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Michael Angelo Batio - "Hands Without Shadows 2 - Voices" (CD)

Michael Angelo Batio - "Hands Without Shadows 2 - Voices" CD cover image

"Hands Without Shadows 2 - Voices" track listing:

1. Dial in that Frequency
2. Tribute to Dimebag
3. Clapton Is God
4. Metallica Rules (featuring Mark Tremonti and Bill Peck)
5. EVH
6. Symphony of Destruction (featuring Vinnie Moore and George Bellas)
7. For Jimi: All Along the Watchtower
8. Tribute to Randy 2: You Can't Kill Rock and Roll
9. On The Double (featuring David Shankle)
10. MAB Forum Shreddathon

Reviewed by on October 19, 2009

"The album's best mashup is 'Metallica Rules,' which goes a little beyond the 'greatest hits' approach, with bits from the slightly less familiar 'Sanitarium' and 'Master Of Puppets' joining with 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' and 'Enter Sandman.'"

In reviewing Michael Angelo Batio's "Hands Without Shadows 2 — Voices," I must first tip my hat to Mr. Batio. He's a shredder extraordinaire and the people he's surrounded himself with, including drummer Joe Babiak, vocalist Warren Dunlevy Jr., and an army of guest ax-slingers, perform admirably.

That said, it's become apparent to me that sometimes, when one has worshiped too much at the altar of technical expertise, sometimes the creative muses withhold their affections. That's definitely the case here as Batio essentially cruises through the greatest hits of artists he admires.

The static-filled "Dial in that Frequency" seems to be some kind of mood-setter, showing us that we're about to listen to some kind of station packed with Batio's favorite tunes or something. It's a 25-second annoyance one can just skip after the first listen.

Things get under way with "Tribute to Dimebag," which mashes together Pantera's "Cemetery Gates" and "Cowboys From Hell" to great effect. Batio opens with gentle acoustic sounds and ends the song with a blistering solo. It works well and I think Dimebag would approve.

The next track, "Clapton Is God," shows the inherent weakness of the approach Batio takes on the album. Though it was fun to hear the song open with the sound of a Bach ode to the almighty, the song then takes predictable turns, with Batio blasting out the opening riff to "Layla," playing that song most of the way through, with shreddy soloing that feels incredibly out of place (I don't think Clapton or Duane Allman would necessarily approve). Then, the song turns into the Cream classic "Badge," and — of course — "Sunshine Of Your Love." Sure, it's well-played (though, as I said before, the shredding seems weirdly out of place), but it sounds so much like the originals that it doesn't feel that Batio and crew have added anything except some fleet-fingered fretwork. Is that enough? It wasn't for me, but your mileage may vary.

"EVH" pays tribute to fellow guitar god Eddie Van Halen in the same way, and I'll give you a moment to guess which Van Halen songs get mashed up in this one... If you guessed "Panama," "Jump," "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," "Runnin' With The Devil," "Unchained" and (naturally) "Eruption," you get a gold star. Once again, Batio and crew pull off the playing, but it never goes much further than imitation of the originals (especially in Batio's reproduction of the "Jump" keyboard solo).

The album's best mashup is "Metallica Rules," which goes a little beyond the "greatest hits" approach, with bits from the slightly less familiar "Sanitarium" and "Master Of Puppets" joining with "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and "Enter Sandman." Honestly, I couldn't tell where Batio's parts ended and Mark Tremonti and Bill Peck's began, but all three guitarists do well and Batio's arrangement of "For Whom The Bell Tolls" integrates his keyboard playing in an interesting way (although he does ape Michael Kamen's "S&M" arrangement a bit in parts). I also like the way he monkeys with the opening riff to "Master Of Puppets." I wish there'd been more of that kind of experimentation here.

"Symphony Of Destruction" has some interesting bits, but is mostly a by-the-numbers recreation of the Megadeth original, with Dunlevy even doing his best to recreate Dave Mustaine's signature growl. Sure, there are some extra solos to accommodate guest guitarists Vinnie Moore and George Bellas, but even that doesn't really distinguish the song from the original.

The Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix cover "All Along the Watchtower" and the Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads cover "You Can't Kill Rock and Roll" are both good, with Batio playing in a refreshingly subdued way on "Watchtower."

The disc's final number, "MAB Forum Shreddathon," is nearly 10 minutes of non-stop shredding, featuring 13 guest guitarists. I challenge the listener to keep paying attention after the first few minutes.

I do have to give a massive shout-out to vocalist Warren Dunlevy Jr., who sings on eight of the ten tracks. Over the course of the album, he has to replicate the singing styles of Phil Anselmo, Eric Clapton, James Hetfield, David Lee Roth, Dave Mustaine, Jimi Hendrix and Ozzy Osbourne. And you know what? With the exception of his clumsy impression of Mustaine on "Symphony of Destruction," he carries it off masterfully. His take on the Van Halen tunes in "EVH" is especially strong, getting Roth's swagger exactly right.

If technical excellence is what you're looking to listen to, "Hands Without Shadows 2 — Voices" is the album for you. Just be aware of the fact that this is basically a covers album that adds little but light-speed solos to the original versions.

Highs: "Metallica Rules" actually changes up the original versions of the songs in interesting ways.

Lows: Not a lot gets added to most of the mash-ups here to make them seem original in any way.

Bottom line: Batio shows off his guitar skill, but the album is lacking when it comes to creatively interpreting the cover tunes.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 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)