REVIEWS




USA Progressive Music, USA (September, 2008)

This album is a bit different and is not recommended for people who need vocals in their music mostly because the disc does not have a single word uttered on it. What this album does have is a thorough exploration of the guitar. Steven Smyth (Nevermore, Dragonlord, Testament) and Steve Hoffman, with Atma Anur on drums, have put together an experimental journey that showcases a multi-genre presentation of guitar, and music itself for that matter.

Songs like “Only Time will Tell” come at you with an epic sound expected only from power metal, while pieces like “It’s All in Your Mind,” unfolds through several different genres during the course of the song. That particular track is framed by a jazzy intro and outro, but the middle has a handful of thrash metal power chords and a break, which could be played as background music in the lounge of an upscale restaurant. This album just tossed everything into the pot and melted it together. Metal and jazz, folky jam band and soft rock all find their way into the mix. A healthy helping of classic rock sounds also plays throughout the course of The Esseness Project. If you’re all about every style of guitar shoved together into one album then this one is for you.

While I praise this album for doing something different and doing “multi-genre”, I also recognize that The Esseness Project is not for everyone. The listener must have a love for the guitar and instrumental work to appreciate this album. Quality of the music is very commendable, but it is not the type of work that will appeal to everyone. Smyth and Hoffman have put together something unique without a single governing emotion to the music. In short, if you like a little multi-personality disorder in your music and are willing to bring open ears and minds to this album I think most music lovers will have several pleasant surprises during the course of The Esseness Project.

Rating: 7.0/10
Reviewer: Christopher J. Oatis, usaprogmusic.com
Review online: September 2008.

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Rise Magazine, Uruguay (September, 2008)

Cuando entrevisté a Steve Smyth (ex-guitarrista de Nevermore) a principios del año pasado, éste se encontraba en un proceso de recuperación luego de haber recibido un transplante de riñón, lo cual le impedía estar de gira con su ahora antigua banda. En aquella ocasión, el guitarrista, que también supo destacarse en bandas como Testament y Vicious Rumors, comentaba que se encontraba componiendo temas para un proyecto llamado Esseness junto al respetado bajista de jazz, Steve Hoffman, y Atma Anur (ex-Cacophony, etc.) como baterista invitado.

Finalmente, ese proyecto lanzó su álbum debút homónimo producido íntegramente por el propio Smyth. Se trata de un trabajo completamente instrumental donde conviven diversas atmósferas bajo un contexto de rock y metal progresivo, con melodías para el recuerdo, y pura originalidad.

Por supuesto como todo músico, Smyth ha sido influenciado por diferentes guitarristas, y eso se puede percibir en su técnica al tocar, de esta manera podemos encontrar influencias de grandes como Marty Friedman (sobretodo en “The Afterlife”, que abre el disco), Jason Becker, Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe, entre otros, pero siempre aportando su estilo personal. Temas como “Illuminate”, “It’s All In Our Mind” o “XIV” muestran a los músicos fusionando sonidos provenientes del Jazz, el Blues, el Funk y el Country que aportan mayor variedad a la mezcla logrando muy buenos resultados. Cada uno de los doce temas que componen el álbum son un mundo aparte, lo cual hace que sean muy disfrutables, y la calidad de los mismos demuestran no solo que estamos hablando de excelentes músicos, sino que podemos notar claramente que pusieron el alma y el corazón en cada una de las composiciones. Altamente recomendable para quienes gustan de discos instrumentales de este género!.

Reviewer: Jorge Patacas, risemetal.com
Review online: September 2008.

