Gus G.’s reputation precedes him. Despite having never heard a lick of his playing, I was well aware of his status as a respected and technically accomplished shredder via his previous high-profile gig as Ozzy’s left-hand man (Sharon clearly occupies the right-hand slot). As such, I thought I knew exactly what to expect, but was thrown for a loop when I pressed play on his new record ‘Fearless’ out April 20th via AFM. Rather than the instrumental metal laced with copious amounts of dazzling guitar wizardry that I expected. I heard something more akin to an amalgamation of Three Day’s Grace and Steel Panther. To be fair, the guitar pyrotechnics are here, but with a few exceptions, they are thoughtfully incorporated into a potpourri of traditionally structured melodic hard-rock/metal somewhat similar to the formula employed by fellow shredder Yngwie Malmsteen.
Lead off track “Letting Go” charges out of the gate with a double kick groove by drummer Will Hunt of Evanescence, and unfolds into a decent slab of somewhat formulaic modern hard-rock/metal. Vocalist/bassist Dennis Ward’s melodic rasp attempts to pull the song into more traditional hard-rock territory, but instrumentally the band counters with a bid for something heavier and more akin to modern In Flames. This tug of war persists throughout the album, and gives the record a somewhat unique if slightly uneven overall feel. Around the 2-minute mark, a twist into a heavier groove announces the star of the show, as Gus G. tears into an efficient and speedy solo across some more aggressive and groove-heavy riffage before returning to the chorus.
“Mr. Manson” takes the template established on track one, and adds a heavy Alice in Chains vibe. Anchored by a swampy bass-heavy riff, the song—presumably inspired by Charles Manson’s death—adds some darker textures to the mix.
The trio continues into darker more metal territory on “Don’t Tread on Me” with a riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a The Haunted album before launching into a moody mid-tempo chug-along verse followed by the requisite catchy chorus that is a staple of almost everything here. They take it down for the middle eight before launching into a guitar solo that boasts the records first extended shred-fest.
With the title track, Gus G. smartly indulges the fans that have “asked (him) to record more instrumental tracks.” “Fearless” is the first of 2 excellent instrumental tracks, and is the best thing on here. Beginning with some fast classical inspired arpeggios, the song quickly gains its footing via a metallic groove reminiscent of Dokken’s “Mr. Scary,” which leads the way into a breakdown laced riff that serves as the foundation for an extended guitar work-out that evokes Uli Jon Roth.
“Nothing to Say” is a decent enough earnest ballad with a catchy chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on an adult contemporary rock playlist. The LPs first real misstep is an ill-advised cover of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” It begins with an almost note for note intro before predictably launching into a heavied-up version of the original, which somehow excludes the “I want my MTV” hook at the end. I’m sure this is a fun song live, but the recorded version is completely unnecessary. “Chances” is another melodic modern hard-rock song that veers into Papa Roach territory.
“Thrill of the Chase” is a masterclass in melodic instrumental metal. It’s first half channels the Scorpions’ “Coast to Coast” to excellent effect, before twisting into a tasteful guitar solo, which rides a series of quick metallic grooves.
With “Big Chase,” a bluesy rocker with paint by numbers lyrics, the band misses the mark with the worst Big Game Era White Lion song ever written.
Album closer “Last of My Kind” stands as the best non-instrumental track on the album. Beginning with a moody acoustic guitar intro, the song builds into a solid minor-key pop-metal song reminiscent of pre-‘Hysteria’ Def Leppard.
Gus G.’s ‘Fearless’ is a mixed bag of metallic hard-rock that highlights a penchant for traditional melodic songcraft over progressive shredding.