We all know Tony MacAlpine can play – a careers’ worth of flawlessly dazzling performances has seen to that, whether solo, with Planet X, Steve Vai, CAB, and PSMS with Mike Portnoy, Billy Sheehan and Derek Sherinian. But what makes Concrete Gardens stand so uniquely among MacAlpine’s catalog is that he’s managed to create an album that he flits in and out of modern progressive metal styles (yes, there’s even a certain djentiness to some of the tracks) without sounding like he’s trying to mimic the current crop of acts like Periphery and Scale The Summit, while also infusing his compositions with enough melody and song craft to keep non-guitar players happy.
MacAlpine’s compositions have that same ever-evolving, compositionally vibrant feel that Steve Vai exploited so well on Passion & Warfare: if you’re like me and you sometimes get ‘guitar album fatigue’ from one too many solos over one too many static backing tracks you’ll be endlessly entertained by the little orchestrational flourishes scattered throughout tracks like “Exhibitionist Blvd.,” “Poison Cookies” and “Confessions Of A Medieval Monument.” MacApline understands that instrumental albums become compelling when there’s a fine balance of power and restraint, speed and melody.
By the time you get to the title track you’ve been taken on a ride through all sorts of varied musical terrain, with the one constant being MacApline’s fearless and flawless compositional spirit. Album closer “Maiden’s Wish” is a curious choice, wrapping up the collection with a spirited piano piece rather than an electric guitar onslaught like the rest of the album. But as jarring as it might seem on first listen, it more than fits in as an example of virtuoso musicianship in an eclectic set.