Michael Harris - Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint

Michael Harris Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint cover
Michael Harris
Orchestrate II: Rage & Restraint
Lion Music
Well, I consider Michael Harris, along with a handful of other players, to be up there with the greatest players, the Uli Jon Roths, the James Byrds, The Yngwie J (just to know who you’re dealing with bitch, you who know hath unleashed the motherfooking fury!) Malmsteens, Michael Schenkers etc…
An incredibly clean, tasteful and when he wants fast player that is not blinded by his own virtuosity to completely do away with his bluesier side, his solo albums are always a treat for fans of fusiony hard guitar music that sometimes borderlines on metal, with really imaginative compositions that do set him apart from your average guy, who will arpeggio away to infinity (and beyond).
His two “Orchestrate” albums – however – do delve into more neoclassical territory and embrace that whole virtuosic aspect, but from a quite unique perspective. See they don’t necessarily go for incredible speed, although some runs, would make your fingers twist but for creating overall impressive pieces with the guitar parts sometime acting in a pretty symphonic orchestral manner.
An either increased budget or more time to work on it has gifted the more varied sequel to the first more baroque inspired album, with lots of real instruments, which sound so much better than sampled ones and allow for a far more impressive and more organic sound.
A qualm that some people might have is that “O2” is not as “heavy” as its predecessor, but that’s partially true. It sounds heavier, production wise, but it’s true that there’s a bunch more acoustic stuff going on, a lot more often, but in all honesty, I really don’t mind them as I find them quite well thought out.
“Orchestra Pit” begins as an airy intro that soon descends into semi-metallic madness and once the drums kick in, courtesy of one Brian Harris (Michael’s brother and drummer extraordinaire) is a fine intro as any to the main course, which begins straight away with the dark, symphonic and grandiose “Chant of the Octagoth”, which begins in a Grieg’s is way and very soon builds to pretty frantic pace, only to dial things back for an more placid orchestral part that’s overlaid with variations of its main theme and a flurry of notes to reignite it into a second mini climax; it goes a little prog, with another abrupt contemplative minute before the grand finale. And that’s how you fit something that you think might have been a ten minute piece into half the duration. Absolute to the point, not repeating phrases just for the sake of it, although it does love its central idea, wearing it to death, but awesome nonetheless.
“Time Piece” in its thirty seconds manages more notes than some people use in entire songs, (haha), but it also acts as a nice intro to the “Syrkus of Lydia” that seems to draw it’s influences from all over the place. It’s got a nice melody that one could say is inspired by early last century formal music, but also folklore moments that feel right out of a Mike Oldfield album; lots of strings, but again close to its middle it goes into a crazy metallic frenzy, which it also decides to overlay, with some crazy prog shit on top and even more strings over double bass hitting drums and other odd percussion, just because the people involved can pull it off. Incredibly, it’s done in such a tidy way that you never wonder about what you’re hearing, you’re only amazed at what you’re hearing. Again the less is more approach is true, but not quite for the later part where the kitchen sink and probably also a dishwasher seem to fit in.
“Logician’s Lament” is a sorrowful little acoustic number, with some incredible work by Harris that seems to mingle its baroque approach with a bit of folklore towards the end.
“Octavian III” will instantly sound familiar if you’re a fan of Harris from way back… as it’s first “cousin” was a great track from his first solo album and something he’d play during his Chastain/Harris gigs often, but also the second part was on the more recent “Orchestrate” album. It’s in their vain and straight ahead rocking in a more sympho-neoclassic-rock and less metal way than say the first part and more in line with its sequel. Another glorious melody added into the sky high pile of Michael Harris divinely inspired moments and you have to love how, it once again gets grinded into a metallic powder in the middle – it goes acoustic – and after some fine soloing it’s all put back together, but in a way bluesier way. The man has a license to thrill and do whatever the hell he wants to… I’m in awe.
“Lifelong Quest” has some sombre orchestration that doesn’t amount to very much at first as there’s some sustained guitar tones, but through some very tasteful acoustic passage that’s doubled by strings a heavenly solo section is reached in an ecstatic moment. A tormentingly beautiful dance of notes follows and the songs reaches its conclusion with a quite clever fade that is interrupted only for the melodies to come full circle.
“Wrath of the Conductor” is not a tarantella, although it feels like it takes some cues from one – being a heavy neoclassical version of one, build to show off. Note: it just does that. Plus that main melody is almost as insanely catchy as the Korobeiniki section that was actually turned into the theme music of “Tetris”, I just can’t get it off my mind.
As much as I’m not a big fan of cold, the winter, Christmas and carols and all that “fucking snow”, as Eric Idle would put it, the celebratory tone of “Winterlude Nöel” is so nice that it really needed little effort to warm into my heart.
Masquerade Nokturne” opens up with some bold orchestral sweeps, not unlike a pretty famous soundtrack theme, but it quickly gets into a mystical baroque air that then goes ba-rock-ing into full neoclassical metal soloing. Superb!
“The Empress with no Clothes” is a quirky little number that other than proving what a “dirty old man” Michael is, also proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that he is an incredible guitarist (which you might have gotten wind by now!)…
“The Orchestrator” has an incredible melody that again is a fine mix of classical and neoclassical elements… cinematic in scope and so engrossing that it left me once again speechless.
“Mundus Novus” is a sweet piece of classical blues – if such a thing exists that does seem to take a cue from both Cat Stevens “Wild World” and The Stories “Darling” subconsciously, unless those did take a cue from some semi-obscure classical piece prior to it. Either conscious or subconscious, this is no rip off, as it actually is build into quite a majestic piece of symphonic proportions that utilizes a variation of that melody that really has a lot of character of its own.
Last but not least, the “Final Quest” works as an outro that despite being rocking as @#$#, manages to close the album with quite a bang… if you wait for it.
A far more mature sequel to the original “Orchestrate”, “Rage and Restraint” actually achieves the lofty goals its predecessor set out to attain. Fans of Orchestral Symphonic Rock and Metal, fans of Yngwie’s classical suite, or people who enjoy guitar in general take note of this amazing piece of work!