SOTO – Inside The Vertigo

Soto - Inside The VertigoAn introduction on Jeff Scott Soto should be completely unnecessary because after 30 years in the business, every hard rock or metal fan should know who this man is. But just in case you’re a rock fan who’s been living under a rock since the mid 80’s, here’s a short one any way. Jeff Scott Soto was, as a 19-year-old, picked up by Swedish guitar maestro Yngwie J Malmsteen when he was forming his own band, Rising Force, after short stints in Steeler (with Ron Keel) and Alcatrazz (with Graham Bonnet). With Yngwie, he cut two albums, the self titled and with the exception of two songs, all instrumental debut and the follow up Marching Out, both released in 1984. Jeff managed only one tour with the Swede before he got the boot. Since then, Jeff has travelled a somewhat rocky road throughout his long career. His most stable band after Yngwie has been with another Swedish constellation, former Rising Force bassist Marcel Jacob’s band Talisman where he played along side musicians like drummer Jamie Borger (Treat, Last Autumn’s Dream, Secret Service), guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth, ex Arch Enemy, Southpaw) and guitarist Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall, ex-Poodles, Great King Rat, Jekyll & Hyde, Zan Clan). Talisman released nine albums between 1990 – 2006, two live albums not included and was one of Sweden’s biggest rock bands. Soto and Jacob also released three albums with their side project Human Clay. When Talisman was on hiatus, they tried a more aggressive way with the band Humanimal, named after a Talisman album and song and in reality that was just Talisman under another name. Soto and Jacob’s collaboration ended when Jacob ended his own life back in 2009 at the age of 45. Other than that Soto has sung on demos with Vinnie Vincent, recorded four albums with Takara, four with Axel Rudi Pell, two with Eyes and one with Soul SirkUS, the band he formed with Neal Schon and Deen Castronovo of Journey and Bad English and Marco Mendoza (Dead Daisies, ex- Black Star Riders, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy). His more current projects has been as a touring member of Trans Siberian Orchestra and he also sang on their 2009 album Night Castle and another Swedish constellation called W.E.T. with which he has recorded two albums. And I haven’t even touched upon his solo career. As a solo artist, Soto has released five albums, two EP’s, four live albums and one ballad compilation. There you go. A short introduction, huh? Add to that, Jeff decided that his current work with W.E.T. and T.S.O. wasn’t enough, so he went and formed his own band Soto which now has honoured us with their debut release. With four unknown, but killer, musicians (Jorge Salas – lead guitar, B.J. – guitar / keyboards, David Z – bass and Edu Cominto on drums) he is determined to make this a BAND and not just another solo album although the band bears his name, Now, Soto’s solo records has been varied, if not to say confused and schizophrenic at times, leaving you never knowing what kind of music that will come out of your player. Funk, rock, AOR, hard rock, everything goes when it comes to Soto. Mind you, two of his biggest influences are Prince and Seal.

However, with this band Soto has set his mind on rocking – and he wants to rock hard, At least that’s what he says. Knowing Jeff Scott Soto is mostly known for AOR and melodic rock, a heavy rock album from him would be interesting, to say the least. The last time we got some metal from him was with Soul SirkUS and their disappointing album World Play from 2005. Would Jeff and his unknown gang be able to make a heavy rock album that kicked ass? And how heavy would it actually be in the end? Well, opener “Final Say” more or less says it all. This isn’t pink and fluffy AOR or a nice little rocker, no-no, this metal – heavy, aggressive and hard metal with a Jeff Scott sounding majorly pissed off – and I love it! “The Fall” follows with a heavy, groove – think Nickelback’s heaviest moments and yes, that is a compliment. “Wrath” is a big contrast within itself. It is very heavy, very metal but still it’s commercially catchy and again, that is a good thing. I’d release this as a single / video. “Break” is another really catchy tune, but still very heavy. Some funk elements has sneaked their way into the song, but they never take over. I can also hear a Dream Theater influence in the song, very cool indeed. On the first few spins, “End Of Days” stands out as my favourite song on the album. It has a slow, dark and heavy beginning, but becomes faster as the song goes on. It also contains some really cool string-like keyboards which gives the song a bit of a “Stargazer” / “Gates Of Babylon” Rainbow type of vibe. The title track is also a real killer. It sounds like a more progressive Rainbow with some great lead and backing vocals as the icing on the cake. Of course there is a ballad on the album. This one is called “When I’m Older” and it has the sound of a darker and heavier kind of pop song. It’s clearly the song on the album that connects the most with Soto’s AOR past. It’s a really good song, though. “Jealousy” is another great track that is on the more unpredictable side. With some really hard and heavy verses, the chorus turns extremely catchy, still over a heavy foundation. Also, the brilliant guitar solo sounds a lot like Fredrik Åkesson (Opeth) when he was in Talisman. “Karma’s Kiss” is heavy and dark with some great hooks and the closing track “Fall To Pieces” is the most “normal” standard kind of hard rock song on the album. It’s a good track, but somewhat forgettable, I’m afraid.

This album is a bit of a surprise, I must admit. First of all, I knew that this would be a heavier affair than his solo albums or W.E.T., but I would never have guessed that it would be this heavy. I mean, Jeff Scott Soto has never been a metal singer and even his heaviest act, Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, were metal all the way through. But this is and yes folks, Soto is a heavy metal band. But metal with a big melodic twist and many times they touch on Rainbow, the Dio-era, when Rainbow could be very heavy, but never at the expense of melodies and originality. Soto might not be all that original, but they sure have an abundance of melodies and hooks that lies over the heavy metal foundation. But they never ever get cheesy. It’s really a treat to hear Soto sing harder and edgier music again. Soto has always had a kind of melancholic voice and with the addition of metal aggression, Soto’s voice takes on a whole new life. I hope Jeff and his band mates see this band as something more than just a one-off project thing because this is very promising indeed. With a little bit of fine tuning and some more experience of playing together, this could very well be a band to count on in the future. There is just one problem with this album and that is, while it’s a damn killer while listening to it, it’s a bit too forgettable when you take the CD out of your player. I can’t find the stuff that I walk away humming on when I’m done playing the album. On the other hand, this album feels like a grower and it is not one of those “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” type of albums. It’s the albums that are harder to get into that will last the longest. I think this might be one of those.

Jon Wilmenius (8/10)

01. Final Say
02. The Fall
03. Wrath
04. Break
05. Narcissistically Yours
06. End Of Days
07. Inside The Vertigo
08. When I’m Older
09. Trance
10. Jealousy
11. Karma’s Kiss
12. Fall To Pieces

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