Anders Johannson

REVIEW: Yngwie Malmsteen – Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad (1989)

YNGWIE MALMSTEEN – Trial By Fire:  Live in Leningrad (1989 Polydor)

Walk up to the well-schooled rock fan in your group of friends and ask, “What do you think of Yngwie J. Malmsteen?”

Even the ones who don’t like the Swedish Speed Demon’s albums will admit, “except for that one with Joe Lynn Turner; that was pretty good.”

The short-lived Turner lineup did release a live album in 1989.  Trial By Fire: Live in Leningrad was accompanied by home video of the same name with more tracks.  By 1990, Malmsteen already had a new album and singer named Göran Edman, but only Joe Lynn Turner had the marquee value to bring Yngwie a Billboard top 40 charting record (#40 with Odyssey).

Although Turner can act as a gateway to hear Yngwie for the first time, his stuff can still be pretty off-putting.  Just look at the pompous “thank you’s” on the inside sleeve.  Sprinkled in with the regular names are da Vinci, Bach, Beethoven, Paganini, HP Lovecraft and Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Come on, Yngwie!

Joe is a versatile singer, which is one reason he’s always been sought after.  He effortlessly imbibes the old Yngwie tracks with his own attitude:  “Liar”, “Queen in Love”, and “You Don’t Remember” are better with Joe singing.  Unfortunately this is marred by a too-loud audience and Yngwie’s always excessive shredding.  More often than not, he overplays.

When it works, it works.  “Heaven Tonight”, “Queen in Love” and “Deja Vu”, the most melodic songs, click.  The instrumentals are good too, like demonstrations of immaculate neo-classical rock.  “Far Beyond the Sun” is tightly composed and arranged, though live Yngwie lets the strings fly even more.  Listen for some Deep Purple right in the middle of “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”, and some Rainbow on “Crystal Ball” too.

Yngwie produced Live in Leningrad himself, and it’s a rather shrill affair with obvious backing tapes on some of the choruses like “Heaven Tonight”.  The problem with many Yngwie albums is that you can only listen to so much before ear fatigue sets in.  Live in Leningrad is one such album.  By the end your brain is exhausted and you have to listen to something from a different end of the spectrum.  Even Joe Lynn Turner can’t blunt the aural razorblade effect.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Yngwie J. Malmsteen – Trilogy (1986)

YNGWIE_0001YNGWIE J. MALMSTEEN – Trilogy (1986 Polygram)

Trilogy: not only my first Yngwie Malmsteen album (cassette), but also the first Yngwie Malmsteen review here at mikeladano.com.

Trilogy was, appropriately, Yngwie’s third album.  It was also his first with new singer Mark Boals after the departure of the uber-talented Jeff Scott Soto.  I received this album (cassette) for Christmas of ’86 and it was all but instant dislike.  I knew a couple Yngwie songs, but none of the new ones, and I didn’t care for the new singer.  I saw this listed in an A&A Records and Tapes flier so I asked for it for Christmas.  All I really knew was that Yngwie was heavy metal and that he was a blazing fast player.  That did not prepare me for the distinctly European flavour and neo-classical leanings of Trilogy.

As it was, Polygram used to put out the shittiest quality cassettes.  My copy of Trilogy was unlistenable in a matter of months, so until I got it again a decade later on CD, I didn’t have a chance to let it grow on me.  In 1996 a used CD came into the store, and I was mocked for buying it by staff member the Boy Who Killed Pink Floyd.  Here’s a weird thing about our old store receipts.  They would imprint, permanently, whatever was on them onto the jewel case of a CD.  My jewel case for Trilogy still has a faint accidental imprint of the receipt, so I know that I bought it October 11 1996, at precisely 4:29 pm!  Apparently I paid by debit card.

Trilogy has grown on me over the years and now it’s a favourite Yngwie album.  I still get what I didn’t like about it as a kid.  The drums don’t sound very good (the album is self produced) and Mark Boals can be a bit over the top at times.  There’s no denying the guy has range and power, but it was all flat-out back then.  And of course Yngwie’s songs aren’t always the catchiest.  You need to give them time, and I have.

The one song that I did like as a kid was the mid-tempo opener “You Don’t Remember, I’ll Never Forget”.  I’ve always thought the melody and hooks were strong, and I still think it’s the strongest track on the album.  “Liar” is also excellent, from the fast part of the spectrum.  It sounds at times like Yngwie really wanted to be Ritchie Blackmore, but that’s OK.  There are very few that can come even close to Ritchie Blackmore.  “Queen in Love” is another mid-tempo track, similar to “You Don’t Remember” and almost as strong.  As a kid, I found this one too slow.  As an adult, I’m playing air bass along to it.  (Yngwie played all bass on the album.)

YNGWIE_0002One of things that I was most excited about hearing on an Yngwie album were instrumentals.  “Crying” is the first, which features both classical and electric guitars.  I’m noticing Yngwie has a nice vibrato when playing classical.  This fine instrumental track is only hampered by the production values.  Too much bass and poor drum and cymbal sounds distract the attention.  The album side is redeemed by “Fury” which is another blazingly fast Yngwie electric medieval dance, and good enough for me.

“Fire” commences with some incendiary guitar, but the song itself is a plain old hard rocker with Jens Johansson providing keyboard hooks for the verses.  Then from some sorcerer’s bag of tricks is “Magic Mirror”, but it is indeed just smoke and mirrors.  Killer chorus aside, the song doesn’t catch, except when Yngwie is unleashing his own electric magic.  “Dark Ages” sets the scene; some dark cloudly and cold landscape about a thousand years ago.  This is a slow Dio-esque prowl, with Boals screaming his balls off.  It’s a bit much with the screaming, but the song does not suck.

I was expecting more instrumentals than this, but Yngwie saved a seven minute epic instrumental for last.  “Trilogy Suite Op:5” is as bombastic as you’d guess it is.  Running the gamut in tempos and tones, Yngwie composed a track here that is highly enjoyable.  Jens and Yngwie get to duel with each other, but it’s definitely a guitar showcase.  Electric and classical, Malmsteen pulls out all the stops on his opus.  I mean, hey: it’s Yngwie J. fucking Malmsteen!

I am glad to say that I enjoy Trilogy a lot more today than I did in 1986.  Bonus points are added for the cover art.  Dio, after all, only had a single-headed dragon!

3.5/5 stars
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