The short review: Ruination is progressive-rock-fusion at its very finest.
The not so short review: I’ll backtrack a little to my first encounter with Virgil Donati and Bunny Brunel’s L.A. Zoo (Revisited) released in 2004. It’s the revisited part that signals in Virgil as he was drafted in to re-record all the drum parts on the album’s make over. A great album and well worth checking out, however what most intrigued me about it was Virgil’s drumming, so some searching was required. Next up, Mr Donati appeared on my radar with the Planet X project with keyboard whizz Derek Sherinian. Virgil would continue to poke his head into my music library in the late noughties, again with Derek Sherinian (solo) and also with Bunny Brunnel (CAB).
Moving forward a few years and he would regularly turn up in concert on Youtube, notably with Anthony Crawford and the sadly departed Allan Holdsworth. A solo studio album in 2013, then there was the lucky near miss with Dream Theater and finally Ruination in 2020. Well it was actually released in late 2019, but didn’t appear at TPA towers until March this year.
Castle Bastards opens things (on the download) and within a few bars sets out the stall for the whole album. Unfathomable powerhouse drumming from Virgil Donati, complemented by equally complex, polyrhythmic tomfoolery from the rest of the assembled musicians. Any attempt to quantify or rationalise what’s happening here would be pure folly and not one for mere mortals to attempt.
So who are these super humans?
Well their names are listed at the end of this article, most I suspect will be unfamiliar. A few will be singled out within this review – all however are truly skilled artisans and their omission a matter of keeping the word count of this review to a reasonable number.
First mention is for vocalist Irwin Thomas (aka Jack Jones), who enjoyed commercial success in the ’90s with Australian AOR rockers Southern Sons (also featuring Virgil). Thomas is first up as he undertakes the vocals on the next two tracks. Initially nonplussed by the inclusion of singing within such a complex platform, in much the same fashion as I never particularly warmed to the vocals on the Bruford or Allan Holdsworth albums, however I was won over, if for no other reason than by Irwin’s superb delivery and performance.
Back To Me, as might be expected, is a less complex arrangement to that of the opener, allowing space for the vocals. Well, I say less complex, rhythmically it’s not something I’d expect to find underpinning a Bryan Adams track. The inclusion of strings works really effectively across the track, under the lyrics and across instrumental guitar break especially. Second song and the closest Ruination comes to having a straightforward rocker is the album’s title track. Straightforward. 😉 … take a listen…
Whilst in the reviewing stages of Ruination, I felt compelled to revisit 2013’s In This Life and was struck by how much heavier this latest recording is to its predecessor. Not that In This Life is lightweight, far from it, and both work equally well, they’re just differently textured beasts. Once again with all the tracks composed by Virgil, Ruination is possibly an indication of his thought processes at the time, influenced by his recent touring personnel, or a reflection of the players enlisted to perform on the record?
Now if you’ve made it this far you are probably curious as to the quality of the music on Ruination. Yes, I’ve mentioned the performances, but is it listenable? Eminently so, and although Virgil is renowned as a drummer, he is also a composer and no slouch on the keyboards either. Simply put, this is not a drummer’s album, this is a musical album in the truest sense.
So as we move on from the two songs we enter the meat, so as to speak, of the album, Donati once again defying the capabilities of any four-limbed creature and the assembled cast turning in some stellar performances. Worthy of mention here, and regardless of the level of complexity, there’s always definition to the music, a groove if you will. Now the downloadable version of the album doesn’t indicate which musicians are performing which parts on which tracks, and a far better ear than mine is required to differentiate the performances at this level. What is abundantly evident is that each of the performers have locked into the music.
The Crack, for instance (and hopefully I’ve credited correctly here) opens with some ripping fretwork from Brazilian guitarist André Nieri (follow this LINK if you are curious), with some equally nimble bass work from Anton Davidyants. Oh, and that drumming. Later keyboard man extraordinaire Chris Clark turns in some inspired Holdsworth infused soloing to take the track out.
Mindful that, and despite my earlier remark about the word count, this review is reaching gargantuan proportions and I’m not even half way through the album, it’s perhaps worth reminding myself of another earlier comment (“Any attempt to quantify or rationalise what’s happening here would be pure folly…”) and draw a line under proceedings.
But first some music…
Anyway… it’s taken an age to put this review to bed, for two-fold reasons. Firstly, I just couldn’t stop playing the album long enough to put digits to qwerty. Secondly, there’s so much great music and awesome performances here, I just didn’t want to leave any of them out. Pages upon pages of endless notes will testify to this, but hopefully I’ve said enough to entice you into checking out and buying Ruination.
Concluding where we started – Ruination is progressive-rock-fusion at its very finest.
01. Castle Bastards (4:50)
02. Back To Me (5:30)
03. Ruination (5:03)
04. The Crack (3:57)
05. Eleven Pt. 2 (6:38)
06. The Quiet Place (5:10)
07. The Last Night That I Lived (7:41)
08. Time Is A Lie (5:20)
09. Pinprick (4:01)
10. Out Of The Dirt (2:57)
11. If There Were None (5:36)
Total Time – 56:43
Virgil Donati – Drums, Keyboards
André Nieri – Guitar
Júnior Braguinha – Bass
Chris Clark – Keyboards
Irwin Thomas – Vocals, Guitar
Anton Davidyants – Bass
Evan Marien – Bass
Julian Lage – Guitar
Marco Sfogli – Guitar
Carl Mörner Ringström – Guitar
Matteo Mancuso – Guitar
Steve Hunt – Keyboards
Alex Argento – Keyboards
Joe Chindamo – Keyboards
Record Label: Gildon Music
Date of Release: 24th October 2019