REVIEW: JOHN PETRUCCI – “Terminal Velocity”
There’s nothing like a carnival. Especially at night. Where eccentric Carnies and veteran attractions furnish some off-road, temporary grassland with an allure of charm, comfort, a sense of familiarity, and a succulent hint of danger. The hiss, click and pop of the Tilt-A-Whirl safety bar (assuming it has one) securing you in as the Carnie grins, and you brace yourself for the most exhilarating, perilous, or dullest ride of your life. If this funfair fetish induced by a state of terminal boredom born of lockdown seems excessive, it also happens to serve as a tidy introduction to ‘Terminal Velocity.’ The spirited, dynamic, and second all-instrumental solo album from guitar virtuoso and Dream Theater mastermind, John Petrucci, delivering a damn good time for all, and referencing all, even during those moments it probably shouldn’t.
The sophomore, solo installment by Petrucci features a returning cast of bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors, and Petrucci’s solo debut ‘Suspended Animation’) and the eagerly anticipated reunion with drummer Mike Portnoy (Sons of Apollo, Winery Dogs, ex-Dream Theater) behind the kit. Portnoy’s appearance marks the first recording between these former band-mates since the drummer parted ways with Dream Theater in 2010.
Showcasing this trio’s unique chemistry, in addition to Petrucci’s affinity for impressive guitar gymnastics, these nine songs tightly weave into an instrumental powerhouse. Even the records title track sounds happy to be here, like a 70’s durational anthem that channels Jean-Michel Jarre, Sky, and Richie Blackmore to name but a few, in a feast of virtuoso playing. Its lead guitar capturing the jovial tones on “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson, rhythmically hinting at both 80’s and contemporary, pop-punk progressions. If this sets a curious precedent, it is a component that sees ‘Terminal Velocity’ thrive, and yes, we would like some more ketchup on this hot-dog, please.
As Petrucci shreds, soars and solos melodically throughout, his fingers sound as if they’ve been reared on steak and caffeine. Unrelenting, unforgiving, trying to learn these songs by ear is probably about as manageable as trying to catch smoke. Particularly on “Temple of Ciradia,” easily the albums heaviest number, as the Portnoy/LaRue dynamic truly takes hold. As it does again in “Gemini”, capturing a grittier, heavy rock vibe with the main riff that fizzes past. After several brief interludes that echo early Velvet Revolver, waves of Flamenco guitar wash over you and its all-glorious good fun. Though, lest we forget its more somber moments found in the ballad “Out of the Blue” which hauntingly captures the spirit of Gary Moore. And yet, ‘Terminal Velocity’ continuously detours back to genial solos boasting a broad, pop-punk smile. Most notably in “Happy Song,” sounding as if Big Country instrumentally reimagined the Sum-41 hit “Still Waiting”. This should sound like the musical equivalent to sampling pickles dipped in mustard when, in fact, it winds up with more peanut butter and chocolate relationship. Like a doughnut burger it really shouldn’t work, but, wonderfully, it kind of does!
With ‘Terminal Velocity’ John Petrucci has produced a dynamic homage to a plethora of guitar icons and styles while offering a mouthful of contemporary pop-punk. If hard to imagine, it isn’t at all hard to bear. Fun, familiar, if at times unusually finicky, ‘Terminal Velocity’ is a riff crammed, good time sketched by a swift and talented hand. But, hey, if it doesn’t take your fancy, you can always just skip the carnival and crochet at home instead.