Nita Strauss became a household name touring the world and playing lead guitar with Alice Cooper. Her natural ability and charisma ensured that the next question would be “when is she putting out a solo album?” In 2018 Strauss released her entirely instrumental debut Controlled Chaos, playing everything except drums and keyboards.
Her choppy rhythm on “Alegria” soon gives way to extremely melodic (and fast) lead work. Strauss’ talent seems to be taking a melody and making it as exciting as possible with only six strings. There are shades of Yngwie, Joe and other assorted big-namer instrumentalists without sounding like any specific one. The weakness is unfortunately the drums (by Josh Villalta) which are robotic and flat. “Our Most Desperate Hour” sports blurry fast drum blitzes that should be exciting but instead sound artificial. Worst track: “Mariana Trench” due to long stretches of bland double bass. Fortunately this album is more about the guitar. Lots and lots of guitar.
Track after track, Nita blazes a tapestry of technique. Her guitar creates moods — tension is in the air. But she also does excellent ballads. “Here With You” is the first. Guitar instrumental ballads are a thing unto themselves. She creates a powerful presence on “Here With You” with layers of guitars working together.
“The Stillness at the End” is a an examination of one of Nita’s techniques: densely layered guitars in harmony. Here she mostly forgoes speed in favour of building up the melodies. Keyboards are used sparingly, such as the intro to “The Quest” which goes full Yngwie in dragon-hunting mode. But ballads like “Hope Grows” might give us a better look at Nita’s inner workings. The sparse arrangement lets you really hear the feeling in her playing. She has an excellent sense of composition, knowing exactly when to throw on some emphasis. Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the ballads are the best tracks.
“Lion Among Wolves”, “Pandemonium 2.0” and “The Show Must Go On” all have their own guitar thrills to enjoy. “Pandemonium” stands out due to an excellent outro guitar melody. And if you’re wondering, “Hey, is ‘The Show Must Go On'” the old Queen song? Indeed it is, featuring Nita sharing the stage with a cello (Tina Guo). Great choice on which to end the album. The cello solo is freaky.
Controlled Chaos is a good debut. The drums are a sonic stumbling block. As far as playing, composition and entertainment, Nita delivers the goods. The songs could use a little more variety to give them album some texture, but there is plenty of room for Strauss to grow as her career is just going to get bigger.