When I wrote to you last, I’d just completed the most ambitious project I’d ever undertaken: Planetary Coalition
It’s been humbling to watch this world music album that’s about 99% acoustic – a radical artistic departure from what’s expected – develop a core following of folks who seem to deeply appreciate the work. And while reaching devoted listeners is what matters most, witnessing the album get ranked among the 50 Best of 2014 by Guitar World, the Top Ten of Acoustic Nation, World Music Central’s Best World Music Albums of 2014, as well as other journalistic validation, certainly hasn’t hurt. Although live concerts have been less than frequent due to scheduling, they do manage to happen from time to time and in keeping with our vision of these performances as the domain of museums, Universities, science centers etc, the next Planetary Coalition performance will take place at Dayton University’s Zehler Hall on Oct. 29th at 8pm as part of its series ArtsLive.
True confession time: When that last Newsletter went out (just before Thanksgiving ‘14), I was quite exhausted. Gleefully, I imagined my next project to be a solo work, maybe a duo, some free form jams or maybe…you get the picture: something simple!
Well folks, that is NOT what has occurred. Instead of enjoying the wind at my back for a bit, I dove right into, yes – another project involving more than two-dozen musicians! Fortunately, with this new massive undertaking, there were three others helping hold the reins. And while the timing might have been less than ideal, it happened when it happened and sometimes you just have to go with it (I’m glad I did). So if Planetary Coalition has a hard rock/heavy metal equivalent, it is definitely Metal Allegiance
I’m sure many are already aware of MA by now, as it has had the good fortune of receiving a fairly massive media push and the album came out just over a week ago (normally, I’d get the newsletter out in advance of any new release but as you can see, things have been ridiculously busy). The story of how things came together can be heard in the now numerous interviews that have been conducted all over the world and are continuing as we speak.
Of course, when MA was announced, there were some usual online naysayers (for whom the floodgates being opened is one of the internet’s most regrettable side effects). Thankfully these trolls are being silenced by the genuine journalists.
“Metal Allegiance towers above other albums of its ilk. ★★★★”
– Revolver Oct/Nov 2015
“The heaviest supergroup on the planet. And they’ve created some villainously good music”
– Metal Hammer, Sept 2015
“A fluid congregation of some of the genre’s most notable players.”
– Rolling Stone
“Whatever you do, be sure to listen to the album in full. It will surprise, amaze and delight you in equal measure.”
– Powerplay, Sept 2015
“Supergroup compilations can be hit and miss, but it’s clear when the Metal Allegiance project came together, they simply wanted to put out a record that would speak to the times, whilst also emitting a timeless quality itself. ★★★★”
“Throughout Metal Allegiance, it’s Skolnick that shines brightest. His blistering solos are scattered throughout the record and add some urgency and life to each track. The scorching guitar work on ‘Gift of Pain’, the Spanish interlude of ‘Let Darkness Fall’ or the grungy groove of ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’ all make them a more enjoyable listen.”
And here’s my official statement:
“Words cannot convey how proud I am of this release. It’s been an honor to work with so many talented folks, from the master rhythm section of Ellefson/Portnoy to our songwriting team with Menghi to the many experts from the studio and business side of things and of course, our stellar lineup of special guests. As a guitarist, this project feels like a career milestone – some of my best work as a soloist (including fun tradeoffs with several esteemed colleagues) as well as the first metal recording to feature my own rhythm playing and guitar tone as it’s core foundation. I’m grateful for the opportunity and believe this is an album that will shatter all preconceptions.”
Plenty of samples, full videos, behind the scenes looks and more can be found on MA’s YouTube Channel.
Links to purchase can be found here.
Now, a few brief words on other various happenings in the recent past and coming up in the not so distant future (in alphabetical order):
Academia: I gave a lecture/presentation in Helsinki, Finland at the Modern Heavy Metal conference in June. I greatly enjoy this and plan to do more. Information is here and a direct link to video of the event is here.
Alex Skolnick Trio (AST): My trio with the terrific Matt Zebroski & Nathan Pack has been on the backburner somewhat with all these monster recordings. However…HUGE NEWS:
A genuine AST European tour is happening in Feb. ’16, with trips to Austria, Germany, Netherlands and many other places we’ve never been (TBA soon). Although the tour starts in late January ‘16, announcements have begun for various shows. Here’s the first announced. This will be followed by the Axes & Anchors cruise where AST will perform and give workshops (info below). Oh, one more thing: we did manage to record some live tracks, along with two new songs, that we’re planning to release next year.
