The key to a good instrumental album is to make each song more than just “a song with no vocals”; all the instruments have to work much harder to keep the interest of the listener. That doesn’t necessarily mean the guitarist should be ripping out endless solos all over the place, but that variety is the key. On reflection, after having listened to “The Theory” a few times now, it does vary a fair amount; it’s just that I don’t really get on with one side of that mixture.
One the one hand we have some slow moving, reflective, chilled out music, such as in the title track, but one the other, is the “heavy” stuff which is more like actual Heavy Metal rather than Prog Rock or Metal and to be honest, although I don’t often come across that sort of combination, it’s not really a welcome mix, instead seeming like a disjointed meeting of two separate bands. In between the two different styles we have some great soloing and smooth guitar working on top of some slightly more original riffing, which I can easily appreciate, but the old-school reinvention (the most suitable name for it that I can think of) seems very outdated, aside from the fact that it’s really quite generic anyway. And that’s a real shame, as “The Theory” also has some really nice parts too.
Unfortunately and presumably due to costs, programmed drums are used instead of the real thing, which doesn’t really show in the quieter, slower sections, but tends to drag the rockier bits down even more in my view. Speaking of instruments, the technicality of the guitar work can’t be faulted and Garfo (as the man in charge likes to call himself) is certainly a talented enough guitarist, even if some of the solos lack originality – there’s that important word, originality – and that’s the main downfall of the album, I’m afraid.
There are some really great tracks though, the clear highlight on the album being “Final Hour” with the epic keyboard use underneath what is probably the perfect guitar lead line for instrumental rock and the solo is rather superb too. “Abandoned” is also a good opener and there are some strange robotic sounding vocals on “The End”, which rounds the whole album off nicely. GARETH THOMAS presents us with quite a mottled collection of tracks, some which stand out and others which the album would really be better off without, so I’ve ended up feeling very averagely about the affair. That being said, “The Theory” is his debut, so let’s hope the next album is more enthralling; I’m sure it will be as there’s definitely some promise in this particular virtuoso. (Online July 16, 2006)