Ink Compatible is the long awaited second album from Texas based tech-metal band Spastic Ink. Out of the deranged mind of guitar virtuoso Ron Jarzombek (Watch Tower, Gordian Knot) this outing has been more than four years in the making. Their previous album, Ink Complete, was released way back in 1997. The original "super-power" trio of Ron Jarzombek (guitars, programming, composition, lyrics & production), Pete Perez on bass and brother Bobby Jarzombek on drums (both from Riot) has expanded with the arrival of singer Jason McMaster, another Watch Tower alumni. Knowing that Watch Tower are considered by many as the "inventors" of technical metal (sometimes also referred as math-metal), you won't be surprised if I tell you that this album is loaded with super fast playing, mind boggling riffs and abrupt tempo changes.
Although this second album is a logical continuation of their first offering, some differences are evident, the biggest one being the presence of a singer. Sound production is also better and the overall sound is a bit heavier. That being said, the music we have here has little to do with metal; Apart from certain "textures" - mainly the rhythm guitar phrasings and the frantic rhythmic section - the music easily avoid classifications with its multiple "imprints" from very various genres. It starts off with Aquanet, establishing very well the tone of the album. The sung sections seem to be there to give the listener a break between the more difficult instrumental passages. Musicianship is at the forefront, this band is very tight. The song itself is about a chat session on internet, the theme of the whole album being "computer related". This theme is well represented by the artwork of the booklet and they even made the CD itself mimic a hard-drive disk.
Just A Little Bit features "stop and go" playing at a machine precision level, echoing ideas initiated by Frank Zappa in the early seventies on Andy (from the One Size Fits All album). The song is packed with very efficient rhythm changes and interesting contrapuntic guitar interplay. The third piece, Words For Nerds, is one of the highlights of the album. Complete with humorous bits reminiscent of Frank Zappa or Mr. Bungle, superb processed guitar sounds and a very Zappaesque synth solo courtesy of David Bagsby (of Xen and Patrick Moraz fame), this first instrumental of the album has it all. From now on it is clear that the technique is not there for the sake of demonstration (as is too often the case with that kind of music) but at the service of inspiration and talent.
Melissa's Friend, with it's cryptic lyrics, makes us aware that it is really the same guy behind the music and the words. Indeed, the listener will have as much difficulties making sense of the lyrics than he will have decoding the intricate layers of music. Same thing with the obscure references to Yes song titles in Just A Little Bit or the text of A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood (ACRONYM) will leave you clueless if you don't have the booklet in hands. Read Me is an interesting instrumental with classical undertone. It is followed by Multi-Masking, an extravaganza opening with electronics and processed voice, quickly diving into what could be a "perfect" metal song, with double bass-drum galore, dramatic singing and plenty of mood changes, synth, bass and guitar soloing. Like on the rest of the album, solos are quite short, the part of the lion going to the written parts.
In Memory Of... shows that Ron Jarzombek is not just about fast notes. This beautiful "slow paced" song reveals the ability of the guitarist to create strong harmonic moods. This one should please those more inclined toward the neo-prog genre. The guitar really shines here, combining the expected "clichés" with unexpected avant-garde manipulations. None other than Sean Malone (Gordian Knot, Cynic & Aghora) assume the bass chore on this one. It aptly opens the way for the "plat de résistance" of the album, the twelve minute tour-de-force A Chaotic Realization Of Nothing Yet Misunderstood. With guest musicians Doug Keyser on bass (Watch Tower), Jeff Eber on drums (Dysrhythmia) and cameo appearance by Marty Friedman (Megadeth) for a short but very enjoyable guitar solo, Jarzombek take us on a trip that could easily serve as a "resumé" for the entire album. The piece is full of incredible heavy riffs, exquisite tempo and mood changes, triple unison charges and some spoken (whispered) parts à la Zappa's Central Scutinizer (from Joes Garage). The album close with yet another Zappaesque piece, the very short The Cereal Mouse, an instrumental blending guitar pyrotechnics, classical references and cartoonish sounds effects.
Even though I consider this album a true masterpiece, I'm aware it won't appeal to all prog fans. If it weren't for it's inherent complexity that requires acquired taste to be fully appreciated, I would have given it at least a big 8. If you are looking for challenging music, don't pass this one out. If you are into tech-metal, you should already have it. If not, don't wait, it is the best of the genre.