Robyn Ferguson is the enigmatic vocalist and lead guitar player for South Africa’s Adorned In Ash, a band that straddles death metal and black metal with a melodic edge and progressive sheen. One of their highlights, for me, has always been Robyn’s lead-work which takes the songs to exciting heights, but we never get enough time to really hear what she can do on the instrument. A recent endorsee of Ibanez South Africa (she used to play Jackson exclusively before that), I was keen to hear what she would come up with when she recently announced a solo EP, especially when she said that it would show a different side to her as an artist not to mention show off her new Ibanez machines.
Alizarin (grab a copy here) is a short EP of four instrumental songs that play in a slightly more aggressive Joe Satriani, melodic shred kinda way. As with most solo guitar records, the songs are primarily vehicles for the leads and solos, either as an instrumental replacement for vocals or to showcase the player’s abilities - Alizarin does both with a happy balance. Clocking in at only 14 minutes, she packs in some serious chops cocooned in four tasty tunes.
“The Raven” is a slow-burner with chunky grooves that builds into a thrashy affair with epic scope. The solo has a very Surfing With The Alien-esque construction – it comes in with a strong melodic vibe, lots of bends, and finishes up with a dark fade-out. It could have been longer, adding in a second section for more fret-burning, but it’s a powerful start to the proceedings.
A neat little video showing of the Ibanez JTC Players Pick.
The second song is “The Oceanborn”. A telephone call fade-in opens straight into another emotional solo, which makes up the majority of the piece – it’s not often you hear a song like this kick out the jams from the get-go, but it really works. A strong, memorable melody is herded from peak to valley and back again with tasty shred in the form of smooth legatos, fluid scale runs, pinch harmonics, and the swelling bends that push the listener to a new level. It’s guitar magic.
“The Time Bender” is the shortest tune on offer but has the strongest rhythm and riffing. It’s a pure mash-up of Mark Morton technicality and Steve Vai dissonance, but halfway through, we dip into quiet, atmospheric territory with a strong, able bassline. From this, Robyn swells from tasteful jabs of colour into a full-blown rainbow of shred, extreme bends and fret histrionics for miles.
The closer for Alizarin is “The Pack,” which starts off with a mellow Buckethead “Colma” warmth, evolving into a rocking bluesy eruption. Midway through, we run smack-bang straight into a chugging thrash riff that’s accentuated by small fills and flashes, heavy with charm and distortion, and then back into the main melody with Robyn ripping it up until it fades into the smoky night.
A recent promo shot of Robyn and her Ibanez.
Robyn Ferguson has all the guitar chops and song writing ability to make this an explosive EP. The production is top-notch, the instruments clean and precise (although the human touch is still firmly in place), and the songs exciting and strong. My only issue is that it’s so short! Granted, this is her first solo outing and just a taster of what might grow in the future, so it does the job of reeling the listener in, firing them up, and leaving them wanting more. Along with the recent Chris Prophet album, this feels like the beginning of a South African shred / instrumental guitar resurgence and, with the talent now rising to the surface, I’m proper excited.
Alizarin Track Listing:
01. The Raven
02. The Oceanborn
03. The Time Bender
04. The Pack
Run Time: 14:00 Release Date: April 16, 2019 Record Label: Self-Released
Peep this guitar playthrough of the song “Broken Glass Reflection.”