Guitarist-composer Aaron Myers-Brooks constructs mathy, even obtuse, metal for listeners who appreciate the genre’s technical virtuosity but take issue with its faux-evil strutting and testosterone-jacked theatricality. There you have it.
But to call the Pittsburgh underground musician a thinking man’s Dave Mustaine or Kevin Hufnagel is derivative. (He’s always been more Orthrelm than Dysrhythmia, anyway.) Myers-Brooks – who, incidentally, teaches music theory to aspiring polymaths at the University of Pittsburgh – is just as adept at crafting a tangled bit of jazz-fusion or, in his band Night Vapor, a murder ballad or two. And, while the scope and color-volume of his talent is not always on display on Energetic Bursts, his new solo LP of compositions for microtonal guitar, it surely is a great introduction to the musician for people just now joining the narrative.
There are essentially two settings to Myers-Brooks’ latest outing: thrashy and sublime. The former is encapsulated in the sonic joy of “Jagged Fiction,” where Myers-Brooks unfurls a vintage palm-muted thrash-metal chugga-chugga but seems to take thrill in the speed of his finger-work. (In one bridge, the palm-muting gives way to occasional interjections of shrillish, trebly guitar leads; you can imagine Myers-Brooks’ excitement in playing it.) The latter is found just two tracks later, in “Chasm,” where you can hear the subtle dissonances of Myers-Brooks’ specialized guitar as soaring leads roar over a careful, undistorted plodding, which, in some bridges, even seems to give a passing nod to the blues. There’s some great stuff here.
The closing trio of songs – “Wistful and Halting,” “Angular and Aggressive,” and “Somber and Deliberate” – is where Myers-Brooks really steals the show. There, without the aid of the programmed drums or buried bass that buttressed the first 10 tracks, he presents his dexterity plain and simple, and the melancholy “Somber and Deliberate,” as a standout example, uses its ultra-chromatism to wonderfully tragic effect. It’s a three-part suite of solos, the guitar following its own instincts instead of the framework of a “composition.” And it is wonderfully gratuitous, as if Myers-Brooks took the best noodling moments on the disc and stitched them together into a tryptic of moody, river-like narratives.
It’s a fool’s errand, though, to keep up with Myers-Brooks these days and, as I write this, he’s already promoting live dates in Pittsburgh, Detroit and Youngstown for what could be considered his main course, Night Vapor. Hopefully, he lingers on this moment for more than a passing glance – the appearance of a Kickstarter campaign to press the digital download to disc, let’s hope, is prescient. Even if just for that closing suite, Energetic Bursts is a wonderfully complicated and rewarding outing, academic without alienating the lesser drones (myself included) among us, and, of course, metal in all the ways people who appreciate but don’t flock to metal will devour.