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CD REVIEW: Test Tube Rhino - InVitro
By Alex Jasperse - 10/15/2008 - 09:28 PM EDT

Artist: Band: Test Tube Rhino
Album: InVitro [2008]
Label: Independent
Genre: Guitar Instrumental
Production/Musicianship Grade: 5.0/10
Songwriting Skills: 5.0/10
Performance Skill: 8.0/10
CD Review:

I will be the first to admit it that when it comes to guitar instrumental albums and guitar virtuosity in general, I am that person who moans and groans his way through the whole musical journey. It’s a genre waist deep in three decades of sameness and pure cockiness that quite frankly annoys me to the point where I actively avoid having to listen to all these guitarists who are stronger, faster and better than 99.99% of the guitar community. As a guitar player, it’s actually quite depressing to think about what you’re going to listen to is either going to underscore what you can’t do, but it’s going to get your hopes up that you could eventually play like this with more practice time than you actually have available.

Am I bitter? Yes and no.

Chalked full of every guitar cliché one could want within the constraints of forty minutes, Test Tube Rhino’s latest release, InVitro, is, for lack of a better word, nothing more than pure guitar porn. His playing breathes the lyrical melodic phrasing of Joe Satriani with elements of Buckethead’s acoustic mastery and articulation of the brilliant Paul Gilbert. For guitar instrumental lovers, InVitro is everything you could ask for – but from a critical standpoint, it’s just more of the same.

Granted, the album does enter on a promising note with the ominous and gritty, almost primal, distorted guitars growling across the soundscape in “Test Tube Fantasy”. Reminiscent of Steve Vai’s works on Fire Garden, Test Tube Rhino seamlessly treads between rhythms and lead, injecting quick bites of vicious licks that disappear just as quick as they enter. A sudden shift to acoustic guitar leads in “E.B.E.” disappointingly reverts back into electric guitar leads straight out of Satriani’s early 90s catalogue, with guitar harmonies scattered here and there to flesh things out.

“Caucacious” is for all intents and purposes quite an astoundingly technical showcase piece, but by the midpoint it’s hard not to become distracted by the annoyingly repetitive bass line that quacks around in the background. Aside from the fact the whole song is a showcase track, what’s incredibly amusing to do once inundated in sheer boredom from the barrage of notes, is clicking random time locations in the song to discover that no matter where you start and stop, it simply sounds the same. But “Caucacious” isn’t the only track suffering from lack of song structure – no, in fact “Nimicus Namicus” falls prey to the exact same pitfall. As a result, Test Tube Rhino has effectively written two songs, focused on nothing more than aimless solos until the listener actually forgets that there should be some natural progression to the song. The overall effect is bombardment with more astonishing licks than the listener should reasonably be subjected to within a five-minute time span.

With the end of the album quickly approaching, “High” and “Vitamin Salt” become almost indistinguishable from one another. The amount of musical sameness and repetition within the constraints of both pieces is truly frustrating, and added on top of bad production, it just becomes utterly skipable.

On a musician assessment level, I have no problem saying that Test Tube Rhino is a phenomenal player with some truly amazing chops. In fact, I’m sure if I ever sat down with him my mouth would be open in sheer awe at his fret board acrobatics and utter command of the instrument. So in that regard, he has done his job and produced an album that speaks volumes about his capacity to play as a musician. But from the perspective of a listener (i.e. how this review is based), InVitro is actually painful to listen to. Quite simply, there is no indication of anything new or experimental on this album that has not been fully exhausted by one of the many guitar gods that walk this earth. What perplexes me the most is that I know players like Satriani and Vai have acknowledged that they have a bad tendency to fall into the same stylistic playing habits, and have at least made an effort to try something new.

The Verdict:

For more information, please visit Test Tube Rhino's myspace page.

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