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Bruce Arnold - "Heavy Mental" (CD)

Bruce Arnold - "Heavy Mental" CD cover image

"Heavy Mental" track listing:

1. 12 Tone Boogie
2. Multiplicity
3. Lock And Key
4. Heard Instinct
5. Dakota Gumbo
6. Blues For Arnie
7. Numbers

Reviewed by on June 2, 2011

"Yes, at its heart, Bruce Arnold's 'Heavy Mental' is a jazz album, but it's got more than enough rock heft behind it to make metalheads with a love for instrumental rock take notice. "

In reviewing Bruce Arnold's "Heavy Mental," one first needs to clear the air a bit. Firstly, other than the clever pun in the title, there's actually not much that's conventionally "metal" here. This is essentially "heavy jazz fusion," with the rock elements played up. Nevertheless, if you're a fan of great guitar-playing — and power trios ala Cream and Primus — you're going to eat this one up.

Granted, this is Arnold's 28th album, so the man obviously knows what he's doing. Still there's a freshness to tracks like "12 Tone Boogie," which meshes the freeform experimentation of jazz with the bluesy boogie of ZZ Top to excellent effect.

Unlike a lot of guitar instrumental albums, there's not a lot of flash for flash's sake on "Heavy Mental," although the opening and ending to the funky "Lock And Key" border on Joe Satriani territory. When given the choice between a bluesy chord and blitzkrieg speed on the fretboard, most of the time, Arnold opts for the bluesy chord, adding quite a bit of grit to runes like "Dakota Gumbo," which almost feels in parts like a Jimmy Page outtake.

As excellent as Arnold is, without a competent rhythm section backing him — and providing melodic heft when he's off in solo-land — the album would come off as sloppy. Fortunately, bassist Andy Galore and drummer Kirk Driscoll excel at every turn. Galore in particular gets plenty of chances to shine, particularly on "Multiplicity," in which his bass feels almost like its sharing the lead with Arnold's guitar.

There's not much negative to report here, save that a couple tracks (the six-minute "Blues For Arnie" and the nearly eight-minute "Multiplicity") overstay their welcome just a little bit.

Yes, at its heart, Bruce Arnold's "Heavy Mental" is a jazz album, but it's got more than enough rock heft behind it to make metalheads with a love for instrumental rock take notice.

Highs: Excellent playing throughout, with "12 Tone Boogie" especially standing out.

Lows: A couple tracks go on a bit long.

Bottom line: Jazz-rock fusion that cranks up the volume enough to make metalheads take notice.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 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)