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Metal-Experience, The Netherlands (2008)

Onlangs kreeg ik het solo album van gitarist Steve Smyth toegestuurd, het project heeft de titel “The EssenEss Project” meegekregen en op het album wordt Steve bijgestaan door bassist Steve Hoffman en drummer Atma Anur (Cacophony, Jason Becker, Greg Howe, Ritchie Kotzen, Tony MacAlpine). Steve werd vooral bekend als gitarist van de metalband Nevermore. Steve Smyth begon zijn carrire in 1996 in Bay Area power metalband Vicious Rumors waar hij tot 1999 deel van uitmaakte en te horen was op de albums ‘Something Burning’ en ’Cyberchrist’. Daarna werd Steve ingelijfd bij Testament als tour gitarist en werkte hij samen met Eric Petterson’s (Testament) aan zijn black metal project Dragonlord waarop Steve op beide albums ‘Rapture’ (2001) en ‘Black Wings Of Destiny’ (2005) meespeelde. In 2004 trad Steve uiteindelijk toe tot de progressieve metal band Nevermore. In eerste instantie was Steve alleen gevraagd om de band live bij te staan tijdens hun Europese tour ter promotie van het ‘Enemies Of Reality’ album. Na deze tour werd al snel begonnen met het schrijven en opnemen van Nevermore’s album ‘This Godless Endeavor’. Steve, die inmiddels een vaste aanstelling heeft bij Nevermore schrijft tevens mee aan enkele songs. Op dat moment zag de toekomst er rooskleurig uit, het album sloeg zeer goed aan bij zowel de pers als ook de fans en er ter promotie van het album werd er uitgebreid getoerd. Echter in 2006 sloeg het noodlot toe, er werd bij Steve geconstateerd dat hij ernstige nier problemen had en deze nog maar voor zo’n 25% werkte. Natuurlijk zat er niets anders op zijn werkzaamheden bij Nevermore tijdelijk stil te leggen, inmiddels is Steve volledig hersteld van een nier transplantatie, echter door diversen persoonlijke verschillen besloot Steve uiteindelijk in augustus 2007 uit Nevermore te stappen.

Steve heeft de laatste jaren tussen de bedrijven door gewerkt aan zijn eerste soloalbum dat op 5 november 2007 via Two Louder Music uitkwam en om maar meteen met de deur in huis te vallen, het geheel instrumentale album is een zeventig minuten durende reis van drie zeer getalenteerde muzikanten. De muziek is een mix van rock, jazz fusion en metal, maar vooral ook progressief en tevens voorzien van experimentele breaks waardoor het geheel tot een zeer aangename muzikale mix word samengesmolten. Het album opent met de song “The Afterlife”, een progressieve rock song, met scheurend gitaarwerk waar de band meteen een zeer degelijk visite kaartje afgeeft, de song bevat naast enkele rustige passages tevens ook stevige gitaarpartijen en pakkende riffs. Het volgende “Sphere” is dan een wat rustiger geheel de song komt enigszins spiritueel over en is tevens voorzien van enkele vingervlugge solo’s van de heer Smyth. “Only Time Will Tell” is een klassieke rock ‘n roll opus, met voldoende ruimte voor enkele progressieve uitstapjes en bombastische passages. Verder vinden we in de songs op het album onder meer melodieus solowerk, progressieve riffs, melodieuze passages, zwaar scheurend gitaarwerk, uitstekende jazzy, fusion achtige baslijnen van Steve Hoffman en sublieme drumpartijen van Atma Anur zoals tijdens “Reflection, Redemption, Rebirth”. De songs zijn verder voorzien van de nodige tempowisselingen, doordacht en voorzien van de nodige intelligentie, luister maar eens naar het magische “Strands Of Fascia”. Het nummer “It's All In Your Mind” klink dan weer erg jazzy, maar herbergt ook enige country invloeden, tijdens de song “Just When You Think... “ gaat het tempo dan weer wat omhoog en gaat vooral de heer Smyth flink tekeer, de metal invloeden schemeren hier dan ook behoorlijk door. Halverwege vind er echter een complete ommekeer plaats en eindigt de song met een mooie akoestische solo. De klasse van de drie muzikanten wordt nog maar eens benadrukt tijdens nummers zoals het ruim acht minuten durende “Can You See What I Hear?” of het wat meer jazzy en funky “XIV”. Het album wordt vervolgens afgesloten door het eveneens acht minuten durende epos “In God’s Hands”, een song met opnieuw zeer veel afwisseling van akoestische en elektrische partijen waar heavy riffs en sfeervolle melodien naadloos in elkaar overgaan.

