Friday, July 19, 2013

The Kris Norris Projekt - Icons of the Illogical

Not quite a current release, but one from a few years ago that is certainly worth noting. 

Following his departure from Darkest Hour, guitar wizard Kris Norris took Magna Carta up on their long-standing offer to do a solo record to release on their label. Produced by his longtime friend Cory Smoot in his home studio, the album is an interesting collection of Norris' compositions and some performances by friends, many of them improvised or worked out on short notice. Knowing that the album was worked out fairly quickly from a large archive of compositions mixed with some improvised parts, the album is surprisingly coherent and memorable. In a way, it was a commercial success in that Magna Carta asked him to write and record a follow-up for them, in a way, perhaps not so successful as he apparently never got any money from them.

The styles of the songs vary quite a bit, a blend of leftover Darkest Hour songs, homages to influences, and late night jams written while watching television shows about conspiracy theories - the latter being a marketing point of the album because apparently Magna Carta didn't think that, as a label notable as the home of countless prog side projects, it would be effective to simply broadcast this classically-trained guitarist's extensive insights and thoughts on music. Personally, I find them fascinating and more extensive than his catalog might suggest, even with the old projects and weird recording projects that range from Dream Theater worship to epic black metal infused with synths like Summoning. That is the exact appeal and the reason to listen to this album - Kris Norris has a lot of interesting ideas as a musician, he is a talented guitarist and composer, and being at the center of a self-titled project, he works without the constraints present in other bands, both in the variety of the songs and the ability to put the guitars at the center of a song.

An interesting choice is how the song focuses around melodic riffs, but despite his noted shredding skills - one of highest regarded for his work in Darkest Hour which was both virtuous and melodic - he opted to chose to make this album about the songwriting and riffs, which some well placed solos and leads and more than a few harmonies. A studio video shows producer Smoot at the helm playing through songs and manning the recording computer, while Norris drinks a beer and blasts through fast harmony layers over choice leads in a single shot. Another interesting choice is to eschew vocals, aside for two songs on which Randy Blythe guests. One of those songs is otherwise an homage to Opeth, full of melodies and 7th chords - most certainly an unusual an interesting contrast to Blythe's vocal style. It works - it sounds good, and it's quite catchy.

Some of the more obvious stylistic choices are those like the song for which a video was made, "Everything Expires". It's a harmonized melodeath song which a catchy solo, something that could have easily been one of the more melodic Darkest Hour songs, though it barely has room for the vocals or any of the punk influence that characterized some of the more band-driven DH compositions. A side note - the video for this song was filmed by the JamPlay crew, a guitar teaching site who Norris was one of the flagship artists teaching for, and he has certainly been one of the best. Norris, a Florida resident, flew up to Ohio around winter holiday season and they spent all day filming a video outside in the snow. The extreme cold affected his hands and made the first set of recordings a bit rough. The guitar that was set on fire for that video was later smashed by Cory Smoot, in costume as Flattus Maximus, when they JamPlay crew had another fun day filming a video about Gwar's invasion of their HQ when Smoot filmed a set of lessons on Gwar songs with them.

One of the more classical leanings doesn't sound neoclassical as we think of it, but explores classical theories in practice. "A Shift in Normalcy" is an exercise in counterpoint, of two dueling - or rather precisely balanced and carefully composed - guitar parts. The melodies in that song, and on the whole album, are excellent. Much of the album explores different ways to use guitar melodies, certainly his forte, in different contexts of metal songs. Good melodies and good riffs are the building blocks of this good album.

A sad aftermath in the years following this album is the untimely passing of bassist Dave Fugman producer Cory Smoot. Dave Fugman passed away on May 6, 2013 of complications from diabetes at age 38. Cory Smoot passed away on November 3, 2011 of a heart attack related to a heart condition. Rest in peace and may your legacy not be forgotten in your own careers and part of this great album.

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