Dense, heavy and ever-changing, a Planet X album is an athletic event as much as an aesthetic experience. And the listener gets to sweat, too.
These fuckers are gonna beat you down: Keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Virgil Donati (with Brett Garsed and Allan Holdsworth on guitar, and Jimmy Johnson and Rufus Philpot on bass) set a pace few ears can match. With Donati writing nearly everything this time, the rhythms are especially diabolical, so cut yourself some slack on counting out the time signatures and just ride the rapids.
At first I thought the best tracks were at the beginning; then I realized I just needed a breather halfway through. A prudent regimen would be couple of songs at a time, with a beer and a TV episode of “Forensic Files” in between.
It’s no accident that “Alien Hip Hop” strikes first. Sherinian’s beastly, funky riffs and swirly nebulae alternate with Garsed’s versatile guitar, which starts lyrical and ends spitting teeth. Donati, meanwhile, is a gravity magician who embodies both nova explosion and black-hole traction, switching fiercely between contradictory rhythms and even playing two at the same time during the transitions. Help, mommy!
Holdsworth fans will boggle at his volume-knob smears and effortless light-speed melodies on “Desert Girl,” and envy the way he melds into the incredible space-bending tempo flexes on “The Thinking Stone.” But Garsed, who stars on nine of the 11 tracks, never causes you to pine for the master’s return; tune in to his stinging lead on the Euro-grand “Poland” and the way he commands the intermittent movie theme of the diced-up “Quantum Factor.” If Sherinian seems less dominant than usual, it’s only because he’s so busy layering exquisite atmospheres and puffing up just the right amount of echo to make everything its hugest.
21st-century blues and bop; Frankenstein metal; dangerous funk; even a hint of Caribbean nipple-piercing -- if Planet X has a formula, it’s incredibly complex. Somebody could make 50 really weird groove records out of “Quantum.” And someday, it’ll happen.
Planet X keyboardist Derek Sherinian is the king of metaljazz, having leapt from metalwork with Dream Theater, Alice Cooper and Yngwie Malmsteen to assault the world with his far-reaching instrumental music, which he calls metal fusion. He was the first guy I collared back in March, while I was preparing for the metaljazz manifesto that came out in LA Times a month ago. (Read it here.) Sherinian, a handsome fella with wide eyes, short black hair and a calm, deliberate manner of speaking, was expanding his home recording facilities in Studio City, and he sat down in his breakfast nook to talk. He said some good stuff that didn’t get into the Times story, so I thought I’d unearth it.
BURK: What’s your connection with jazz roots?
SHERINIAN: I was never an authentic jazz player, although I love jazz music. I don’t think I could play one real book tune from beginning to end.
BURK: Ever dig bebop and swing?
SHERINIAN: A little bit. My mother always listened to bebop in the house. And I was into the tonality, the richness of the chords, and the harmony aspect. But I always thought the tunes were cheesy and wimpy, and it lacked power. And all the kids who played jazz in school were geeks.
BURK: How did “Quantum” happen?
SHERINIAN: I was working on my solo record “Blood of the Snake,” and Virgil was in a huge creative flow. I said, “Take the reins. Go with it.” And he really did an outstanding job in the writing, because he’s out there, harmonically and rhythmically. He’s really tapping into some new territory. No one’s doing that.
BURK: The track “Poland” -- is that about the country, or ex-Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland, whose band Om covers territory similar to yours?
SHERINIAN: That’s the country. Sorry, Chris. Planet X did a tour in Poland several years back, so I think Virgil was inspired.
BURK: How important is technique?
SHERINIAN: Melody will always rule -- having something that’s more memorable. But it’s important to have technical headroom to push the envelope. There’s a certain rush you get from hearing fast passages or technically challenging passages.
BURK: Is it tough finding an audience for your extreme music?
SHERINIAN: It’s not mainstream stuff -- it’s like going upstream. But you get a longevity in the people that support you, and to me that’s worth everything. I’d rather have one guy that’s a fan for 10 years than 10 people that’re a fan for one year. It isn’t like one year you’re into Planet X, and the other, “Yeah, y’know, I’m not into that kind of stuff anymore.”