Anton Fig: I had the honor of playing a gig with the legendary Anton Fig who, along with the rest of David Letterman’s late night band, used to inspire me to become a better musician. We were both accompanying Prasanna, an amazing Indian electric guitarist (who sounds like a blend of Hendrix and Ravi Shankar). This was a wonderful gig that we hope to repeating when schedules permit. A short clip from rehearsals: https://www.facebook.com/7536103955/videos/10153047939168956/?pnref=story
Axes & Anchors Cruise: It was a thrill to be announced along with Yngwie Malmsteen and Michael Schenker (guys whose albums I spent a lot of time listening and transcribing in high school) as one of the first artists announced for the first ever cruise for the guitar enthusiast (also announced: Zakk Wylde, Marty Friedman and more). I will be doing a jazz set with AST and a metal set, as well as giving master classes. http://axesandanchors.com/
Billy Sheehan: My first time jamming with bass monster Billy Sheehan was recently posted on GuitarPlayer.com. This took place at the Winery Dog’s Dog Camp in late July, where I had the privilege of joining Billy, Ritchie and Mike as their guest instructor. This tune was originally done by Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. Skolnick & Sheehan
Bradford Morrow: Brad is an acclaimed novelist and “writer’s writer,” whose admires included household names such as Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates. We have a wonderful duo project where play solo guitar and loops to his short animal stories, known as the Bestiary Series. Our next performance is Oct. 20 at Bard College.
Jane Getter it was also an honor to be a guest of these master musicians on a few tracks: Jane, Adam Holzman (Miles Davis/Steven Wilson), Bryan Beller (Zappa), Chad Wackerman (one of my favorite electric jazz drummers) for Jane’s great new album, On, by this new project, Premonition. We’re planning some dates in the US in December. Album info.
Watch this mini-documentary on the making of the project.
Living Colour: Several times this year, I got to sit in with one of my all-time favorite bands, Living Colour. Like Fig, Wackerman, Sheehan and others, Vernon, Doug, Will and Corey are ridiculously good musicians whom at one time I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to fit in with onstage. Being invited to do so now is the ultimate validation and reward for years of hard work, honest assessment and humility (let that be a lesson kids! J ). These guys are sounding better than ever, so check ‘em out if you can. Video 1 Video 2
Stu Hamm Band: Back in the 90s, Stu gave me my first shot at playing seriously advanced music. The result was a jolt that inspired my further push into improvisation of all types, and enabled me to return to metal reinvigorated. Unlike some musicians who seem lose their edge over time, Stu and I both seem to be playing better than we ever have. Though we’d discussed the idea of reuniting for years, it finally happened this past July, alongside Joel Taylor on drums, fresh off Al Di Meola’s Elegant Gypsy tour. It went so well in fact, that more dates are planned, including the Mid-West in early December and a jaunt down the West Coast in January. Keep an eye out for those dates and in the meantime, here’s a clip of us at Iridium, joined by special guest from Korea, Kim Sae Hwan…
Testament: Through it all, Testament has forged ahead and things are feeling rock solid. We had a slight bump in the road last year involving a line up change (on bass) but not much to say other than it’s all worked out for the better. New music takes time, as always but is unfolding slowly but surely and there will be a new release in ’16. Highlights this year included appearances at Heavy MTL and Riot Fest (both alongside Iggy Pop, who is ageless and amazing), Carolina Rebellion and five weeks in the US with our pals Exodus,followed by five weeks in Europe including sharing stages with the likes of Faith No More, Ice T (no kidding) and, for the first time ever, several shows with the mighty Metallica. In October, we’ll be playing in Japan at the prestigious LoudPark Festival (where I’ll also be performing with an incarnation of Metal Allegiance). In November/December, we head to Latin America for a tour with Cannibal Corpse (dates at www.testamentlegions.com). One more highlight – a concert broadcast by Yahoo and streamed worldwide. You can check it out here.
That Metal Show: It was awesome to appear once again on VH1 Classic with Eddie, Don, Jim, Miss Box of Junk. It’s always hilarious watching these guys bust each others’ balls but having our pals from Anthrax as the interview guests made it that much more hilarious. Playing by yourself with no band to fall back is not as easy as one would think, but you just have fun and make it work. Although the episode itself isn’t currently posted, it is being shown in repeats so try to catch it if you missed. In the meantime, here’s a spinoff webisode That Metal Gear
Yamaha I had the pleasure of shooting a Yamaha worldwide promotional video that was very well made and feels like a nice short film. This features their amazing THR10 Amplifier, which could fit in your lap. Enjoy!
So there you have it everyone! Thanks as always for supporting and Happy Fall.
Until next time!