Elmo Karjalainen is a ‘guitarist’s guitarist’ who revels in a self-penned musical hybrid shot through with intensity and precision. His latest album ‘Age Of Heroes’ is a big sounding album with enough twists and turns to make Karjalainen’s solos sound both dynamic and interesting. This album represents a milestone, for Elmo, who is considered one of the best rock guitarists in his native Finland. On this album he realized his dream of playing alongside side some of his own ‘heroes’.
“This album saw me realize a dream. I have always wanted to have people I consider influences appear on an album of mine,” says Karjalainen, continuing, “I dreamt of playing with Steve Vai or Yngwie Malmsteen, and on this album I saw that happen. I got Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, Yngwie Malmsteen keyboard player who also toured with Billy Idol, Kiss and Alice Cooper) to play a killer solo on one of the tracks. The second artist to feature was none other than Viking guitar maestro Mattias IA Eklundh of Freak Kitchen. He’s a guy who has truly influenced my playing. In addition to those two I got the extremely talented Janne and Emil to feature on one song, where we did a three guitar battle. ”
There are plenty of incendiary guitar breaks and harmony guitar parts, shredding and the like, but Elmo Karjalainen also demonstrates a lightness of touch which is almost playful at times. This aspect is offset by several complex moments that explore rock, pop, metal, blues and even classical influences as he cleverly balances the obtuse with the accessible.
‘How Can Less Be More’ is full of diversity, a wide range of solos and an array of tone colors. He glues together all the elements on ‘The Colour of Greed’, which he tops with an incredible shred and then joins keyboardist Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, Yngwie Malmsteen) as they trade instrumental virtuosity before slipping into some beautiful slow-burning guitar ambience on ‘Chikken Noodul’.
The lyrical duality of ‘A Fertile Discussion’ is exulted by the subtle dynamic tension between Mattias IA Eklundh’s exemplary playing and Karjalainen’s fusion ensemble sensibilities, laced with multiple harmonies. The restless live feel of ‘A Meeting of the Gods ( And This Guy)” is evidenced by the way Janne Nieminen and Emil Pohjalainen (winners of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Guitar Gods competition), together with Elmo Karjalainen trade electrifying riffs as if it was an adrenaline pumping rollercoaster ride.
This is an intense high octane collaborative track. And it’s this constant search for that one lick to match the others that gives the tune such a captivating appeal which is exemplified by the booming ‘call and response’ riffs.
Karjalainen saves one of his biggest impacts for ‘Falling for Falafels’ on a collision of understated power, song craft and intense guitar playing. The big crescendo before the outro is effectively a musical sleight of hand, as it suggests a succinct resolution to a bulldozer of an album, but magnificently, ‘Age Of Heroes’ has even more depth than that.
It’s a frequently multi-layered and surprisingly diverse album full of magisterial guitar lines that constantly draws Elmo Karjalainen into new musical avenues.
He’s at his tasteful and poignant best on the meandering twist and turns of ‘Three Days of Peace’ and the bluesy ‘Limiting Rationality’, while the upbeat fusion groove of ‘The Grassy Gnoll’ is an example of an artist following his own musical path. ‘Age Of Heroes’ reveals new nuances with repeated plays.
Elmo Karjalainen’s musical knowledge, breathless guitar playing and imaginative musical arrangements shape the musical vision of a genius shredder with a penchant for real songs. Elmo personally feels that this is his best album to date, and on the evidence showcased across the 15 tracks here, it would be hard to disagree.