Solipsistic Review on Prog Metal Zone

Prog Metal Zone is your online source for progressive metal news, reviews and band info. Publsihed by Jeff Stevens on Jan 25, 2013.
Read the full review below.

Solipsistic Album Cover
Solipsistic Album Cover

Last month we previewed the new instrumental metal album Solipsistic by Syrian guitarist (now living in Canada) Shant Hagopian’s new project Semantic Saturation featuring a seriously amazing cast of musicians: keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Planet X and a ton of great solo projects), all-world drummer Virgil Donati, bassist Ric Fierabracci and on the final cut, the vocals of German prog metal band Vanden Plas’ Andy Kuntz. With this kind of firepower, I was thinking that this first album by Shant’s project would be a lot like Derek Sherinian’s stellar metal fusion project Planet X but boy was I wrong! Instead, Shant, despite his chops (which he does display from time to time on Solipsistic has opted for an album filled with great expressive melodies, fluid guitar solos and just enough head-banging heaviness to make it the first great instrumental rock/metal album of the year.

The album kicks off in high gear with Ambivalence, a heavy song that features some great high-energy solos by Shant and Derek Sherinian. Make Believe is a mid-tempo number with wonderful melodies throughout. Lost and Found is a beautiful ballad that has a slight electronica backdrop. Stardust could be my favorite track on the album. It starts as a relaxed, somewhat pensive piece but quickly kicks in with some incredibly emotive solos over some of the heaviest chord work on the album before concluding with some wonderfully fluid and beautiful guitar solos as well as a great, understated piano solo by Sherinian. Blessing in Disguise is a really beautiful ballad that features some excellent legato playing from Shant. After the last couple of fairly relaxed songs, we next get the high-energy Armchair Activist which is about as close to a Planet X style of balls-to-the-wall high-energy metal fusion that you’re gonna hear on the album and features a fantastic (but too damn short!) bass and drum duo before concluding in a joyous high-energy chops-fest. After a couple of more pieces, the relaxed electric/acoustic Point Of Singularity and the high energy metal fusion of Time Is An Illusion, the final piece, What If We All Stop is the one vocal cut on the album and features the great, expressive voice of one of my all-time favorite singers, Andy Kuntz. It’s a great epic song that clocks in at almost nine minutes and, in the best prog metal tradition, builds from a slow, powerful opening to a majestic, uplifting finale. I love the song and I think I’d really like to hear more vocal cuts on the next album as I think Shant’s style of songwriting works really well with vocals.

So if you’re looking for an album of pure shredding, Solipsistic ain’t gonna do it for you but if you’re looking for beautiful melodies, tasteful expressive soloing, a wide variety of tempos and moods along with some great use of heavy textures then this is definitely the album for you.


Album Released Today!

Achievement unlocked!

Semantic Saturation - New Album Available Now
Semantic Saturation – New Album Available Now

It feels really great, no.. it feels awesome to finally have this baby out after 2 years of hard work, and honestly I can’t imagine it happening without all these people who helped, supported and funded the project. I’m going to take this opportunity to thank all the people who worked on the project and helped in creating this wonderful piece of work. So thank you Alex, Saad, Mgo, Sam, Hourig, Hrag, my wife Nanor, Derek, Ric, Virgil and Andy! You guys made my dream come true! I also want to thank all the people who agreed to pose on the album cover and artwork, Mary, Berj, Avo, Nathalie, Jerry, Rafi, Hourig and Christ.

Even though I am pretty tired of doing a bit of everything today, it’s been an amazing day so far, with positive feedback from everywhere. It comforts the self to know that there are still people out there who appreciate, care and support good music. It feels like the beginning of one great start, an epic journey, a progressive trip into the depths of uncharted lands shadowed by branches of the tree of life, sunken into the darkness of the unknown !

Yeah I got carried away a bit there, so if you still haven’t bought your copy, there’s a big blue button on the right, it says BUY NOW in big letters, click it! Or yeah you could also just click this link:??Buy the Solipsisitc CD, or Buy the Digital Copy. Can’t make it any easier for you really.

Fun fact

Apparently Pink Floyd’s album “Animals” was released also on January 21 in 1977 that was exactly 36 years ago. Being a FloydHead myself I feel terrible not knowing this before today. It’s a great honor to have the same release date as one of the best albums in the history of rock !

So here’s to music!

