REVIEW: DEREK SHERINIAN – “Vortex”
Derek Sherinian is a Californian Progressive Metal keyboardist, best known for his work with DREAM THEATER and SONS OF APOLLO. This is his second solo album in two years, after 2020’s ‘’The Phoenix’’. He has been quite busy with his main band, SONS OF APOLLO and has done guest appearances here and there ever since. For people that don’t know, he did a lot of work for KISS and played on the awesome ‘’Alive III’’ live album back in 1993.
This time he brought some of his friends along like Joe Bonamassa, Zakk Wylde, Steve Stevens, Michael Schenker, Bumblefoot amongst countless others. It always pays to have some great musician friends you can count on when recording an album. Derek Sherinian is a very accomplished musician and his work with DREAM THEATER is highly regarded still to this day and I hadn’t listened to any of his projects since the PLANET X days and that’s more than 15 years ago if I recall. This album really represents the core of his playing and I felt it’s his most complete album in his solo career.
The opening track (and title track) feels like a battle of wills between guest axe man Steve Stevens and Derek Sherinian himself. What a way to start off an album! I was impressed by the quality of the production itself and thankfully gives way to much creativity. You have him pretty much showing off on this one. If Kevin Moore was the low key keyboardist and Jordan Rudess the maestro, well we can say that Derek is the flamboyant and extroverted player. The fact he gives space to the rest of the musicians is a sign of respect for their musicianship and he doesn’t take the whole place to himself. The title track is a great opener with killer guitar solos, solid yet generic drum work and Derek goes space rock at times, just letting loose.
‘’Fire Horse’’ really reminded me of the intricacies of early QUEEN yet being a bit heavier. The bass line is great and it makes the song, as for the rest of the song, I felt it sounded very early DREAM THEATER and that’s not a surprise to any of you out there obviously. It’s all about the pace of the song with the keyboards, he is not there to have uber long solos that are accentuated by sudden rhythm changes. The keyboards gel well with the rest of the instruments and doesn’t take center stage. At each turn you hear something different..
‘’Die Kobra’’ reminded me a lot of experimentation by early progressive rock bands. It has these really mellow and great guitar solos yet he incorporates the sitar and the violin. I don’t think people take the time enough to really enjoy the musicianship of these instruments. Derek’s takes a step back and the other musicians really shine, showing he does not need to be the center of attention in each song.
‘’Nomad Land’’ is spacey to say the least. It feels like an improvisation session yet is still remarkably structured and precise. He shows off all his skills on this one and does not hold back. The execution is top notch and his skills as a songwriter are quite present on this one. It feels frenetic but the flawless layers of sounds coming from his keyboard are impressive. It boggles the mind how much time and effort was put on this very song.
‘’Seven Seas’’ and ‘’Key Lime Blues’’ are some to more bluesy songs, reminiscent of BB King and the masters of the genre. I was not expecting these types of high intensity song on this album but this blew me away. This is the high point of the album and shows off the diversity of Derek Sherinian. It doesn’t fit with the rest of the mood of the album yet it’s probably the best songs off the album. ‘’Seven Seas’’ has that 70’s funk vibe to it mixed with some old school Jazz elements and ‘’Key Lime Blues’’ brings you back to smoked-filled speakeasy’s. It’s a pleasant mix and not to be missed.
Last and definitely not least, ‘’Aurora Australis’’ is moody and probably the deepest song off the album. It’s like a slower version of KING CRIMSON, the piano sound is deafening and adds so much depth and the slow pace at the beginning is very similar to those early YES masterpieces. Letting it flow between your ears and the song has that early Progressive Rock magic rolled into a 11 minute song. Bumblefoot really shines on this one and for a 11 minute epic, it goes pretty fast honestly.
I was not expecting much at the beginning honestly. I don’t listen to much instrumental music on a day-to-day basis and rare are the instances of these albums coming to light. You have less and less instrumental Metal albums out there but ‘Vortex’ is a fine example of how to do it right. It’s not too long, nor drags on forever, its length is its basic strength. The guest musicians are on point and Derek Sherinian shows off his unique talents and shows that he is one of the best out there to ever do it.