REVIEW: Mark St. John – Magic Bullet Theory (2003)

MARK ST. JOHN – Magic Bullet Theory (2003 Loch Ness Monster Records)

Mark St. John (1956-2007) is best remembered as the lead guitarist on Kiss’ 1984 Animalize album.  He was however much more than just a Kiss guitarist.  His exotic shredding was the basis of an instrumental solo album, Magic Bullet Theory.  Thanks Lemon Kurri for hooking me up with this CD.

“AWOL” blasts the doors open wide: high-octane tempo, high-speed shred, high-tech tricks.  There are Yngwie-like moments, Van Halen harmonics but also enough melody and song structure to keep it interesting.  Mark’s solos feature a number of different sounds and styles.  Intricate flamenco and electric guitars open the title track “Magic Bullet Theory”.  Then it turns into a melodic instrumental with lead guitar center stage.  Next, out of left-field comes the jazz workout of “Bourbon Street”.  This delicate number features non-stop jazz guitar shredding, full speed ahead, which some will find to be just too much to absorb.  “Too many notes,” some might say.  I am not one who would say that.

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It’s back to instrumental heavy metal with “Slave Driver”, which reminds me of Yngwie’s “Leviathan”.  “Utopian Trip” is more laid back, and I can hear mandolin on this one.  Mark lays a blistering lead guitar line over the largely acoustic track.  “Communicator” offers plenty more shred, perhaps resembling the high pitched screech of some 60’s sci-fi communication device.  “Baghdad” has guitars that sound like air raid sirens, certainly appropriate given the title. But the song itself is Arabic is style, with a lot of very complicated acoustic guitars.

“Wait No More” is more melodic instrumental hard rock, but with complex rhythms and tricks aplenty.  “Between the Lines” is ballad-like, with layers of shimmering guitars,until the song gives way to a nice rock riff.   This is of course accentuated by plenty of lead and melody guitars.  Finally “The Lone Gunman” closes the album on a heavy note.  (Notice how this title ties in with “Magic Bullet Theory”.)  The is a riffy track, which frankly the album could have used more of.  It’s also the longest song on the album, and probably the most epic emotionally.

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Although Magic Bullet Theory is not as song-oriented as I prefer instrumental albums to be, it has plenty of memorable moments and tracks.  It certainly shows off the talent that Mark had, that the world doesn’t know enough about.  Magic Bullet Theory comes recommended to all dyed-in-the-wool Kiss fans, and those who enjoy intelligent shreddery.

3/5 stars

…But wait, it’s not over!  After a five minute silence is an unlisted classical guitar rough recording, melodically lovely and astonishingly fast!  A nice coda.

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18 comments

  1. I really liked the track I heard. Instrumental albums trends not to do much for me other than appreciating the talent. I prefer the more song-orientated stuff like you mention. But this does sound cool.

    … And I need about tree fiddy.

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        1. Yes. And also a series of Kiss Re-Reviews. But right now I’m concentrating on finishing up Record Store Tales. So that’s the next big series, and then I’ll focus on some review series again.

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        2. Well it all started last year when Uncle Meat sent a message to me via a mutual friend. He said to a very confused girl on his darts team that I know, “Next time you see Mike, tell him he’s wrong on Unmasked.”

          I have since listened to Unmasked at least 20 times, and Meat may have had a point.

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  2. I haven’t listened to this album for ages. I think there’s a very good reason for that. When I found this album online many years ago I really tried to listen to it – over and over – just to find something there. I didn’t. Fact is, I always thought that St John was slightly overrated. His work on Animalize annoys me for the most part and the album he made with his own band White Tiger was really bad. I don’t think St John was a bad player, it’s just that his stuff aren’t that memorable. Which is very important when it comes to instrumental. Think Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien or Yngwie’s first Rising Force album.
    This album don’t have any of that, I think. Besides I don’t think St John is that original either.
    I’m not sure why St John never went anywhere after Kiss. Maybe he just lost interest after the Kiss thing or if his drug addiction took the best of him.

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    1. I don’t want to say he’s overrated, because clearly there was oodles of talent burning away there. I’m not sure that it found the focus it needed. I don’t know if he can really write complete songs. Perhaps if he had ever found his muse, or a perfect writing partner, he would have exploded his talent.

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      1. True. Overrated was the wrong word. I just didn’t think he was all that in Kiss and I don’t know if you ever heard the White Tiger album, but it wasn’t really all the great.

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