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Toby Knapp: Guitar Distortion *

Album Notes

It's important to remember that recordings like this debut from perhaps Wyoming's most famous metal guitarist were created for the enjoyment of a minute, passionate group of fans who closely followed each player in Shrapnel Records' stable of young guitar instrumentalists during the early '90s. Practically void of popular music prerequisites -- like melodies, and recognizable song structures -- most instrumental metal of this period will strike uninitiated listeners as pointless, singular exercises. This impenetrable quality kept almost every instrumental rock artist off the airwaves and the sales charts during the genre's early '90s heyday, with only a few exceptional players capturing mainstream attention. Joe Satriani and Steve Vai along with minor contributors like Michael Lee Firkins, each succeeded at individualizing instrumental rock's impersonal and excessive form. On the other end of the creative spectrum sat artists like Toby Knapp. While technically dazzling, Knapp generally created cold, dry music. Guitar Distortion certainly represents the worst form of myopic excursionism. Knapp's playing on this 1993 Shrapnel release is more about athletics than anything musical. As in a gymnastic competition, the only real assessment to be made concerns the technique; the precise delivery of expected movements. Did he stick the landing? Where his feet together and knees straight on the dismount? Yes, Knapp does in fact produce the requirements of this exercise, like frequent unnecessary time changes and nonsensical textural shifts. These tricks might wow a tiny group of judges, but it all lacks meaning, and insight into the performer. The most worthwhile element of Guitar Distortion is Knapp's exceptional rhythm guitar tone that compares favorably to heavy hitters like Metallica and Megadeth; obtaining that rare balance of gritty midrange (without sounding small) and rugged bass (without overwhelming the mix). More physicality than musicality, Toby Knapp's Guitar Distortion is so overdone it probably won't even appeal to shred fanatics -- for whom too much is never supposed to be enough. ~ Vincent Jeffries


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