The Inevitable Twiddling of Vocalists’ Thumbs

Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing about instrumental music (Instrumental Intros and Animals As Leaders) and more specifically, its common downfalls. However, today I thought I would discuss the other side of instrumental music: the good stuff! So here are five of my favourite instrumental pieces:

1. Steve Vai – Gravity Storm

Gravity Storm is the high-energy centre-piece of Steve Vai’s eighth studio album, The Story Of Light. Vai rampages through this track, utilising pinch harmonics, legato techniques and a sensuous use of pre-bends to achieve whammy-like dives. However, this track isn’t just a showcase for his talents, since all his techniques are used within a constantly evolving (and extremely memorable) melody. With Gravity Storm, Vai has written a guitar classic that will make kids pick up the guitar and understand that songs don’t need to have vocals to be brilliant.

2. Rodrigo y Gabriela – Hanuman

Rodrigo y Gabriela are a Mexican flamenco guitar duo, who combine the flair of traditional Latin music with elements of modern rock and metal music. Hanuman is a powerful track dominated by gorgeous flamenco licks that stick in your head and beg to be hummed. Although the majority of the track is played around the same area of the fretboard, its distinct sections and moods help to keep the listener interested throughout.

3. Apocalyptica – Farewell

This track moves away from the world of guitar music and into the realm of classical. Apocalyptica is a group consisting of three cellists and a drummer, who play a music positioned somewhere in the space between metal and classical music. Farewell leans towards the classical side, and is one of their more subdued efforts. However, for what it lacks in aggression, it makes up for in emotion and melody, as its memorable refrain soars high above the rumbling rhythm section, replacing the need for a vocalist.

4. Dream Theater – Stream of Consciousness

Dream Theater are well known for the virtuosic tendencies and superb musicianship of their members, which leads to long instrumental sections within their progressive tracks and the inevitable twiddling of thumbs for vocalist James LaBrie. It is no surprise then that Dream Theater indulge in the odd fully instrumental track from album to album, with their latest, self-titled effort having two. My personal favourite of their instrumental tracks is Stream Of Consciousness from 2003’s Train of Thought, which progresses like a runaway freight train [pun intended], letting John Myung, John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess and Mike Portnoy all have their turn in the spotlight. However, like the Steve Vai track, Dream Theater manage to keep the song’s overall narrative in mind and don’t let their solo sections distract them from the end goal.

5. Porcupine Tree – Wedding Nails

Porcupine Tree, like Dream Theater, have a pool of instrumental tracks at their disposal, but unlike Dream Theater, they tend to focus more on riffs and structure than on soloing. Wedding Nails is a perfect example of this, following several groove-based guitar riffs through various permutations, aided by the haunting soundscapes produced by keyboardist Richard Barbieri and the distinctive drumming style of Gavin Harrison.

Do you agree with this list – if not what do you think should be on this list?

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