What do we have here? Filth, I tell you, pure filth. A wet dream for guitar connoisseurs the world over, this is unashamed fretboard masturbation of the highest calibre. Never has the fretboard so emphatically represented the phallic symbol as it has here. I mean, just look at the cover to this album - the guys’ faces were surely captured at the ‘climax’ of the show, if you catch my drift. An analogy hammered home by the fact the opening piece is titled 'Foreplay' (a cover of the Boston track), and what follows is nearly 80 minutes of virtuosic fretboard wanking. A widdle-fest of sonic porn.
What we actually have here, of course, is some of the world's finest guitarists, all captured in live action in China on the 2017 Asian leg of the Generation Axe tour, following its inaugural touring manifestation, Stateside, the year before, and preceding another North American string of shows the year after. The legend that is Steve Vai is said to have formed the “American rock guitarist supergroup”, although all personnel are not from the US, I’ll hasten to add, and supergroup, always a contentious term, has never been more misappropriated here. This is all about solo performances, various configurations of those in the ensemble, and some all-out jams with everyone; and all with the same shared backing band. A showcase for their respective talents and a celebration of some of rock and metal’s finest axemen, rather than a supergroup per se. So, aside from Vai, there’s Tosin Abasi; Yngwie Malmsteen; Zakk Wylde; and Nuno Bettencourt. WHAT a lineup!
By far the youngest player in the ensemble, Animals as Leaders' Tosin Abasi is the newer generation of guitarist amongst the five, and he performs ‘Tempting Time’, a track by his day-job band. It’s perhaps the heaviest number to be heard on the album, and while Abasi has his own unique fretboard ‘voice’, a prominent influence of Vai is discernible in his style, as well as djent flavours à la Meshuggah et al. Great stuff from Abasi.
Abasi and Bettencourt then pair up for another Animals as Leaders track, ‘Physical Education’, before the spotlight falls on the latter for a medley of Extreme stuff. And Bettencourt's 'A Side of Mash', I have to say, is absolutely incredible. One of the best tracks on the album, which crosses over into a few different genres, seamlessly transitioning between each, in what’s an undeniably well-constructed portmanteau of solos, and effortlessly blending styles in the most invigorating of ways. To be honest, I was never really an Extreme fan, and never properly indulged myself in Bettencourt's playing, despite maintaining an awareness of what an accomplished player he's always been. And he's surprised me here - the man's fretboard shenanigans are phenomenal.
Bettencourt then introduces Wylde: "He's got a big heart and a big set of pipes”. What follows is pure emotional bliss on a cover of Citizen Cope’s ‘Sideways’. Wylde’s vocals are oozing passion and an emotional profundity that brings fresh affective depths to the song; and Bettencourt’s harmony backing vocals are utterly brilliant, as is the instrumental interplay between the two. Following this, Wylde indulges in another cover; this time, The Allman Brothers’ ‘Whipping Post’. Utterly fantastic again, in his beefed-up rendition of the track.
Then it’s the turn of Swedish guitar maestro Malmsteen who, as expected, performs neo-classical flavoured arpeggios and other scale-based frenzies at inhumanly fast speeds... but he's always transcended mere shred. For me, there's perennially been an emotional depth to his playing, be it speedy or not. His succulent tone is as blissful as ever. The man's refined sense of fretboard finesse and agility is as breathtakingly sublime as his accelerated, flashy displays of virtuosic prowess. And his medley of tracks is a fine showcase for what he does best... and, dare I say, seems to get better and better at as the years go by. He's been a virtuoso for years, of course, but his virtuosic skills have become more and more refined. This is Malmsteen at his very best. I still get shivers when I hear the opening bars to ‘Far Beyond the Sun’.
Vai then joins Yngwie on the stage to bash away at one of the latter's best known pieces. And the fretboard interplay between Vai and Malmsteen on one of Malmsteen's perennial go-to favourites, 'Black Star', breathes not only new life into the decades old composition, but is a sheer joy. It has a natural, jamming, reciprocal vibe to it; a dialogic guitar essence, if you will. And 'Bad Horsie' is Vai's own solo piece in proceedings; it remains an ever-interesting experience listening to the man’s playing. He's always been such an engaging musician in how he seems to be able to emotionally express himself via his playing in the most profoundly affecting of ways. And it still feels like he’s the entertainer and parameter pusher that he's always been.
The album is bookended by a couple of tracks where all guitarists jam it out in what becomes both a cacophony and euphony of fretboard majesty - on the aforementioned Boston track and a cover of Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’. All in all, ‘The Guitars that Destroyed the World: Live in China’ is an absolutely fantastic musical document of virtuosic guitar performance in many of its different rock/metal guises, and other stylistic infusions. Featuring some of the greatest players ever to pick up the instrument, this is indubitably pure euphoria for guitar nerds everywhere.
THE GUITARS THAT DESTROYED THE WORLD: LIVE IN CHINA
Review by Mark Holmes
28th June 2019
1) Foreplay; 2) Tempting Time
3) Physical Education
4) A Side of Mash
6) Whipping Post
7) Bad Horsie
8) Valhalla/Baroque & Roll/Overture/From a Thousand Cuts/Arpeggios from Hell/Far Beyond the Sun
9) Black Star
11) Highway Star
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"A wet dream for guitar connoisseurs the world over, this is unashamed fretboard masturbation of the highest calibre...A widdle-fest of sonic porn."