I had never heard of Stephan Forte until I was contacted recently about his new album but I can’t understand how he has flown under the radar with me despite recording 4 albums with the Progressive Metal band Adagio, an album with the band Red Circuit plus the fact he was on the bill for the Jason Becker ‘Not dead yet!’ festival in The Netherlands.

The first the thing that piqued my interest was the impressive list of guest artists appearing on his debut solo album ‘The Shadows Compendium‘: Jeff Loomis, Mattias IA Eklundh, Glen Drover, Derek Taylor and Daniele Gottardo. However when I listen to the album I find that I totally forget that there are any guest artists, Stephan’s style is very close to Jeff Loomis and in fact you really have to concentrate to hear when Jeff is playing. I would actually say Stephan is a mixture of Jeff Loomis, Yyngwie Malmsteen and Jason Becker he has the most incredible technique and phrasing and makes extensive use of Diminshed and Harmonic Minor scales to craft his melodies and has ultra heavy accompanying rhythms. It is more obvious when the guest guitarist has a totally different style such as Mattias IA Eklundh who guests on ‘De Praestigiis Daemonum‘, a track which by the way reminds me a lot of early Jason Becker, Mattias has a very distinctive tone and playing style so he stands out.

There is obviously a huge Classical music influence in Stephan’s playing and composition and in fact ‘Prophecies Of Loki XXI‘ sounds like a film soundtrack with an interesting juxtaposition of Classical Piano and heavy riffs and solos, after 3 minutes of virtuosic shredding there is a piano solo which if you heard it on its own you would think you were listening to a solo Piano CD, beautifully played and fits in seamlessly when it segues back into the thunderous riff.

I’m not usually a fan of Electric Gutiarists playing interpretations of Classical music, some guitarists get away with it but in general it always sounds a bit forced and fake to me so I was really impressed when I heard the final track ‘Improvisation on Sonata no.14, C# minor – Op. 27 no.2‘ (also known as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata). This is possibly the best Rock/Classical interpretation I have heard, Stephan doesn’t go for crazy shred Metal solos but rather a restrained and soulful improvisation with expressive and dynamic playing using a low gain setup not the high gain you hear throughout the rest of the album.

Like I said I don’t find myself waiting for the guest solos because the music is so good and the guitar playing is inspiring, but don’t just take my word for it check out this trailer:

Or listen to stream some of the tracks from the album on his MySpace page – http://www.myspace.com/stephanforte

Stephan Forte’s official website – http://stephanforte.org/