ALBUM REVIEW: The Free Guitar Album by Elmo Karjalainen

Free Guitar Cover Color

Elmo Karjalainen is a composer/musician and, in particular, a virtuoso guitar player hailing from Finland. He has become recognised as one of the best guitarists in his native land through his work with Finnish metal band Deathlike Silence, as well as his solo album Unintelligent Designs. He currently plays in two bands, Seagrave and Conquest, and has recently toured with a band of national fame, Kilpi.

Following the critical praise for his first solo album Unintelligent Designs, Elmo decided on making this follow-up (the title is literal, the digital version of the album is free!). It consists of ten instrumental tracks that showcase Elmo’s unique style and versatility as a guitarist, as well as a compositional style that encompasses a wide array of influences and genres.

Opening track, Instrumetal (that’s a pun, not a typo), is a blistering start to the album. Swirling low-end riffs interlock with tight drum patterns played at a formidable tempo, before Elmo unleashes his lead guitar skills over the top. Playing a simple high-end melody, it’s not long before he is whizzing up and down the neck, though it is until the last minute that he truly lets rip with an astonishingly fluent solo.

His style is reminiscent of guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen, though he also cites less obvious influences like Jeff Beck and the late Danny Hatton. Elmo also has a strong sense of humour, which emerges in track titles like second track Don’t Quit Yer Day Job and the following Incontinental Breakfast, which is preceded by a rather amusing spoken word intro in a stereotypical English accent.

Musically, the former is a mid-paced track with a loping, half-time groove for the most part, with some intricate sections of complex drumming and guitar work. The soloing here is free and unrestrained, capturing Elmo’s quirky side perfectly. Incontinental Breakfast has a similar feel to begin with until an intense middle section featuring thunderous double-kick and stellar guitar playing.

She Sleeps On The Moon is a big contrast, showing Elmo’s more mellow, melodic side. His classical influence is displayed in the harp-like minor key arpeggio that floats through the track and, for the first half, his playing is subtle and understated. As the piece progresses, he takes the melody all over the neck, though it sounds crafted and structured rather than random virtuosity for its own sake.

The complex time signature of sixth track Algorithms shows his prog rock influences (he cites Genesis as one of his favourite bands). Starting with a circular, looping high-end riff, the beat continually shifts under your feet as we say farewell to 4/4 time, temporarily. The main section is in 7/8 but the use of syncopation and displaced accents make it a challenging but exciting listen. I loved the ascending bassline that enters halfway, before Elmo begins yet another mindblowing solo. After this, it all becomes eerily calm before building up again, this section containing some exceptional drumming. This track especially shows Elmo’s musical command and understanding.

Noises is literally forty seconds of noises, more evidence of Elmo’s sense of humour! The Gentle Art Of Listening , the eighth track, is one of the more epic on the album. It proceeds at a stately pace with a simple but powerful three-note lead guitar melody. This sounds gorgeous when the harmony part is added, but the simplicity doesn’t last….
For the middle section, the beat stays in 4/4 but, again, the clever use of shifting accents disturbs the natural momentum and the listener finds his attention thrown from side to side. These subtle complexities make the music rather gripping and addictive, and I loved the choral sounding synth towards the end.

Ninth track, The Bolero Unravels (I Come Undone), is an interesting idea for a piece as it is based on the famous insistent, repeated rhythmic motif of Ravel’s Bolero (nice pun on the composer’s name there). It takes that idea and becomes brooding, mid-paced prog-metal, showing the strong relationship between classical and metal, which is not acknowledged enough.

This classical influence shows in the album’s closing track, Relax. It is another expression of a gentler, more melodic side and his compositional craft. It consists of a haunting, arpeggio-based guitar part, with a sparse but beautiful lead guitar melody that floats over the top, which he then extemporizes. It has a soothing, hypnotic effect that brought to mind Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross and makes for a lovely ending.

Overall, this is a very accomplished album of sophisticated metal/prog rock, that showcases not only his remarkable abilities as a guitarist but also his musical range and understanding. The music is not merely a vehicle to display his playing prowess, but intricate, structured and controlled composition that stands up to repeated listening. This album will appeal hugely to fans of (prog) rock, metal and guitar music in general.

Alex Faulkner

Verdict: 8.4 out of 10

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