If you come whistling by this site every so often you may remember my review of Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, the concept album captained by Sir Christopher Lee. In that review I mentioned six-string phenom Hedras Ramos (Jr.), a singular talent who composed several songs on that record and emerged from the hour-long experience as a talent to note and track. I was kindly gifted Ramos’ third instrumental album, Atoms and Space, and have now listened to this a few times in different settings: Walking through sleazy San Francisco neighborhoods at night, relaxing with a cold beer and good speakers at home, and amidst the hustle’n’bustle of a New York subway car.
I’ll start by saying that I already consider Hedras Ramos a virtuoso guitarist. Prodigy is a word that gets tossed around a lot because of his age (21 years old at the time of writing this review), but that word discounts the abilities that already place him among the elite. A true virtuoso not only flashes immense technical ability (which he shows in spades), but also treats the guitar like an instrument to express the full spectrum of human emotion. The thirteen tracks on Atoms and Space show his range and versatility, as well as his technical prowess, while also showing that since this album his songwriting (as displayed on Charlemagne) has steadily improved.
It’s difficult to pick out highlights as a sample of his greatest moments, but Ramos’ most singular flourishes follow a cosmic, sci-fi tapping style that appears on “Virtual Tangles,” “Dead Atoms,” and “Insanity of the Atoms.” While the technique doesn’t mimic the tech-death aesthetic of bands like Deeds of Flesh and Origin, there’s still a space-dwelling ability to create aggressive alien soundscapes. As is the danger with virtuoso-focused albums, a few of the songs aren’t much but a platform for guitar-oriented acrobatics. “Sweet Mercy” and “Vanilla Clouds” both suffer from the focus on solo performance over song structure, while songs like “Stars and Comets” and “Hot Arabia” both successfully launch after the guitar ignites their fuses, exploring gentler progressive rock territories that A Perfect Circle may have visited as well. The riffs that compose the foundation of each song aren’t always exemplary (like the non-descript metalcore of “Stellar Crash” and “Weird Scientists”), and I think this is the one area where I could see greatest improvement moving forward. Sometimes the solos are absolutely dazzling and the technical sorcery never less than superb, but if the song itself doesn’t grab the listener, either by the throat or by the heartstrings, they may not have the patience to hear everything the artist has to offer. There’s a ton of potential on display here, and after listening to the more advanced compositions on Charlemagne I do feel confident that Ramos will build upon these two records and head somewhere even more daring and bold.
Which leads me to exhibits A and B: “Glorious War” and “Anastasya.” “Glorious War” is the finest example of aggressive music on this record, featuring blazing technical riffing that could appear on a Rings of Saturn song before morphing into a sludgy power groove and scaling over a backdrop of gothic romance. While the song ends too abruptly for my taste, it’s one of the most dynamic performances of the album, only to be outdone by “Anastasya” a couple songs later. “Anastasya” is an exercise in gentle mood-building that layers mournful synths, pronounced bass, and nimble drumming. The guitar transforms into a voice of tragedy and futility, projecting immense emotion through the art of string manipulation. While science and atoms are referenced often in song titles on this album, Ramos still approaches music like an art form, not some cold, clinical object to be studied under a microscope. His songs are still about feeling, not diagrams and the scientific method, and coupled with his considerable technical talent, that’s why he will continue to be successful. I’m absolutely looking forward to what Ramos works on next, and so should you.
Check out Ramos’ official website, with links to his store and all sorts of information on his various projects: http://www.hedrasramos.com/