure, but it's still nice to hear his distinctly fluid and florid soloing in any other context nonetheless. As for the other six-stringers on hand, their contributions are also pretty much beyond reproach, jousting against and racing alongside Sherinian's remarkable keyboard runs throughout -- a case in point being the seven-minute "The Sons of Anu," an absolutely frenzied Mahavishnu Orchestra-like workout climaxing in a breathtaking DiMeola solo on nylon-string guitar. The remaining all-instrumental material (highlighted by excellent cuts like "Axis of Evil" and the title track) maintains the highest caliber of musicianship, if not always the most inventive and memorable songwriting, leaving the focus firmly cast upon the extended solo showcases. On an interesting side note, many of these tracks were co-written by sometime Ozzy Osbourne drummer Brian Tichy, who also contributes rhythm guitars. Oh, and the additional backing cast features bassists Billy Sheehan and Tony Franklin, violinist Jerry Goodman, and Simon Phillips on drums. Whatever else you might think about this music, Black Utopia is the stuff of noodling dreams. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia