Chris Poland

Return To Metalopolis

Chris Poland - Return To Metalopolis ©1991 Enigma
1. Club Ded
2. Alexandria
3. Return To Metalopolis
4. Heinous Interruptus
5. The Fall Of Babylon
6. Row Of Crows
7. Theatre Of The Damned
8. Beelzebub Bop
9. Apparition Station
10. Khazad Dum

When it comes to instrumental rock guitar, people always seem to focus on the letter M (Malmsteen, Morse, MacAlpine, Moore), tragically unaware that under the letter P lurks the most expressive, original and exciting guitar player in the post-70s metal/fusion cohort, Chris Poland. This lamentable obscurity might have to do with his having recorded a couple of albums with a well-known, genre-defining metal band whose name starts with an M - but as the story of Chris' connection with that band has been told and retold, it will not be alluded to any further here.

Return to Metalopolis is best described as fusion-tinged guitar melodies and inspired leads over heavy thrash chord progressions. A convenient, if oversimplifying, analogy would be to imagine a blend of early Metallica with Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin and Jeff Beck. Its only (and remote) similarity to the slew of shred albums that came out in the late 80s-early 90s is the high technical content of the riffs and leads. A great many aspects of this album are entirely unique. The compositions are solid, melodic and memorable; the heaviness of the orchestration had never been achieved or even attempted, in an instrumental context and Chris' expressive touch, note choice and tone are unmatched. Of note are his subtle, Beck/Holdsworth-ian whammy-bar note shaping (some of it pre-dating Steve Vai's much ballyhooed - and brilliant - experiments in this domain) ("Alexandria"), his restrained left-hand vibrato, his unpredictable, "backwards" picking patterns ("Fall of Babylon"), and his brother Mark's orchestrated drum parts, which are clearly part of the compositions and not a mere rhythmic backbone to shoddy displays of speed. But of course an especially remarkable element of this album is Chris' inventive pentatonic/outside McLaughlinesque leads, entirely devoid of the tired cliches and hackneyed licks heard on most instrumental albums. His playing is always brilliant and at times tear-jearkingly expressive ("Fall of Babylon"). Put simply, nobody plays like Chris - and that's nothing to spit on, given the deleterious effects in-breeding among "shred" guitar players has had on the quality of instrumental albums since, say, 1992.

My only beef with this album is that its original production was a little thin in the critical and excruciatingly difficult-to-render-properly-in-metal midrange area (see Metallica's ...and Justice for All and Black Album respectively for a horrid failure and brilliant achievement in this department), but this has been fixed in the remastering process. The album was reissued in 1999 and is available in most record stores. Get it now.

Chris is now playing in the LA area with his best project to date, a burning instrumental fusion/metal trio named Ohm. Come to one of their shows and swear off every other instrumental outfit in the world.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 06/2000

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Chasing The Sun

Chris Poland - Chasing The Sun ©1999 Grooveyard Records
1. Chasing The Sun
2. Hip Hop Karma
3. Wendell's Place
4. Robo Stomp
5. Straight Jacket
6. Cosmo's Thumb
7. Lulu's Dream
8. Salvador
9. Interference Blues
10. Alphabet City
11. Mercy
12. Song For Paul (31 Summers)
13. Alexandria 99 (bonus Track)

Chris Poland's second solo album, after 1991's Return to Metalopolis (see review here), is a collection of demos he recorded between 1994 and 1999 and a live revamp of "Alexandria" by his current trio Ohm. In spite of the less-than-ideal conditions in which the tunes were recorded, the overall sound quality is very good (if a little flat), thanks to a great mastering job by James LoMenzo.

The compositions are radically different in spirit from those on Return to Metalopolis. Gone is the raging metal of yesteryear: what we have here is a collection of very melodic rock/fusion compositions and experimental tidbits, with the occasional dash of funk and Latin. However, Chris' unique phrasing and touch are still there, with the even brighter glory conferred by several years of experimentation and maturation. His sound and arrangements show significantly more variety than they did on Return to Metalopolis, and one can now enjoy clean and chorusy tones along with his melted-butter main lead sound.

