Ink Compatible, the mad musician's latest upchuck, spews technicolor mayhem across musical mediocrity. It teases, trounces and tramples melodic tradition with a smirk, a wink and the most hellacious riffs this side of WatchTower.
And that's no coincidence, since Jarzombek pulls double duty for the towering prog-metal juggernaut. With Spastic Ink, the fretster scales another 'tower. But this edifice is more playful - less imposing - than its legendary doppelganger.
Take "Aquanet." No, it's no homage to '80s hair architecture. Rather, it skewers online addiction. A familiar dialup tone whisks the listener into the disc, like Alice through a cracked looking glass. Then the shattered pieces fall into place, with Bobby Jarzombek (Halford, Riot) joining his brother in lockstep rhythm.
Bobby is a drum machine, or at least some cybernetic organism matching Ron's 32nd-note fusillades. It's a feat other skin-and-string siblings (Alex and Eddie, Vinnie and Dimebag) can only dream of.
Ink Compatible begins where Ink Complete left off. The same off-kilter rhythms, stuttering solo breaks and superhuman musicianship abound, but what distinguishes the latest spastic spasm is Jason McMaster and several guest musicians. Four tracks boast McMaster's vitriolic warble, including "Aquanet."
Logging into cyberspace is revealed for the inane ritual that it is: "It took a few tries to get through/The line of maniacs/Now I just have to wait/While they verify the facts." Surfing is no less pathetic: "Who's ahead in the rat race?/Who was killed in the crime?/What's cool, what's hot?/What's a waste of time?"
McMaster coaxes emotion, supporting rather than subjugating the song. His voice fits the music - quite a feat in itself - but where's that Geddy Lee howl, that scream that made "Tyrants In Distress" so ... um, distressful? It probably melted before Jarzombek's sonic assault like so many Wiley E. Coyotes dodging oncoming locomotives.
That's the magic of Spastic Ink - or any Jarzombek project. It reconstructs musical complexity as cartoons, wiseacre creatures slinging doo-doo but knowing better. If WatchTower marches proudly across the metal wasteland, Spastic Ink is its lunatic cousin. It's a gerbil doing Tourette's spirals in a Habitrail exercise wheel - hopped up on Luden's cherry cough drops, of course.
"Just A Little Bit" extends the sugar high. Riffs stutter note by note, teasing the listener with the song's namesake promise. The brothers J must be fused at the hip. Their tightness could turn coal to diamonds. There's no rhythm, no repetition, save McMaster's weirdly haunting chorus. Yet within the maelstrom lurks familiarity, despite time signatures that change at millisecond intervals.
"Words For Nerds" begins with mellotron sheen. (or is that Frippertronic frippery?) Spoiling the mood is a clueless consumer. "Oh, it's a com-pu-ter," the moron concludes after inspecting the curious gadget before him. The scenario recalls the "Discovery" portion of Rush's 2112 in which an unsuspecting soul discovers a guitar.
Thankfully, listeners avoid gratuitous keystroking; instead, a sexy chauntese makes herself known: "Excuse me, sir. I''m looking for a word processor " What she gets is Michael Manring, chiming in with great fretless bass. Any opportunity to hear Manring is a treat, and this is no exception.
But like any onion, "Words For Nerds" holds many layers. And Manring's turn is the yin to the yang that follows. His subdued bass succumbs to passages not unlike Frank Zappa's Jazz From Hell.
"Multi-Masking" showcases Bobby's percussive majesty. The man's afire, with cymbal work sounding like the CD player's search button hopelessly stuck. Then comes Jens Johansson, the Yngwie-Stratovarius showman supplying a quick synth solo. Then he's gone just as quickly. With apologies to "Aquanet," his appearance seems phoned in.
"A Chaotic Realization of Nothing Yet Misunderstood" (love these brief song titles) opens quietly. It capitalizes on the cinematic mood lurking outside the disc's showboating soul. Its subtlely begs a project of its own (Non-Spastic Cinematic Sinew? Just a thought).
Any subtlety melts before Ron and Marty Friedman's tradeoff sections. Friedman is almost unrecognizable, ripping none of those Eastern scales he pioneered in Cacophony, Megadeth and his own solo catalog. In fact, his tone is more synth than six-string. Still, his style shines through toward the end.
"The Cereal Mouse" unspools a playful soundtrack Jarzombek fans crave. Its mischievous virtuosity salutes nonexistent furry animals, all-too-existent Twizzler cherry bites and anything else romping through Ron's mind.
Ink Compatible should compute with guitar freaks, prog geeks and the misfits that make the world magically delicious.
-A. Lee Graham