Na het meerdere malen beluisteren van het album, kan ik een ding concluderen, Steve Smyth heeft op dit album bewezen tegen al de grote gitaristen zoals Marty Friedman en Jason Becker op te kunnen boksen. Maar het is toch wel het geweldige samenspel van alle drie de zeer gekwalificeerde muzikanten die het album tot een ware klassieker maken. Voor fans van het wat meer, gevarieerde instrumentale progressieve gitaarwerk van eerder genoemde gitaristen als Marty Friedman, Jason Becker of Scott Henderson is dit verplichte aanschaf!!!

De productie lag geheel in handen van Steve zelf, het album werd gemixt door Kent Matcke (Metallica, Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar) in de Pro Music Studios en gemasterd door niemand minder dan John Cuniberti (Joe Satriani, George Lynch, Michael Manring) in de Plant Studios. Verder bevat het album uitstekend artwork dat verzorgd werd door Asgeir Mickelson die al eerder werkte voor bands zoals Borknagar, Vintersorg en Conception, Meer informatie over Steve en zijn EssenEss Project is te vinden via zijn website.

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Axe Magazine, Italy (March, 2008)

The first album of The EssenEss Project can only surprise you with it’s original mix of instrumental prog, rock and metal. You could say that this cd is the solo debut of Steve Smyth, but reading the booklet and listening to the music, you understand quickly that this is much more than a “guitar hero” album. In fact the music has been co-written with bassist Steve Hoffmann, and even though the album is very guitar oriented, you will hear much more that shredding leads.

It is a very varied album, full of atmosphere, and with songs that each have their individual personality. Take the song Just when you think with the very Satriani like intro, before changing into something more “metal” alla MacAlpine. This song might be the perfect one to listen to, if you want to understand the spirit of The EssenEss Project. A mix of prog metal and prog rock with memorable melodies and very particular change of moods. The acoustic ending with keyboards could not be defined as anything but pure genius. All the songs of the cd are very good, like the opener The Afterlife with the tapping intro and the beautiful melody of the verse. My personal favorite might be the fantastic Sphere with the intense sound effects and the very “eastern” atmosphere.

The EssenEss Project is a cd that could captivate both fans of metal and fans of rock and guitar music. The inspirations of the album seem to be numerous. You will hear traces of Satriani, Malmsteen, MacAlpine, Cacophony, Holdsworth and many others. At the first listen I found the album a bit confusing, but the melodies remained in my mind a already after very few spins, each song made me “sing along” to the music.

This is not party music, but music for the occasions where you have the possibility to enjoy the emotions of the songs. In the car, at the computer or at a romantic dinner with your partner. Let me give you this advice: support Steve Smyth, don’t download this album, but buy it directly from the official home site www.theessenessproject.com (under the menu “merch”).




Shock Magazine, Hungary (March 03, 2008)

Nowadays we can say, that every note has been played in every possible order by the guitarists of the world, and even ten year old kids play so well than others did after decades of practicing. So, these days it is a kind of a ritual suicide to release an instrumental guitar album, the only exception is if you have some reputation by your previous bands.

The name Esseness Project could be unfamiliar yet, but Steve Smyth might ring a bell: you know, he is that blonde, long haired guy with that funny goatie beard, who have played in Hungary too, with Nevermore and Testament. After the forewords, it is easy to find out that this album is not about mindless and soulless shredding, but more like about quality guitar mastering with technique and feeling, based ont he influence of masters such as Marty Friedman, Jason Becker or Greg Howe – but I feel that the strongest influence is the Cacophony style. He has two companions on the album: On bass guitar and sometimes on keyboards a Northern-Californian classical and jazz musician called Steve Hoffman, and Atma Anur on drums, who have played together with many well-known guitarists – for example he played the drums on most of Richie Kotzen’s albums.