"Mercy" showcases his preternatural expressiveness, and "Wendell's Place" is one of many very strong, well-arranged compositions hinting at the stylistic direction Chris has been exploring for the past few years.

An eminently satisfying album, Chasing the Sun is also especially interesting for its transitional quality, showing Chris at a midpoint between his earlier compositions and his current blend of fusion and metal. All along, Chris has been one of the instrument's luminaries, and one of the ten most important and unique players in rock/fusion, in fine company with Shawn Lane, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth and Al DiMeola. Get this album now from Grooveyard Records and see for yourself. And if you are in the LA area, come see Ohm live and have your conception of instrumental guitar music transformed forever.

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 06/1999

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Rare Trax

Chris Poland - Rare Trax ©2000 Grooveyard Records
1. Big 15
2. L.A.'d
3. Won't Take Me Back
4. Lissa's Found A Home
5. Demons
6. I'm Only Sleeping
7. Acoustic Guitar Interlude #1
8. Hold On
9. SOS
10. Lay It Down
11. Voyager
12. Angel
13. Acoustic Guitar Interlude #2
14. If Yellow Were Orange

Rare Trax is a collection of unreleased and hard-to-find songs from Chris Poland and some of non-mainstream projects with which he has been involved over the years. Half of the record consists of a demo he recorded with former Damn the Machine members and singer John Skipp; a few songs are vocal numbers sung by Carol McArthur in the band Nothing If Not; the last track is a long jam with his current band Ohm, with his peerless acolytes David Eagle and Robert Pagliari; and two acoustic instrumentals separate each project from the next.

While Poland is best known for his melted-butter fluid lead playing, most of the songs in this collection are primarily band efforts with Chris' guitar shining through, as opposed to vehicles for guitar sportsmanship. The now-defunct Mumbo's Brain play a very peculiar but exciting meld of rock, metal, spoken word, hardcore, and, ummm, vocal expressiveness (with John Skipp occasionally sounding like a manic Glenn Danzig on crack bitten by a werewolf). Nothing If Not's music is very melodic female-fronted pop-rock with an edge, evoking what Kate Bush might sound like if she were backed by tasteful heavy metal sidemen: the vocal lines are melodic and complex but memorable, and the backing band is unmistakably (but subtly) rock/metal with very swingy drums. The final jam is a good teaser for what Poland's band Ohm is currently doing, although Ohm's music is dramatically more structured than what this improvised jam may suggest. I'll just say that Ohm plays the most exciting, original, melodic rock/metal/fusion instrumental music I have ever heard, that their upcoming album will blow everybody away to Alpha Centauri and back a few times, and this jam is a wonderful treat.

"That's all well and good," I hear you say, "but what about the gee-tar stuff?"

Well, together with distortion and nylon picks, Poland is one of the best things that ever happened to the instrument and these tracks only cement his reputation as a creative, original player with mind-boggling note choices, perfect intonation, a mellifluous melodic sense, and above all else his own distinctive voice, be it on rhythm, lead, or acoustic guitar. The really exciting aspect of this album is that it showcases facets of Poland's playing that are rarely, if ever, emphasized on his other records: slide ("I'm only sleeping"), supremely inventive rhythms (especially the Nothing If Not material), and acoustic, which evokes John McLaughlin's My Goals Beyond and other Indian albums, while retaining Poland's strong personality. The other instrumentalists consistently provide groovy, tight rhythm beds superbly supporting the singers and guitar leads.

Contrary to a great many other artists' unreleased oddball song collections, Rare Trax is a truly essential album. There isn't a second of throwaway or subpar material: everything here is absolutely necessary to anyone with even a passing interest in intelligent guitar-driven music. Get it straight from the label at Grooveyard Records and don't forget to mention you saw it here...

Review by Rog The Frog Billerey-Mosier

Review date: 07/2002

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