When Mike Portnoy announced last year “Brace yourselves for a new guitar hero in Eric Gillette! He is the new king of shred and feel! He reminds me a lot of my old partner in crime (if you know who I mean!)”, that was some serious praise for the relatively unknown Gillette. Of course, as many who listened to The Grand Experiment album or witnessed in person on tour can attest, Eric Gillette is almost annoyingly talented, to the point where the phrase, “You’ve gotta be kidding already” seems highly appropriate. A multi-instrumentalist, equally skilled at drums and keyboards as he his on his main instrument, guitar, Gillette was a revelation as a vocalist on his recent outing with the Neal Morse Band. Allowed to sing solo parts on that last album and in concert, it became apparent, this guy needs a solo album.
To those that are still new to Eric Gillette, he did release a solo album in 2013 called “Afterthought”. Aside from two songs, the album is mostly instrumental and went mostly unnoticed. This was unfortunate, as it is a good album and one worth checking out, even though it might not represent what Gillette is about now. That is apparent on his stellar new album ‘The Great Unknown”, which is an explosive, overpowering, mammoth of an album. Joined by musical standouts in their own right, Thomas Lang on drums, and Conner Green and Diego Tejeida from Haken on Bass and Keys, respectively, Gillette comes out guns blazing on this album. The album is heavy, aggressive, and spectacularly produced.
The title track on ‘The Great Unknown’ opens with Thomas Lang’s destructive toms declaring that one pay attention, because something is about to happen. Immediately, the crunch of a thousand metal guitars kicks in and the album is off. The surprise here is that Gillette did not opt for a carbon copy, Neal Morse style, album opener. Instead, he wants to show his metal side. Gillette has a clean, almost pristine voice, one that typically does not work with such heavy guitars, but he makes it work surprisingly well here and on the album’s other metal track “The Aftermath.” Diego Tejeida makes his presence known on the second track as the album starts to take on more dynamics. Thomas Lang’s drums are massive and his talent is not underplayed on this album. While staying within the songs, Lang showcases why he is widely considered one of the best rock drummers in the world.
Gillette’s Prog side finally appears in the form of the 3rd track, the 18 minute epic “Escape”. The album opens with Gillette soloing before diving into the opening vocal section, a soaring verse/chorus combination. Things take a turn for the heavy, a la Haken/Dream Theater towards the middle for a true Prog extravaganza. The syncopated riffs and interplay between Gillett, Tejeida and Green are perfectly produced and immensely entertaining. The epic closes with a piano ballad section in true Neal Morse fashion. He was bound to pick up a thing or two from his bandmate. It also features a sizzling piece of guitar fretwork at the end.
The album does not let up from here with the Muse-inspired “Damage is Done”, which is the most Prog track Muse never wrote. The lone ballad “Empty” follows, to provide a breather from the intensity of the rest of the tracks. The most keyboard-laden song is the penultimate “Runaway”, which contains some brilliant moments and might be one of the best songs on the album. If one didn’t know any better, it sounds like Neal is doing the keyboard solos here. The album closes on colossal “As I Am, a hard-hitting number where Gillette declares “I give you all that I am, I’m with you till the end!” The album fades out with Lang speeding up his double bass for a real head-banging end.
There are nods to groups like Dream Theater, Muse, and Transatlantic here, but that does not take away from the overall collection. Gillette does a great job of fusing his influences into his own voice. Most artists emulate the ones they love and grew up listening to, and it is hard to forget that Gillette is quite a few years younger than the rest of the Neal Morse Band. While lyrically, Gillette doesn’t take any chances or break any barriers, overall, the album is outstanding and thoroughly enjoyable. It is adrenaline-infused heavy progressive rock, played by top of the line musicians, and full of fantastic songs.
Order ‘The Great Unknown’ at EricGillette.com
Key Tracks: Escape, The Aftermath, Runaway
1.The Great Unknown (4:41)
2.The Aftermath (6:28)
4.Damage is Done (6:53)
7.All I Am (7:51)
Eric Gillette on Lead Vocals and Guitar
Thomas Lang on Drums
Diego Tejeida on Keyboards
Conner Green on Bass.