I don’t know if it’s because of the good old LP times or because of other reasons, the 12 songs are divided in two parts. These two are not that different, there are mixed themes from metal to jazz. The opening track (Afterlife) is a typical Friedman-ish song, followed by Spheres, which is slower and groovier, feels like the mid-80s guitar hero songs. My personal favorite (Only Time Will Tell) hides some really exciting arpeggio themes among its classic metal (let’s say Cacophony-ish) patterns, but the best written solo can be found in Redemption, Rebirth – a song with many different moods. It’s All In our Mind is also a diverse song, starting with machine drums, and hiding really crunchy and chaotic parts among its country housing. There are slower, jazzy themes, the best for me among them is Illuminate, but also XIV, a song based on funky bass slapping is also worth to mention.

All songs are different journeys – just like if you are standing in a forest, with many pathways leading to the same place, but each of them are different, giving you various feelings while you walk them. This album can seem to be a bit chaotic and diverse but it’s worth the time: if you prefer instrumental, guitar based music instead of soloing with light speed, you will surely like The Esseness Project.

Rating: 8/10
Reviewer: Szilvia BÁTKY-VALENTIN www.shockmagazin.hu
Review online: February 2008.

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The ProgFiles.com Review (February 12, 2008)

The Esseness Project consists of Steve Smyth (Testament, Nevermore, Dragonlord), Steve Hoffman (Sweet Leaf) & Atma Anur (Journey, Tony Macalpine, Greg Allman & Greg Howe). Impressive backgrounds from these accomplished musicians to be sure, but don't think for a minute that you can sum up what this album sounds like simply based on their resume. This disc is not only progressive, but a heart felt exploration into the psyche. Hoffman's bass sings, Anur's technique is impeccable and of course Smyth's fret work is flawless.

Three things I am thankful for when listening to this album:

1) It is not called "The Steve Smyth Project"
and rightly so, this collaboration is nothing short of a feature album for all three members. It could've just as easily been the Steve Hoffman Project as the experimentation of bass sounds and styles is seemingly without limit on this disc. Additionally, the dazzling approach to time signatures & complicated yet sensitive beats could have just as well made this an Atma Anur solo release with very special guests.

2) This is an instrumental album with absolutely no vocals!
Why should there be? Steve is a master of expression. It is obvious with every heart wrenching note he bleeds dry from his axe that the strings speak a multitude. He effortlessly portrays sadness, anger, joy, complacency or anxiety with every chord. Smyth is in the league with Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert & John Petrucci hands down.

3) This isn't JUST a rock or metal album
Yes, the shredding guitar work is there, and yes the band's metal roots come out, but this music is so much more than that. At one point a guitar solo kicks off with a jagged knife piercing into full fledge exploration of progressive rock (Afterlife). Then at another turn the group dives head first into a bluesy yet pop groove, even at one point skillfully executing a jazzy jam (It's All In Your Mind). This is in no way, shape, or form a negative reference as the band often returns to a hectic barrage of hard driving rock that is frequently interrupted by an odd metered schizophrenic break.

Have no doubt that this is a progressive album. Steve proves that he is not to be dismissed as a one-trick pony only capable of climbing up and down the fret board with Yngwie Malmsteen style precision. In fact it is his experience in metal that gives his music a sense of urgency and authenticity instead of being heard as self indulgent mood music only appealing to nerds. These guys KNOW their instruments and are constantly pushing them to the brink of their capabilities. They have set out to prove that bass, guitar and drums are not just simply the core lineup for rock. These three elements are stunningly used to orchestrate bombastic classical pieces like on "Just When You Think". As well, Only Time Will Tell is a rock and roll opus that is indeed very classical. You can almost imagine a half-crazed conductor violently directing with his baton.

I wont pussy foot around - this is a must have album if you are serious about your prog.

