CD Review: John 5 / The Art Of Malice
Reviewed by: Antonio Marino Jr.
It’s been 20 years since John Lowery, a wirey metal-head from the well-to-do community of Grosse Point, MI, packed his guitar and headed to Hollywood. He shared the dream of countless other guitar players growing up in the late 80’s – move to Hollywood and “make it big”. Unlike the countless others, he’s still standing. Along the way John Lowery became John 5 and that outcast kid from Michigan has flourished as a musical chameleon. As the guitar player in Rob Zombie’s band he’s afforded the platform to shred; to be the guitar player kids in basements around the world aspire to be. However, it’s on John 5’s solo releases that we get to see a different side of him. There are always ample doses of shred for all of the guitar-heads and he sprinkles in a healthy dose of non-shred that usually includes county-style guitar licks that remind us that the time he spent in K.D Lang’s band was time well spent.
So when “The Art of Malice” kicks off with “The Nightmare Unravels” it’s clear that the guitar-pyro we’ve come to expect is here. Jangly horror movie styled guitar chords give way to long lighting fast runs that revolve around the central theme of the song, standard fair for a “guitar record” (not that that’s at all bad). “I’ll Will or Spite”, “Portrayed as Unremorseful”, “Wayne County Killer” also fit the niche of songs that will satisfy the guitar players out there. As with his previous releases, John does his fare-share of shredding but the record never falls into a rut of endless wailing. In fact they don’t even butt up against each other. The album’s second song “The Art of Malice” is John noodling around with a clean guitar tone. The noodling is of course impressive but more importantly it segues from the album’s ripping first song into a totally different kind of song.
John takes a few sonic trips down memory lane. The first being a very faithful cover of Ace Frehley’s Fractured Mirror – church bells and all. The almost note for note interpretation of the song is intriguing. You’re left anticipating a new wrinkle or variation and as the song comes and goes and you realize it is what it is. In fairness, considering the fact that most people who listen to this song will be experiencing it for the first time, it’s an endearing tribute to the guitarist that inspired John to pick up the guitar. A slightly less obvious tip of the hat goes to Jimmy Page on the song “Portrayed as Unremorseful”. Classic Page riffs are woven into a song that doesn’t at all resemble a Led Zeppelin type song, making for a fun ride.
John’s ode to country-jazz, ala Chet Atkins, provides some of the best moments on this release. “J.W.” starts off like the theme song to a 60s TV show and progresses into a song that could have easily been recorded by guitar greats Danny Gatton or Les Paul. It’s not a song by a “metal dude” who misplaced his distortion pedal. His masterful ability to change gears through out the song makes it a standout track which brings us to the defining moment of this record, and perhaps John 5’s career thus far, the song “Can I Live Again”. We know that John 5 can play. He can play lightning fast licks, he can play clean, nimble banjo rolls but “Can I Live Again” shows a guitar player willing to set that aside and focus on something far beyond technique. This soulful, almost mournful song never breaks off into a virtuoso moment. Like a desert landscape it moves on without any distractions. It lets you sit back, reflex, contemplate – simply think. Most guitarists wouldn’t dare include such a song on a “guitar record”. It represents a maturity in John’s playing that refreshing and hopefully a window into the direction he’s heading as an artist.
The guitar world is cluttered with players that can play a million notes a minute. John 5 established that he can hold his own with them a long time ago. Each release has illustrated why he’s not just another guy who can shred. With “The Art of Malice” he’s taken another step in showing the world that he’s not just a famous sideman with some solo albums to peddle. Fact is, he’s an artist who’s kind enough to share his taken with big name acts.