You don't get to be a respected journeyman like DEREK SHERINIAN without making a few friends along the way — or without having the chops to execute stop-on-a-dime stylistic changes and make yourself sound convincing. "Blood of the Snake" goes all over the place, with a little something for everyone, and a veritable Who's Who of guest stars who may end up selling more copies of the album on their own names than Sherinian will!
You get everything from upbeat, jazzy prog virtuoso stuff with saxophone, the kind of music you hear blaring from instructional videos when you walk into Guitar Center ("Phantom Shuffle") to straight-ahead rock stompers (the burly "Man With No Name", sung by Zakk Wylde in his best Ozzy bleat), to the introspective and soulful "Been Here Before", where Wylde and Brad Gillis (where the hell has he been hiding?) trade psychedelic licks over Sherinian's BEATLE-esque keys.
And what to make of "On the Moon", a pretty, jazzy number with lots of piano and schmaltzy (uncredited) sax right out of a Kenny G record? Or the goof-off closer, a cover of MUNGO JERRY moldy oldie "In the Summertime" that brings together Billy Idol and Slash to skiffle their way through one of the dumbest songs of the hippie generation?
On the plus side, Yngwie kicks album standout "Viking Massacre" into high gear with some awe-inspiring pyrotechnics, and the title track is a winner, with Wylde and Yngwie setting off sparks. Opener "Czar of Steel" is awesome as well, because unlike many of the other songs, Sherinian takes center stage, really making the song his own, trading off with former bandmate John Petrucci and drummer extraordinaire Simon Phillips. It takes a few spins of "Blood of the Snake" to realize that, after that strong opening, Sherinian takes a back seat, for the most part, to his more well-known pals.
That's the problem with a record like this — it plays more like Sherinian's audition reel than a cohesive, enjoyable listening experience. Sure, the guy has more talent in his pinky than any ten branches of my family tree — but chops do not an interesting song make. As wide-ranging as the styles on this album are, the songs — particularly many of Sherinian's contributions to them — come off as faceless. The people who dominate their time on "Blood of the Snake", like Yngwie and Zakk, are people used to always being front-and-center. They leave Sherinian where he always seems to be — in the back, doing a capable job holding things up, marking time until his next money gig comes in.