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Planet X - Quantum CD (album) cover


Planet X


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.13 | 172 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Wow. There are a number of albums that are so good they make you check out their previous work (Operation Mindcrime comes to, um, mind). However, it takes a special album that can actually make you re-evaluate a band. Quantum is such a disc. Prior to buying this album, I had only gotten the Live From Oz CD, and I was underwhelmed. I thought some of the songs sounded too similar and that the band played individual solos rather than jams that allowed everyone to show off while still keeping a rhythm. This album, on the other hand, is a (God, I must be feeling punny today) quantum leap forward. Tony MacAlpine has exited the band for whatever reason, which many (even non-fans like myself) were concerned. He's always been one of the better shredders out there, but he can also write a song. The news that Brett Garsed was taking over didn't really help me much not because I don't value his skill but because I had honestly never heard him and had only once heard of him. Then things picked up when I heard that guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth was guesting, but I still had my doubts. After all, Holdsworth's synthetic guitar sound would likely be a good fit for the band, but he specializes in warm, synth-heavy jazz fusion as opposed to the crushing fusion metal I hear in Planet X's music. However, I finally caved and bought it, and I'm glad I did.

The album opens with Alien Hip Hop, which gets the ball rolling with some orchestration courtesy of Virgil Donati. It mixes nicely with keyboard line before Virgil jumps in with a quick and impossibly complex drum roll, only for the band to suddenly shift to a lower gear, add the guitar and start chugging. Now, I already said that I didn't know who Brett Garsed was before I popped this in, but about two minutes into this song I damn sure committed his name to memory. Planet X was gelling like I had never heard, and kept it up for an entire song, something that I thought they did only in bursts on their live album. Three minutes in, the band drops out and lets Brett play while Virgil keeps a beat that sounds simple until you really listen and hear his incredible cymbal work under the steady bass drum. This segues nicely into a solo from Derek, before Brett and Virgil hop back in at different tempos start gently slowing things down until your brain can't take anymore of the contrasting time signatures and levels out to an extent, although the challenging riff keeps until the end. This superb opener is so wonderful that it made me dump what previous slant I had towards the band, and it's not even the strongest track on the album.

Next up is the first of Allan's guest spots, Desert Girl. After some soft piano passages, his trademark synthetic guitar sound gently fades in before Virgil joins in with a simple beat, followed by Brett on rhythm guitar. Just as you get adjusted to this gentle sound, Derek switches to the keyboard and Virgil starts doing some fancy footwork and Jimmy Johnson gets his first moment to really be heard. He starts playing a rolling bassline that fits in nicely with the previous gentle sound yet also prepares the track for the sudden blast of metal a few seconds later. The band switches back and forth between the soft fusion and the jazz metal before finding the perfect transitioning into a masterful solo from Allan. Call me crazy, but I think I prefer Allan when he plays for others rather than his solo efforts. Perhaps it's because when he is subject to the will of others he doesn't sound so mechanical. Allan has always been about warm music with a cold sound, but he doesn't use as much synth on guest appearances, which is fine by me. Frankly, I think Desert Girl is one of his finest performances, and my concerns about how he would fit with the band went out the window and made me hope that he is asked back on future efforts.

Matrix Gate brings back some of the metal that the previous track sacrificed, and it opens with a great piano/guitar unison that manages to sound more fluid and musical than all of the Petrucci/Ruddess lines of Dream Theater's 00's output. The rest of the song is gloriously riffy, and the riff is no less heavy when Derek plays it with a piano as it is when Brett plays it. This song almost sounds like Brett wanted to remind us that Allan wasn't about to upstage him.

The Thinking Stone opens with Virgil casually proving that he's better than just about everyone else before Brett plays a lovely rhythm full of sustain only to fall back and let Derek take the lead. The band finds a nice sludgy riff before breaking into more of Brett's cleaner passages, which are themselves broken up by some slowly played arpeggios. Take note shredders, these mid-tempo scales sound better than about 90% of your lightspeed histrionics. Suddenly, the band drops out and Allan comes in with a surprisingly face-melting solo. Despite the insanely high quality of his solo, I found Holdsworth's portion out of place. In Desert Girl, Allan is an active member throughout the song, and, even thought he song gets heavy, it finds the perfect transition in his solo; here, it's just a sudden break. It doesn't really hurt the song, but I've been so used to the album's fluidity that it jolted me, but perhaps that is the point.

