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Uli Jon Roth - "Under a Dark Sky" (CD)

Uli Jon Roth - "Under a Dark Sky" CD cover image

"Under a Dark Sky" track listing:

1. S.O.S. (4:10)
2. Tempus Fugit (2:32)
3. Land Of Dawn (11:09)
4. The Magic Word (6:12)
5. Inquisition (1:09)
6. Letter of the Law (3:04)
7. Stay in the Light (6:30)
8. Benediction (3:45)
9. Light and Shadows (6:14)
10. Tanz in Die Dammerung (18:56)

Reviewed by on February 24, 2009

"Roth’s latest neoclassic installment is indeed a masterwork, with so many elements that it transcends any label or genre."

Uli Jon Roth’s “Under A Dark Sky” may remind listeners of the 1980’s film Amadeus, where the prideful Mozart’s feelings are crushed when he is told that his latest symphony simply has “too many notes.” However, it doesn’t take long to realize that in the case of “Under A Dark Sky,” the fault lies not with the composer, but with the listener’s amateur ears. Roth’s latest neoclassic installment is indeed a masterwork, with so many elements that it transcends any label or genre, and is better described by the feelings it inspires rather than any mundane adjectives.

Roth has come a long way since his days as lead guitarist for the Scorpions, and his compositions now include classical, neoclassical, classic rock, and orchestral elements blended in a dramatic and theatrical way. Though “Under A Dark Sky” has strong religious themes and is highlighted by operatic and classical music, many guitar enthusiasts and fans of neoclassic metal can still embrace the album.

“The Magic Word” showcases the masterful neoclassic guitar shredding qualities that made Roth an icon. Though the song begins with a Tim Burton sounding gothic tune, with lilting vocals and orchestra, it is one of the more contemporary tracks, broken up by distorted guitar and inspirational lyrics that preach the sanctity of life.

“Land of Dawn” is a track that is actually broken down into three pieces, and the opening section offers up a bit of disco and Jimi Hendrix funk, before the second ballad section takes over, with falsetto vocals and a sense that the listener is physically climbing a stairway to heaven.

Movie fans will notice a similarity to the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song in “Tempus Fugit,” meaning “time flees.” The Latin translation here is important, and not to be confused with “time flies,” as the theme of the song is escape from imminent danger. More theatrical sounds can be found on “Letter of the Law,” with its witch hunt tempo reminiscent of Frankenstein or Dracula, accompanied by a wailing guitar and frantic tambourine.

From lullaby tunes in “Benediction” to ethnic chants in “Light and Shadows,” Roth’s “Under A Dark Sky” is a finely crafted piece of art. The final track, “Tanz In Die Dammerung,” meaning “Dance in the Twilight,” could be an album all its own, and at over 18 minutes, stands on its own merit. It is like a mini symphony, broken down into twelve parts that combine Spanish guitars, operatic vocals, mind-blowing tempos, ethnic chants, and a few seconds of silence before ecclesiastical instrumentals are replaced with a piercing neoclassic guitar to round it out. The most amazing part of this track is that, despite its length, there isn’t a single moment of monotony.

Religious enthusiasts will embrace “Benediction” and “Light and Shadows.” To fully appreciate “Benediction,” close your eyes and feel the track. Chances are the soothing guitar will elicit visions of standing in an ancient, gothic church, peering up into stained glass windows and fresco-painted ceilings. Likewise, the Sky guitar in “Light and Shadows” maintains the transcendental feeling that heaven’s light is poised upon you, as the lead vocals plea for recognition and salvation.

There is not a single flaw in “Under A Dark Sky,” though admittedly with so much going on, you might be able to find a tiny one after listening to it twenty times. The apocalyptic undertones make it appealing to all metal fans, regardless of faith, and the neoclassic and symphonic elements make it a classic that transcends the genre.

Highs: Roth's masterful neoclassical guitar talents in “The Magic Word.”

Lows: None really, though some listeners may find the final track too long.

Bottom line: This is music, regardless of genre, at its best.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)