24 hours to launch

24 Hours to go!
24 Hours to go!
24 Hours to go!

Less than 24 hours remain until the album is officially released and I’m sitting here doing nothing but waiting. [false]

For the past two months I’ve been running around like a chicken without its head, not literally but pretty much. In case you didn’t know, If you’re an artist and you’re pretty much doing everything yourself you don’t just sit there and wait for your album to be out, and specially if you’re relatively a newly established artist. You have to become and “Armchair Activist.”

So what have I been doing all this time?

  1. Putting together a good looking website.
  2. Creating the teaser video.
  3. Setting up the online store.
  4. Setting up the mailing list.
  5. Figuring out what to give away to the fans where and when.
  6. Creating all the designs for the merchandise.
  7. Preparing all mp3s and tagging them.
  8. Putting together a decent press kit.
  9. Writing the press release (thanks for the help Alex!)
  10. Contacting web’zines and radio stations.
  11. Setting up profiles on gazillions of music related sites.
  12. Setting up the Facebook fan page, Twitter, MySpace, BandCamp, Youtube, Reverbnation,, SoundCloud … Can I stop here. please ? Did I forget to mention maintaining all these pages and keeping them updated with posts and whatnot ?
  13. Sending promo copies here and there.
  14. hours and hours of endless photoshopping and preparing images, illustrations and photos.
  15. Responding to fans!
  16. Signing posters, wrapping, packing, sealing, printing, shipping.
  17. Reading tons of articles.
  18. Blogging (in disguise) … not to mention setting it up, which took me almost 2 days

I’m not sure if I’m forgetting anything, but hey most of these are fun to do and I’m not complaining at all, but can you imagine the amount of time each item needs to complete? Of course I can go in detail into the process for every single item, but I’m not going to bore you. Sometimes I forget to breathe, I really do, the amount of information available to us artists today is really overwhelming. I wish I had more time to do more.

I should be sleeping, it’s the big day tomorrow!

My Interview With is a rock and metal related news website from Lebanon.
The interview was conducted by the editor Rami Rouhana, published on January 16, 2013

What challenges did you face to get this project done?
The biggest challenge was writing music that keeps spinning in your mind after you hit the stop button. Nowadays it’s very hard to find music that is catchy, music that satisfies your appetite but leaves you wanting for more, a lot of musicians forget that part and concentrate on the technical aspect, or how fast they can play. Music is not a race, it’s art.
Of course there were other challenges too; as a guitarist, getting the right guitar tone and recording it. All of us guitarists know that it takes months, even years to bring a tone to perfection, and by the time you shape it down there’s probably some new ideas in your head that keep you wanting to tweak the sound even more and try different versions.
Another challenge was completing the project in time, which was a tough one actually. I’m pretty organized when it comes to any project, and I made a lot of planning during the writing process, I even made Gantt charts (if you don’t know what a Gantt chart is: it’s a bar chart to illustrate the project timeline and schedule,) but a lot of times I had to modify it to meet the new deadline, it’s very hard working with musicians who are constantly touring and have their own projects, it needs a lot of planning and coordination. But needless to say they were all excited to be part of the project, and they all tried their best to meet the deadlines. For example Virgil Donati only had a couple of days in September to record one of the tracks, he was back from tour and preparing to leave for another with Allan Holdsworth, but he managed to record and finalize the drum line.

Why did you choose Derek Sherinian, Virgil Donati, Ric Fierabracci and Andy Kuntz to contribute to the album?
Derek is an inspiration, being a Dream Theater fan since 1995 “A Change of Seasons” was the first album I had, and up till now it’s still my favorite track (let’s call it a long track), one of my favorite parts was Derek’s jazzy chords, but let’s not get this to sound like a review from the past. Derek also played on another DT album “Falling Into Infinity”, that was an album I disliked in the beginning, the songs were all radio friendly and less technical, but then eventually it grew on me and I began to notice the hidden layer of creativity and musicianship, Petrucci’s and Derek’s solos are captivating on that record.

