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Michael Harris – Orchestrate II: Rage And Restraint

Michael Harris
Orchestrate II: Rage And Restraint
by Anton Sanatov at 20 February 2019, 8:34 PM

Being a solo artist can often feel like having to carry the world on your shoulders – particularly when that world is one of instrumental music. So how do these compositional titans do it? How do they continue to conjure up album after album of material and carry these musical spheres on their backs like the Atlas of old? Well, they just keep on playing and taking their notes across the globe.

One might have thought that as the 90’s reared their alternative heads, instrumental guitar albums and “shred” records would have met their extinction along with the much lamented demise of classic Heavy Metal flavours. Alas, that was not the case. For we must not forget that the ‘virtuoso boom’ of 1980’s didn’t not just provide Hair Metal with panty dropping licks and handsome guitar slingers, it also brought the world an army of guitar legends whose influence lingered beyond the sunset strip and continued to gift the world of Metal with six-string, solo instrumental offerings that would often rival mainstream band efforts. Granted that not all of these were household names, but they were nonetheless chock-full of musical goodness, and here we may have one just like that.

Now, the name Michael Harris may be unfamiliar to you – I admit that it was to me – but here we have just one of the many hard-working guitar players who follow their passions beyond the rye and jump into each record head first. Harris has been around for a while now and carries quite a few records under his belt – solo and with ARCH RIVAL – and on his newest instrumental outing “Orchestrate II: Rage and Restraint”, is looking to prove that at 59 years of age his passion for quality guitar work has not dwindled one bit.

I will start off by pointing out that we are certainly not stepping into the ranks of Yngwie Malmsteen here – for although Michael is a talented player and his chops are still intact to cook up some great melodies, this is not the blazing shred fest one might expect from a neo-classical player.

Much in the vein of players like Vinnie Moore, Michael tends to put melody and composition first, and only then throws in the occasional Harmonic Minor run or arpeggio sweep to spice up this enterprise. Perhaps the main reason for this is the actual musical aestheticism that this record is so enriched with. Tracks like “Chant of the Octagoth” and “Syrkus of Lydia” actually look to tell a story in their own and playful way, channelling pieces baroque and middle-eastern string motives.

Even on tracks like “Octavian III”, where we are treated a more standard Neo-Classical up-tempo blitz a la Tony MacAlpine and the aforementioned Vinnie Moore, Michael continues to demonstrate restraint and apply his skill in moderation to the benefit of the composition.

Michael also adores playing his acoustic guitars, for whether performing a brief interlude like “Time Piece”, a full piece like “Logician’s Lament”, or simply punctuating almost every track with some nylon plucking, Harris continually show his love for implementing those warm tones. As for the compositions themselves, they are indeed immersive and striking in their intricacy and liveliness. On tracks like “Winterlude Noel” and “The Orchestrator”, the notes simply dance like fairies on coke to create a wonderland of classical sounds.

However, for all its musical panache, “Orchestrate II: Rage and Restraint” can often be too overwhelming to be enjoyable. There is simply too much of a good thing here – like a cake with an overload of multicoloured sprinkles. The tracks often turn sickly sweet when the Harris looses himself in odes to classical composers in favour of original melody. Also, offerings like “Lifelong Quest” and “The Final” - which forgo the typical formula of neo-classicism in favour of a more modern melodic approach – while holding merit on their own, feel out of place in the halls of this baroque auditorium. The production also doesn’t pack enough layers for an endeavour of this kind, and often lacks the depth to make these tracks sound as grand as they are intended to be.

Overall – there are still real musicians out there, you just have to find them. Michael Harris demonstrates a true love for everything melodic on “Orchestrate II: Rage and Restraint”, and even though this record may be too cluttered for some, others may just be glad to get lost in it.

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 6
Memorability: 8
Production: 7

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
  1. Orchestra Pit
  2. Chant of the Octagoth
  3. Time Piece
  4. Syrkus of Lydia
  5. Logician’s Lament
  6. Octavian III0
  7. Lifelong Quest
  8. Wrath of the Conductor
  9. Winterlude Noel
  10. Masquerade Nokturne
  11. The Empress With No Clothes
  12. The Orchestrator
  13. Mundus Novus
  14. Final Quest
Lineup:
Michael Harris – Guitar, Bass, Keyboards
Brain Harris – Drums
Record Label: Lion Music
     


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