Van Alen has been a guitarist for over 20 years now, starting when he was 14 and having had professional training while still in his teens in order to be able to play like his idols Slash, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen. So he was a relatively “driven” youngster, keen to understand the theory, structure and maths of music. This helped him get to play with various local bands, but the big life-changing moment came when he joined the Austrian metal band Ecliptica in 2008.
In 2017 Van Alen decided to make an instrumental solo album, and this was the thinking behind “String Theory”, a desire to use various arrangements which wouldn’t have suited Ecliptica. Despite playing lead guitar for them, he’s always loved providing session support for other bands as well, so the opportunity to create something different was very appealing.
Ok, some of the mix is very “Euro-rock”, and Van Alen compounds that by saying that “the listener should be taken to a unique journey where the storytelling is delivered by the guitar itself and the path is covered in a special instrumental atmosphere”.
Bleargh! Despite this PRspeak though, what Van has achieved is an album where the guitar does genuinely sound like it has taken the role of lead vocalists. Unconventional but not uninteresting – I have to say I’ve usually been quite bored by totally instrumental albums in the past but I have to say I like this, and the reason is the quality of the melodies that Van Alen and his co-conspirator Felix Mitterer (Silverline Music) have written. “To the Moon and back” illustrates this perfectly, it’s basically a powerful rock ballad with strong rhythm and acoustic work but shimmering lead licks take the place of where “yer frontman” would be rhapsodising. Beautiful. “Ishtar (Of Love and War)” is similarly haunting, with a desert-like atmosphere to it with a touch of soft careening that is the closest we get to having a singer.
Overall, these are five lovingly crafted tracks with triumphantly soaring guitar licks that work very nicely without ever becoming boring or aural wallpaper. One thing I would say though is that at a shade under 20 minutes long this is closer to being an EP than an album. I cant imagine many folk buying it at a conventional full price for a CD?