DALE JUDAY

Rating: 5

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Zero Tolerance Webzine Album Review (January 27, 2008)

In The beginning, when I started Listening to This album; I found my Self deep inside a trip of progressive metal riffing, down to experimental rock breaks, shred and through a fusion of jazz, it was a sufficient reason for me to listen to it all the time, If you don’t know who Steve Smyth is, this is a great time to get to know him. Actually, this guy has such an undeniable resume with the biggest Metal bands like Testament, Nevermore and the list goes on, but in this Material he came with, he certainly shows a different style. There's no limit for his inspiration, he touched all the kinds of what is called "The real music" never neglecting people behind this exciting new album project, Steve Hoffman, a well respected classical and jazz musician, bass instructor with a Great compositional Skills. And then a special guest drummer, Atma Anur, an extraordinay shred drummer. Best known in the "shred guitar" circles as the man who drummed on countless legendary Shrapnel Records releases, Atma appears as special guest drummer on The EssenEss Project debut. Cacophony (Speed Metal Symphony), Jason Becker (Perpetual Burn), Greg Howe (debut), Ritchie Kotzen and Tony MacAlpine are just a few of the many influential and cutting edge guitarists and musicians Atma has worked with in the past.

There is a little of everything for everyone on this instrumental album. There's a Magical Sound inside this material or we can say this album has soul. It’s true and it’s not insignificant. Songs like “It's All In Your Mind” and “Just When You Think” I think the album got some of the best, most experienced ears and eyes have been behind this material. The same is also present his feeling and inspiration of the joyful moments and Hardship moments but he's backs with a great surprise and powerful sound, but that is another matter that I will leave for the listener to decide.

Personally the album attracted me so much, especially "It's all in your mind" Awesome stuff, this one covers all areas of real music. Everyone can find something is waiting for this song, and it gets stranger more and more as it goes along. Plenty of shred factor, a good jazz section in there but This is just one Song of 12 tracks trying to reveal the secrets behind this Amazing material, there is definitely a framework to every song and they all come together nicely to make a very enjoyable stuff.

All I can say about this album is that if you like your music technical and heavy, melodic, then do yourself a huge favor and pick up one of the most AWESOME albums of this year! NOW!

Rating: 8/10

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Department of Virtuosity 'Zine, Poland (December 31, 2007)

I love listening to music played by dream teams like aforementioned project. Its initiator and main composer is Steve Smyth (6- and 7-string electric guitars, 6- and 12-string acoustic guitars, drum machine programming, percussion, keys; Testament, Nevermore, Vicious Rumors, Dragonlord and Ariah). Aside from this American guitar wizard, here are other two virtuosos: a jazz musician and teacher - Steve Hoffman (4-, 5- and 8-string electric bass guitars, keys) and a British born graduate of Manhattan School of Music and Berklee College of Music - Atma 'The Master of Polyphony' Anur (acoustic drums; Cacophony, Jason Becker, Greg Howe, Ritchie Kotzen, Tony MacAlpine, Doug Doppler and many others).

You should be prepared for melodic solos, aggressive, massive and progressive riffs, some sonic distortions and little weird sounds here and there. In my humble opinion, Mr. Smyth's guitar style is a mixture of Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Allan Holdsworth and Scott Henderson additionally backed by jazz/fusion rhythm section. At some moments their music can be described as fusioned and improvised shredding metal, however playing weird is an unquestionable domain of the trio. Moreover, the core of the album are a wonderful melodies and their flawless execution. They are proficient at every tempo, so they don't get lost while speeding up or slowing down. Their music is very smart, perfectly arranged and excellently performed.

I am not a kind of yes-man sucking up to virtuosos, but the man who doesn't dismiss fringes and bunch of freaks offering us some innovation. Even though their music can seem to be very geeky at present, and they themselves to be weirdos, they do reinvent the music showing that a melody can love experiments and vice versa. Yes, they are mavericks who deviate from the mainstream, and it is a great reason to respect them as extremely talented artists. The stuff includes the highest level of instrumental virtuosity baptized by three geniuses. The EssenEss Project is a combo driven by the instrumental stars indeed!

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