02. Flight Impressions
03. Waltz of Titans
04. Spiral of Sanity
05. The Rind
06. Fingers Painted Purple (Bonus Track)
With the art of shred slowly on the out, having been dominated for years by names like Joe Satriani and his legendary pupil Steve Vai, it’s only natural that a few self-made individuals would do their best to keep the genre alive in the back alleys. Today, doing his best to keep the faith, we have Alek Darson, a Serbian guitarist who began playing at the young age of 10 on his mother’s nylon-stringed acoustic and has only cultivated that gift throughout the years, even making his way to his current residence in Boston where he studied at the famed Berklee College of Music.
Years into his career, he was finally able to release the debut of a solo project under his own name, outside of his band work with Organized Chaos, a five-piece progressive outfit featuring many talented musicians, including suddenly-in-demand vocalist Vladimir Lalić, whom we know from Draconic, as well as his work on David Maxim Micic‘s Bilo 3.0.
There’s no denying Darson’s talent—as a multi-instrumentalist, he’s managed to play nearly every instrument on his solo debut, save for drums where three percussionists, including Organized Chaos bandmate Milan Jejina Yeqy, come to his aid. Guitars, bass, keyboards—all that writing and playing belongs to Darson alone, which is something to be impressed by. Yet, as you listen to Panopticon, there’s a tugging feeling throughout that you may have heard all this before.
To no surprise, that sensation is correct.
Darson, on his band’s website, lists string-slinging greats such as John Petrucci, Steve Vai, and Pat Metheny in his influences and those who shaped his musicality. If you’ve ever heard any of these prolific individuals in your life, you’ll no doubt recognize that Darson has modeled his solo career almost entirely on copycatting their work, especially Petrucci.
It seems unfair to say that, however, when the man has such an extensive work catalog in Dream Theater, his monikered solo project, Liquid Tension Experiment, and more. Surely, there’s bound to be overlap in some places, and that’s just what happens when so much music has been produced in the world; it’s impossible to stay completely original. But there’s nary a moment on Alek Darson’s Panopticon that doesn’t strike you as “John Petrucci worship.”
From the heavy opening riff on ‘Sprockets,’ which echoes Petrucci’s ‘Jaws of Life‘ on his own Suspended Animation, to the final moments of ‘The Rind,’ which is wholly reminiscent of bits of Dream Theater’s Metropolis, Part II: Scenes From A Memory, this entire EP bleeds Petrucci, even if not wrought from his fingertips. Even his guitar tones are eerily similar, down to the way his notes are strung together in legato and staccato-heavy segments. The influence is as plain as day in every proverbial corner.
It’s such a shame, too, because Darson is incredibly talented and has all the skills of his idols available in spades. Even as a self-proclaimed virtuoso (bleh, leave the titling to your listeners), it would stand to reason that even the mightiest and well-versed of musicians add their own flavor to their work instead of playing the part of a Xerox machine. His undeniable ability shines through with his precisely fretted leads and masterful sweeps often traversing into insane bends, like on the furious ‘Waltz of Titans,’ but it’s all for naught because they are simply too similar to Petrucci’s own work and offer no bearing on Darson as an individual.
Ironically, it’s where the man implements his talents on a keyboard that make him shine apart from the influences, as ivories allow him to explore the musical space with interesting note patterns and effects that vastly differ from the guitar work at play. The robotic love letter before returning to fancy fretting on ‘Spiral of Sanity‘ is an excellent departure from the the generic progressive guitar work we’ve heard literally hundreds of times before, and a welcome breath of fresh air before we blast into the laughable closer in ‘The Rind,’ an exercise in trying to be “too deep for you.”
The saddest part is that perhaps the most interesting track tied to the EP, ‘Fingers Painted Purple,’ is a bonus track you have to find on the man’s website through some comical metagame. ‘Fingers Painted Purple‘ is unlike anything the rest of the EP has to offer, being a more relaxed track in tone, but manages to push out some furious fretwork throughout backed by some rather tasteful acoustic guitar and keyboard tones reminiscent of Ayreon, but not over-the-top. This smooth, almost Spanish-styled song is a beautiful way to end an otherwise ho-hum, worship-ridden EP, and it’s ridiculous that it’s not immediately available in the Bandcamp download.
Alek Darson is incredibly proficient and his EP is filled with competent, sometimes extraordinary musicianship for an entirely self-produced individual. The only—and biggest—problem is you could slap John Petrucci’s name on there instead and be none the wiser.
Alek Darson’s Panopticon gets…