Space Foam is my personal favorite track on the album (well, that changes often). It's electronic opening leads into a killer groove between Rufus Philpot, Brett, and Virgil. Derek comes in a bit later with some lush keyboards, but he soon establishes himself as the forefront of the song. After some lines from Brett, he comes in with an absolutely magnificent keyboard solo that displays all of Jordan Ruddess' potential but without an ounce of the cheese. Not many songs can make you bang your head and come off as a swinging jazz jam.

Poland stars the second half with some piano arpeggios over Brett's piercing guitar before letting Jimmy Johnson flex his fingers again with some great lines with both Brett and Derek. Derek once again finds this crazy balance between dizzying keyboard shred and lush textures. His short solo in this song doesn't have a ton of notes, but it sounds so full and overpowering you'd swear he was playing balls-to-the-wall. Brett's solo is lovely as well. The trend continues with a similarly styled bass solo from Johnson that closes the song. In a band that prides itself on technical mastery, in a genre (prog/jazz metal) that demands it, to have three showcases in one song that are all tasteful is utterly shocking.

Snuff also lets Jimmy come to the front. I'm digging this new development. One of my chief complaints of Live From Oz was that they got the insanely talented Dave LaRue to play with them, only to barely let him do anything. In addition to Jimmy's great bassline, we get yet more inspired solos from Brett and Derek. Brett's in particular shows a beauty so rarely heard in modern metal, despite his ability to play all the tricks that proggy shredders love.

We get even more contrasting rhythms from the start of Kingdom of Dreams, with a simple drum beat under a complex piano line and a great riff. Suddenly, the band switches into full on stomp-along mode before Jimmy and Derek play some killer unison lines. Around the 3 minute mark, Derek plays some keyboard that sounds an awful lot like Allan's guitar before Brett gets his true moment in the sun. His solos throughout the rest of the piece are so technical yet so refined and musical that they could both inspire and put off a generation of potential players. Brett's rhythm and lead work might just eclipse the astounding work he's put in on the previous tracks.

The album closes with the monstrous Quantum Factor, and if you thought the rest of the album was complex, strap yourself in. Virgil Donati's been amazing throughout the album, but his work on this track is so astonishing, so polyrhythmically insane, and yet so groovy that you'll be hard pressed to listen to him and think up a long list of modern drummers (or drummers from any time period for that matter) that can play in the same league as this master. His playing alone is worth a few dozen listens, and yet everyone sounds great here. Brett pierces the stratosphere with his guitar before crashing back down to hell to churn out some bone-crushing riffs. Derek lays down the atmosphere before flying out of it for some killer solos. Rufus is the least present player on the track, though his job entails keeping up with Virgil Donati on perhaps his greatest kit workout, and that alone qualifies the reputation he's been rapidly building. A killer end to a killer album.

Now, I must admit, I've always been somewhat prejudiced against Derek Sherinian. As a matter of fact, even in this review, I compare him (though favorably) to his Dream Theater replacement, Jordan Rudess. I've always viewed him as the weakest member of Dream Theater, and rarely revisit his recordings with the band (I even listen to the Live Scenes version of A Change of Seasons). I thought he was more about image and trying to be rock rather than really rocking, and that he brought down Dream Theater (a band of which I am an admitted fanboy no matter how stale their formula has become). However, this album made me realize that he's perhaps the most musical of any DT alum (his only competition being John Myung and Kevin Moore), capable of actually tempering that skill with a song I want to listen to. He, like Moore before him, doesn't play as many notes as Jordan, but ultimately the atmosphere and wide range he brings to the table are far more valuable. Before this album, I found his previous Planet X output technically masterful,yet ultimately not very engaging. As I go back and check out the discography I've shunned for years, I see that Derek always played like this, so Quanum's success cannot be fully attributed to him, although his songwriting definitely improved. I can only assume the missing ingredient was Brett Garsed. His playing captures all of Tony's technique, but adds a liberal dash of groove and catchy riffs, which makes the whole thing like a truly great jazz album; demanding yet catchy. I hope to God that this isn't a one off studio session on his part, as he is the catalyst that realizes the band's potential.

Normally when I write a review, I offer a very brief synopsis of the songs before talking about how the album as a whole affected me. However, as I started to write this all I couldn't help but mention all the various aspects of the band's sound, how the songs had infinite time shifts yet were ultimately fluid. I've been trying to cut down on five star ratings, but a masterpiece is a masterpiece, and this is certainly that. The band that I just couldn't get suddenly came out and released one of if not the best jazz fusion albums since its mid-70s heyday. It's so dizzyingly complex that you have to listen to it a number of times, yet it is so catchy and accessible that you'll want to.

Grade: A

1800iareyay | 5/5 |


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