Uli Jon Roth – Under a Dark Sky


Uli Jon Roth – Under a Dark Sky
Written by Srikanth Panaman
Friday, 13 February 2009 16:54
You meatballs do know who this dude is, right? 70′s Scorpions, pioneering neo-classical guitar hero, Hendrix-worshipper, artist, painter, then a classical composer, the worst fucking singer, and no doubt one of, if not the best damn guitar player ever? Uli has gone from playing German metal to a Hendrixian power trio rock to gradually evolving and putting out some mad genius level classical-based gems over the past 35 years+, and 2008 saw the release of his latest album, this one here.
While the last album saw him play the whole of Four Seasons, along with his own interpretation of what would’ve followed that, reinventing everything about classical playing on the electric guitar and arranging it with a real orchestra (Sky Orchestra), this one brings him a little bit closer back to rock. There’s a real rhythm section with the drummer playing rock beats, Uli pulls out some neat Hendrix-school rhythms, and most importantly he’s back to writing vocal based music a la Beyond the Astral Skies.
The album is off to a bit of a slow start with the first two pieces, pretty much acting like an extended intro, but these already have signs of things to come. You’re already treated to some gut-wrenching licks from the man. Up next, the first epic of the album Land of Dawn is thoroughly amazing. Liz Vandal and the rest of the backing gang is great, but this also introduces us to one of the rare gripes I’ve got with this album. Mark Boals. Though a major upgrade from Uli’s own singing, Boals really lacks the balls. He always did. Put some powerhouse like Jorn Lande in place of him on these songs and it’d be perfection.
The album moves on with the classy Magic Word and Letter of the Law. Stay in the Light has Uli actually singing, and I daresay this somehow fits in a bizarre fucking way. Sort of like that last Johnny Cash album, maybe? Boals joins in later to handle the epic parts while Uli hangs on to his comfortable vocal range.
So that went well and we can safely move on to talking about what he’s actually a genius at. Uli’s guitar playing on this album is worth writing a book about. He pulls out all the tricks in his bag, and mind you with someone like Uli, the bag is big enough to drown Sri Lanka. This is the most tonal variety he’s been able to tap from his Sky Guitar. There’s different levels of gain used as per requirement, different tonal richness, different pickups, clean guitars, volume swells, you name it, and some of the most expressive wah usage you’ll ever get to hear. Not to mention how effortlessly he digs out all his chops, proving that he remains one of the most evolved players in guitarland, matched only by Jeff Beck. The phrasing is spectacular and his technique, though matchless, only serves to take the song forward and never gets widdly-diddly indulgent. This is also the most tasteful set of arpeggios used in recent memory. Just check out what he does on songs like Benediction or the epic album closer epic Tanz In Dammerung, for further proof of how astonishing this can get.
All said, with this album, although virtuosity is showcased for everyone to hear, the Song still dictates terms. This is written as a whole album and that’s how it must be heard; and you are taken through one dramatic piece to another till the epic finish. Arrangement, structure, counterpoints and resolutions are all of the highest possible quality and intricately executed and produced by Uli. This album might not be for fans of rock, but for fans of the greatest instrument ever, the electric guitar. It’s equally recommended for fans of classical music, and a must-listen album overall, even though Boals doesn’t have the desired punch and the whole thing can get all hippie-world-peace-luvin.
Label: SPV
Year of Release: 2008