Andy Kuntz (vocals)
Andy Kuntz (vocals)

Why Andy? Andy is the most amazing, down to earth, very supportive and friendly musician I have ever met. Does that answer the question or not yet? Probably not, because those add as a super bonus to the amazing voice and the writing and producing talents he has.
I’ve met Andy when we performed in Istanbul-Turkey at the “Rock the Nations” metal festival with Nu.Clear.Dawn in 2004. We were all sitting in the hotel restaurant having breakfast when he walked in, we introduced ourselves and told him how we admired their (Vanden Plas) music, so we sat down and had our meal together, he was also very interested in our music, we had a copy of the album with us and we gave it to him. Later on, the next day it was the day we both had to play on stage, so we hit the stage first and at some point, in the middle of the crowd, I noticed a metal horn held high up and rocking and I released it was him! Can you imagine the amount of excitement when you see your idol watching, listening and cheering for you? As if that was not enough, when Vanden Plas were about to wrap up their show, Andy grabbed the microphone and said a thank you to Nu.Clear.Dawn, we were all left speechless. It’s all on tape by the way.
As for Virgil and Ric, it was natural to have them on the album. Derek Virgil and Ric worked together before with Planet X, they are simply virtuosos, they are all top of the line musicians, they are world class progressive rock gurus, and how can you go wrong? Virgil was even one of the seven drummers who were auditioned to be the next Dream Theater drummer after Mike Portnoy left the band. DT picked Mangini, their loss is my gain.
Virgil was a late addition to the line-up, initially I had asked drummer Aram Kalousdian my friend and band mate from Nu.Clear.Dawn if he wanted to be part of the project, of course he was more than happy to help, but unfortunately for him the problems started in Syria back then and it was very hard for him to keep up, he even recorded one of the tracks “Blessing in Disguise”.

Is a live performance possible? Are there barriers to such project?
As much as I’d love to play on stage with these amazing people, I think a live performance is highly unlikely, given the fact that they are all busy on different schedules and projects, not to mention the distance between all of us.

Ric Fierabracci (bass)
Ric Fierabracci (bass)

Describe to me the album “Solipsistic”. Who do you dedicate it to?
The music says it all, I can’t describe it per se but I can definitely give you an idea what it is about. Solipsism is a state of mind, it’s a philosophical idea, a theory that proves that only one’s own mind or self to exist, and everyone or everything else is just a manifestation, do not confuse solipsism with selfishness, they are completely two different things. The idea came to me when I was a teenager and I started to think about it every now and then, so now that I was about to release a SOLo project, it all came back to me and hit me in the face, this was the perfect opportunity to let it all out. Who do I dedicate it to? It doesn’t matter because you don’t exist anyway, haha.

Is Semantic Saturation a temporary project or a solid band with more projects to come, more releases in plan? Is there Labels interested?
It’s definitely NOT a temporary project, I’m planning to do more releases in the near future, as a band I can’t say for sure, my plan is to work with different musicians on every album, but that doesn’t also mean that I can’t work with the same musician(s) again. As for labels, there may be a couple of labels interested but the thing is I’m not J, unless they’re really big labels with a good reputation. At this electronic age, it’s no secret that labels and record companies are suffering, some of them went bankrupt already, the digital world of downloads and file sharing has killed the music industry; but only partially, as on the other hand it opened the doors wide welcoming newly starting artists, now is the time for the listeners to choose their favorite artists, not the record companies. It’s not easy, it’s a big world out there, and technically you are competing against every single musician on earth.

Tell me about your experience in Nu.Clear.Dawn. Is the band still active? Is there an album on the way?
We had a great time in Nu.Clear.Dawn, we played a lot of cover shows when we started, but then we realized it was time to put out an album, which was a whole new experience for all of us, so we created “Poem of a Knight” in 2003, the album received positive reviews from acclaimed webzines like Metal Storm and The Metal Observer, we played more shows in the region promoting the album, and we’ve been asked to perform at the “Rock the Nation” metal festival in Istanbul Turkey, to share the stage with many other big names and bands, some who were and still are our idols, Pain of Salvation, Vanden Plas, Circle II Circle, Epica, Amon Amarth and many others. Of course we couldn’t decline such an amazing opportunity, and we had an amazing time and experience.
The band is not really doing anything, since everyone is away from Syria, that’s not an excuse to stop, but you never know, maybe one day we’ll get back together and create new music again. I’m currently the one maintaining the website and the fan page, to keep the memories alive.

