When chemistry and inspiration strike, run with it. That was the case for Randy McStine and Marco Minnemann, who had previously met while recording on various musicians’ projects. After guesting on each other’s subsequent solo albums, the vibe felt right to make a go of it on a collaboration between the two of them. What was originally planned as a shorter EP grew into a 10 song album as the ideas kept flowing. The result is a compact and dense recording full of aggression, intrigue and a limitless number of musical ideas. Considering the entire recording is a tidy 35 minutes long (old school, “just like early Van Halen records” says Randy), there are a shocking number of directions explored with the two musicians sharing writing credits throughout. Good thing there weren’t more cooks in the kitchen or the listener’s head might explode!
Although McStine is the primary singer and guitarist, and Minnemann obviously is one of the most impressive drummers on the planet, both musicians get room to branch out with McStine covering the bass and keys and Minnemann supplying a good amount of guitar as well as some keys and vocals. Oh, and let’s not forget that they both dabble in those twiddly “FX” as well, just to make sure that no sonic stone goes unturned. Anyone familiar with either artist’s solo recordings will be aware of their range and mastery on multiple instruments. Together they are a formidable force. The track listing more or less alternates who initially brought the song ideas in: McStine offering the blueprints for tracks 1 and 3, for example, which are the first singles “Program” and “Your Offenses”. But both band members flesh out all of the material and bring in new ideas to each other’s pieces making it a true collaboration.
“Program” kicks things off, alternating between industrial slabs of percussion on the verses and frenetic drumming in the brief chorus. The middle instrumental section goes by so quickly that only repeat listenings reveal how much dexterity and inventiveness is going on in those 20 seconds. A couple of minutes later with McStine repeatedly exclaiming “It’s time to end!” the song does indeed come to a immediate halt. This is a rather representative template for the rest of the album: songs crammed into a 3-minute range that pound you into submission and never let up until their conclusion. If the listener isn’t paying close attention there will be much missed here, but over time the quirks start to make better sense and the method in the madness becomes more clear. With a King Crimson-esque entrance, “Top of the Bucket” takes one left turn after another, dancing frenetically to the pound of Minnemann’s insistent pulse until the listener is dizzily ready to fall off the bucket. “Tear the Walls Down” also has a relentless core to it, propelled by Minnemann’s guitars and drums, but then offers a majestic chorus and a welcome ambient section where McStine’s slide guitar can stretch out for the final minute. “Catrina” introduces a bit more spaciousness for Minnemann’s percussive attack and McStine’s loping bass to come to the fore, building an atmosphere of dread and intensity until the final line “Let mourners come” is repeated again and again. Indeed. Things get even more menacing later on with “Fly” which finds McStine at his most sinister. His stacked vocals on words like “Out!” and “Rise!” demonstrate how effective attention to detail is in the arrangement and production.
Fortunately, there are some bright moments, too. “Your Offenses” and “Activate” bring more of a pop mood, with the latter even laying down a little funk for good measure. “Sunshine ahead, don’t hesitate. Follow the thread that you create, In time your life will activate,” is as much a positive anthem as you’re going to find here. Sizzling guitar solos make brief but powerful impacts. The one ballad of the album, and the only chance to catch a breath, comes with “The Closer” which features Harry Waters as guest on piano. Interestingly, although Minnemann wrote the chorus, he doesn’t perform on the song at all, a first for him. McStine’s voice shines in this setting, as does his slide guitar accents, leading to the wish for a little more of this kind of material to balance out the overall album. Final track “Voyager” brings Minnemann’s voice up in the mix with one more example of a full-on assault, ensuring that we go out with a bang.
Reportedly the entire album was written and discussed through text messages and sending files back and forth to each other’s home studios. One person’s ideas would be catapulted into a new direction with each subsequent file sharing. Marco says it was “like Christmas morning” when a new revision would come back from McStine, as he waited to see what additions his collaborator had made. The result is a recording bursting with energy and inspiration, perhaps too much at times as it risks careening out of control if the songs ran any longer. Deceptively brief in running time, there’s enough material here to fill an album of twice its length. Happily, it appears that the two artists enjoyed how easily this debut flowed and if luck will have it, more will be on the way in the future, at least as long as they don’t get sidetracked by one of their other many projects. For now, this is a great place to start.
Released by: McStine & Minnemann
Released on: July 3rd, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock
- Randy McStine / Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, FX
- Marco Minnemann / Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, FX
McStine & Minnemann Tracklist:
- Falling From Grace
- Your Offenses
- Top Of The Bucket
- Tear The Walls Down (No Memories)
- The Closer
Pre-Orders for “McStine & Minnemann” are available on Bandcamp with several packages to choose from at this location.
- $8 Digital Download
- $13 CD + digital download (shipping exc.)
- $25 ‘Deluxe Version’ CD + digital download (shipping exc.) with exclusive bonus content – (Private stream release of 1 new song per week (every Friday) from May 1st to July 3rd (in order of album sequence), as well as a Randy/Marco commentary track and Marco drum play-through video per song
A Limited Edition vinyl version ($25 Special limited 140 grams album, only 100 pressed) is also be available here.
A full-throttle debut, this collaboration between two over-achieving artists will keep the listener’s head buzzing with nary a chance to catch their breath in between tracks. Minnemann’s relentless pounding on the drum-kit is matched by McStine’s attack on guitars and searing vocals. It’s an engaging collaboration which demands repeat listenings to take it all in, made all the more gratifying by the concise writing and skilled delivery