Thursday, July 20, 2006

Spastic Ink - Ink Compatible

With all compassion mired in the haze of a sinister technocracy, a noir is stipulated. A malign system, shadowed by despair, silhouetted by menace, reaching out and suffocating its encased proletariat. Providing a matte environment, chiselled by insulated wire, an electronic hum swarms and ingests all shades of liberty. The coils of mass production and the insensate scatter down like rain showers, osmotically instilling the mild strains of oppression into the individual psyche.

Such is the effect enkindled by the synthetic atonalities that introduce the predominant theme of Ink Compatible. The birth-whispers of a modem leak from the speakers, waltzing to the artificial hues of information technology. Scenes are set, moods are configured, effectuations are distilled, and balls are mobilised into the movement stance. This is the negated aura spun outward in a perpetual web, ensnaring all those bred with the temptation to motion towards that trite idea of ‘a closer look.’

Ink Compatible is the second album by Spastic Ink, a progressive metal band of US nascence, led by all-round genius and guitar virtuoso Ron Jarzombek. In fact it would be just to label this a solo-project, as Jarzombek, along with possessing a really cool surname, writes and orchestrates all the music. Ink Compatible is the 2004 follow-up to debut Ink Complete, released in 1997. The differences between the two are overt and obvious. The debut proves to be a rather simplistic and lacklustre affair, with a tiny production and plain arrangements. But despite this, the potential for something far beyond it’s limits are noticeable, especially in songs such as the brilliant ‘To Counter and Groove in E Minor’, a song so pleasing to the ears as to almost redeem the tedium of the majority of the album.

Luckily Ink Compatible avoids the chasms it’s predecessor stumbled into. This album sounds huge; given the grand production job, it has depth and reverberates long into the abyss. It sounds like a professional recording, whereas the previous release sounded bare-bones and stripped-down.

The music, as is the reason why we’re here, is led by the guitar shred of Jarzombek. For those familiar with his fabulous tech-thrash band Watchtower and their two albums, it won’t come as a surprising wallop to learn that things here flow in a torrent of technical intricacies. With his homemade guitar in the classical position, Jarzombek imprints the proof of his wizardry and instrumental efficacy, and demonstrates that he is not only one of the best players in the metal arena, but that he is also one of the most creative and inventive players.

The tracks on here don’t just gallop through one virtuosic hoop after another. No, they demand attention, and capture it in a trap of prodigious and original compositions. Bit like a mousetrap, only with more scales.

The soundscape here makes use of odd-meters and a rapid oscillation of time signatures. Things are insanely technical, and with relentless intensity it is shot forward with nary a moment for reflection. This isn’t your usual neoclassical guitar-based album, Ink Compatible manoeuvres along more like a shredding Mr Bungle, including maintaining the comedic elements of that eccentric band. Songs like ‘Words for Nerds’ and ‘Melissa’s Friend’ are punctuated with soundclips of an assumed technophobe’s quandaries in using computer technology. There are also audio interpolations of what can only be described as a Dickensian nightmare involving the purchase of a computer - a sweet, young English accent requesting a number of technophile ideals, but the whole scene slicked with a disconcertingly subtle air of uneasiness. The penultimate track includes a wonderfully uncomfortable spoken section; suitably enigmatic words breathed by a creepy female voice. Interestingly enough, the album sleeve informs us that this mysterious voice is none other than that of Jarzombek’s wife, Jennifer.

The main theme here gravitates out from notions of using personal technology, seemingly inspired by Jarzombek’s own experiences at the interface of some operating system, or his own philosophical contemplations orbiting the enumeration of transistors and resistors. All this with a rather dark tint; airs of alluring devices, but ones not to be trusted. But at the same time overtones of humour infest the proceedings.

Most of the songs are propelled along by the drumming of Bobby Jarzombek, brother and former-Watchtower band-mate of Ron. His exquisite percussion work lays a foundation for the overlapping layers of guitar, and are of such complexity that one could quite happily listen to the whole album, only giving due attention the drums, and still be enthralled.

The guitar frenzies are akin to Buckethead, only less maniacal, but more listenable. Fifth track, ‘Read Me’, begins like a deranged Bach as Jarzombek sprints through a plethora of scalar shapes, whilst the ten-minute-plus mouthful of a track, ‘A Chaotic Realization of Nothing Yet Misunderstood’, includes some crushingly claustrophobic time signature disorder towards it’s climax. The highpoint of the album for me is the start-stop brilliance of the verses in second track ‘Just a Little Bit’; with almost random occurrence, a combination of heavy power-chords and bass-drum intimidation shake the senses.

Of notable note are the guest appearances of Daniel Gildenlow - the Pain of Salvation mastermind - and Marty Friedman - former-Megadeth guitar god. Gildenlow adds his smoothing vocal melodies to one track, whilst Friedman contributes his distinct solo tone to an excellent trade-off with Jarzombek on another one.

Ink Compatible will not satisfy those music consumers seeking an identifiable hook, or some conventional verse-chorus-verse-chorus monotony. This is a shred album, but one that stomps all over the swollen fingers of Yngwie Malmsteen, or the spindly fingers of Steve Vai, or the bluesy fingers of Joe Satriani. May it be carved in granite the truth that Ron Jarzombek is a fret-deity of as much worth as that aforementioned trio, that he is a musicological genius, and that Ink Compatible is a befitting showcase of his majesty.


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