Virgil Donati (drums)
Virgil Donati (drums)

Why do you think there are few Progressive metal bands in the Middle East and many death metal bands?
Very good question… is it the extreme roars and growls that fans crave? Is it the feeling of being extremely angry, frustrated or upset and letting it all out? Or is it because it doesn’t matter what chord you play anyway? I think it’s the latter, I’m just kidding. (no I’m not)
To be honest I’m not sure, I mean if you’re talented enough why waste your powers when you can be more creative? I honestly don’t see any talent in death metal bands, I’ve listened to a lot of extreme bands, some have amazing musicians and stunning melodies, but when they start to sing I literally cringe. Not my cup of tea.

Are there artists you are aiming to cooperate with in the future?
Ah! Glad you brought this up. I’d love to have Anneke Van Giersbergen (vocalist previously with “The Gathering”) on my next album, I was a big fan for them, and now I’m in love with Anneke’s solo projects and albums. I don’t have any other names in mind for the moment, but I’m sure I’ll find more amazing musicians along the way.

The following questions are random fun questions (part of “Jerking an Interview” article series…coming soon):

Most Useless Instrument?
Is there really a useless instrument? I’m sure I can hit anything and make music.

Annoying band member? Or Musician?
Just… no.

Music you never liked?
Justin Bieber? – somebody kill the kid already

Your Muse and Inspiration when composing?
Musically… Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, Porcupine Tree. Anything can inspire me really, George Carlin, some of my favorite movies, could be a website or an article I’m reading, or just a full stomach.

How would you kill a singer (using musical instruments and gear)? You can state your reasons too.
I wouldn’t hit them with a guitar (too expensive). Perhaps by playing the ugliest guitar chords in a room full of 100,000 watts speakers, that would kill them.

Favorite move on stage
Once I was trying to move from one side to the extreme other, that was my favorite move until the guitar cord that was connected to the effect processor got unplugged and started following me.

A memory from your childhood years
There was this cartoon that I always wanted to remember what it was called, I searched for years and couldn’t find a lead. It was pretty funny, there was very little dialog, if any at all. Some old man who lived in the desert with an annoying blue furry creature. If anyone knows the name of the cartoon or the creator, I’ll send them a free CD.

Name a band that should reunite or an album that should be recorded again.
No album should be recorded again. But as for reunions, all hope is gone now… Pink Floyd


How Did it All Happen?

Andy Kuntz (vocals)

I always wanted to do a solo project, packed with epic guitar and keyboard melody lines and solos.

The project started back in early December 2010, with the idea of creating an instrumental rock and metal album with leading guitar melodies, which later on developed to include keyboardist Derek Sherinian to guest on some of the tracks. At that point the drummer was yet unidentified, but drummer Aram Kalousdian (previous band mate from Nu.Clear.Dawn) was an obvious choice at that point, Aram is a great drummer that I’ve worked with from 1996 to 2005. But recent problems in the middle east has slowed down the process and productivity to almost 0%, which led me to start thinking about other options, and it was Virgil Donati.

Virgil is a world class drummer who also played with Derek Sherinian in Planet X, and was one of the drummers being auditioned for the Dream Theater album after former Mike Portnoy left the band. It was very natural for me to contact Virgil Donati and ask him if he’d like to play on the album. Of course he was more than happy to be reunited with an old band mate.

And as for the bassist, who else would be the best fit other than Ric Fierabracci who also played with Derek and Virgil in Planet X. Ric played in a lot of bands and projects, he is an expert and a virtuoso, working with him felt like working with a band-mate who’d been playing with you for years. His touch and sound on the album is very obvious and original, something you can’t really miss.

Andy Kuntz (vocals)
Andy Kuntz (vocals)

I met with Andy Kuntz back in summer of 2004, when we we performed in a 3 day long metal festival in Istanbul, Turkey. We were sitting at the hotel restaurant, having breakfast before we left to the venue, when Andy and his band-mates from Vanden Plas walked in. Andy is one of the most friendly and supportive musicians I have ever met, everything he has done for Nu.Clear.Dawn has left us speechless.
When I went to Europe in 2011, I met with Andy again and asked him if he’d like to sing on one of the tracks, when I gave Andy the demos, he gave it a quick spin and he was in love with the melodies and music and he agreed to sing on as many tracks I liked.
Once again we were more than welcomed, as he invited us to a special (VIP) Vanden Plas show they had, not more than 100 people were invited, and they were all die hard Vanden Plas fans. It was a great honor to be among them.

I had a great time working with all these musicians, it was a wild ride for me these past two years. The result of which is now in your hands and ears.