Music is typically a collaborative effort, a meeting of selected minds to create something greater than the sum of their parts. Sometimes, however, a single artist will take it upon themselves to weave a tapestry all their own. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe, as oftentimes a solo musician’s endeavor leads to better, more consistent releases that are more in line with the artist’s original intent. 2015 has been chock full of solo instrumental releases by guitar virtuosos from all over the world. Here, we seek to highlight some of the best and brightest of the year.
Sydney-based guitarist James Norbert Ivanyi came crashing out of the gate in January with his second release, The Matter Circumvention, quickly setting the bar astronomically high for instrumental releases to come. James’ brand of psychedelic progressive rock/metal conjures the vibes of early Opeth most closely, but he twists and contorts them to create an atmosphere all his own. There’s so much on display in this one release: jazzy swing and twinkling organs compliment riffs and solos that ooze with swagger. James displays a masterful reserve throughout the EP, knowing just when to bring the music back to breathe and then continue the onslaught. Mind bending doesn’t even begin to describe it.
David Maxim Micic, Serbian guitar/keyboard composer and Berklee College graduate, is no stranger to the game. With three solo releases and one full-length band release (via Destiny Potato) already under his belt, one would think his creative wellspring had run dry for the year. They’d be wrong. David released a diptych of EPs during 2015 – Ego and Eco, a continuous work of sorts that showcases two sides of the same coin. Through his signature brand of chunky progressive metal, David explores the dichotomy of the human condition. Ego is the more aggressive release of the two, exploring the inner chaos and absurdity a person’s sense of self inherently creates. Eco, on the other hand, looks outward to the environment from which man springs, and channels the order of nature through more melodic hooks and composition (and features Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s very own Dan Wieten of The Omega Experiment on the track “Satellite”!). David’s signature style and penchant for leitmotifs makes for a nice little package that wonderfully rearranges one’s perception.
Last up is Mendel bij de Leij, known by his stage name of simply Mendel and even better known for the ferocious licks he lays down as Aborted’s shreddiest member. Mendel has been pumping out solo releases alongside his work with Aborted for years now, but his 2012 release Subliminal Colors marked a more regular solo output from this Dutch guitarist. 2015 saw him release his strongest effort yet: the full-length album Oblivion. Here, Mendel takes his aggressive and meticulously calculated approach to riffs and filters them through a lens of neoclassical prog. The result is an album that has almost no “wankery” to speak of, though the technical skill on display is astounding. Everything is in its place here, and it makes for a lush, impressive listen that paints pictures of alien landscapes not unlike those seen in the album art.
In an industry where bands are crawling over themselves and each other for exposure, choosing to fly solo is an audacious undertaking. It takes a particularly auspicious dedication to one’s craft, a huge time sink, and an unparalleled drive to make it alone. Thankfully, these artists rose above the pack over the past year to prove themselves worthy of such a pursuit, showing that sometimes a solitary vision can be more than enough to lead to stellar music.