Since exploding onto the LA rock scene in 2014, and immediately becoming a significant chapter in the Book of Alice Cooper, Nita Strauss (yes, like her ancestor Johann) has made a mark on the rock scene with a quickness seldom seen before. Even when not adding to the already legendary stage presence of a Cooper show, she is now one of the top-tier six-string hired gunslingers of the rock and metal scene, in the rolodex of everyone from professional wrestling to Demi Lovato. One might think that would be adequately busy, especially with noteworthy endorsements like signature Ibanez guitars and Dimarzio pickups, but not one to rest upon laurels, Nita broke into the solo recording world in 2018 with her ambitious instrumental solo album “Controlled Chaos.” Nita thought the album would get going more quickly with a little infusion of Kickstarter cash from the fans, but she probably never expected the goal to be met within hours, and then get met again eight times over. This was instrumental in putting Nita in a position enviable to most any musician; she was able to do her album in her own way, without contracts or label executives or producers pulling her in several directions. In fact, she engineered and produced the album, writing all the material and playing all guitar and bass parts, to great effect, crafting what was essentially the last “Shrapnel” shred record, easily comparable to Friedman’s “Dragon Kiss” or Becker’s “Perpetual Burn,” among many others of the type. The album was versatile, with diversity of style, but when it came time to shred, tracks like “The Quest” were worthy of anything from Mike Varney’s stables.
And so it is that in 2023 our heroine, perhaps enjoying a small break from the wild circus life of Alice Cooper, carved out enough time to tackle an even more ambitious solo album than the first. “The Call of the Void” is demonstrably a step up from the safe formula employed in Nita’s traditional, albeit impressive, household shred collection. In this record, we find Nita using that rolodex in reverse, calling up some big names, most notably vocalists, to pursue a daring lyrical outing. Let’s go over some highlights.
The instrumental introduction, with thunder and rain, creates a mood which marries well with the album cover imagery, Nita’s kicks dangling and looking down over prime time Los Angeles city streets. It is apparent from the first track that Nita is traveling further down a metaphorical road where the metal playing style becomes very contemporary and fresh. While there were elements in the first album which were an homage to scene of Racer X and Yngwie (J) Malmsteen, this feels more like the age of Gus G, Ola Englund, and Devin Townsend. Perhaps this is not just a smart production approach, but a sensible artistic direction, considering some of the top modern talent on tap. Once the first track, “Summer Storm,” concludes its furious opening, it transitions very smoothly into the first noteworthy lyrical track, “The Wolf You Feed,” with Arch Enemy arch-vocalist Alissa White-Gluz, who delivers the full spectrum of growls and howls, along with a silky smooth chorus. Thankfully, Nita keeps the composition, riffs, and tempo neatly inside the Arch Enemy wheelhouse, making for an organ transplant no body will reject.
There are definite Nita fingerprints on the lyrical themes of “Digital Bullets,” featuring the vocals provided by Chris “Motionless” from east coast metalcore act Motionless in White. The song visits unfortunately ubiquitous notions of internet keyboard warriors “firing round after round after round” of the titular digital bullets. It is not an especially new or novel topic for discourse, but considering Nita has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous internet asshats for several years now, and her first lyrical album would seem as fair a place as any to exorcise some demons. Cyber-bullying is a bit sad and unnecessary, but there are certainly more worthy targets in the celebrity-sphere than Nita Strauss, a down-to-earth rocker’s rocker if ever there was one.
Speaking of rockers, Halestorm’s very own Lzzy Hale lends her impressive pipes to the track “Through the Noise,” which surprisingly has a much different vibe than the two previous vocal tracks. The chords, progressions, and riffs are a bit more restrained. If industrial modern metal had a blues-rock sub-genre, this song would almost be inventing it. Nita is proving herself to be a musical chameleon of nigh-Bowie proportion. And on the subject of this versatility, Nita worked with Disturbed and their singer David Draiman to produce “Dead Inside,” easily one of the best tracks Disturbed ever made. The electronic percussion, structure, and vocal delivery are textbook Disturbed (although in exceptionally good form) with the exception that this track has a Nita Strauss going for Olympic gold on her mean little Ibanez S-series.
Another interesting collaboration is with fellow LA rockers Dorothy. Now, the song sounds very modern, so it’s a little unclear whether this is a collaboration with the entire band known as Dorothy, or if this is a complete Nita Strauss production with Dorothy Martin on vocals. It seems more likely to be the latter, but regardless, “Victorious” a pretty rocking tune, a bit of a head-banging arena anthem one might find in the Eclipse catalog. Similarly, Anders from In Flames gets drafted into service on “The Golden Trail,” which, as a song, is a bit like In Flames, but not quite. That being said, Anders’s big furious vocals feel right at home in the riffs, and he actually adapts very well for the unique tones of the chorus.
Perhaps the most interesting example of genre defiance on the album comes with “Winner Takes All,” a heavy and industrial piece featuring the one and only Mr. Nice Guy himself, Alice Cooper. For the track not feeling especially “Alice,” he delivers a fantastic performance, especially with old Vincent being 75 this year. Next time you say “OK, Boomer,” just make sure you aren’t talking about Alice. The man is more metal than all of us.
For the final lyrical track, “Monster,” Juliet Simms of “the Voice” fame appears in her new stage persona Lilith Czar, which seems to be a complete redesign of her singing sound. Big, mean, rock vocals with attitude. Nita’s contemporary almost-industrial metal writing and production on this track proves fertile soil for Lilith’s new sound and direction.
The entire album is sprinkled with a few instrumental guitar-fueled Nita tracks, covering a few genres, and her rhythm and lead playing are absolutely A-grade stuff, whether entire instrumental tracks, or just the rhythm behind and around the vocal parts on other tracks. There are two, however, which really stand out. The penultimate track is called “Kintsugi,” the fascinating ancient Japanese craft of fixing broken pottery with gold paint, to actually showcase the scars and the journey of the object, in a lovely metaphor for life and growth. Marty Friedman, with his unique eastern-fusion playing, may well be the best living guitar player on Earth today, and Nita makes no effort to hide the admiration, and “Kintsugi” really feels like it could have been a bonus track on Marty’s 1992 “Scenes” album. It’s a semi-dirty blues tone journey which is melancholy in its minor key self-reflection.
You didn’t think Nita was going to be a Marty fan-girl and just leave it at that, did you? The final track, “Surfacing,” also instrumental, is a Nita duet with the man himself, and depending on what you are in the market for, may be the best track of the album. In case you thought this might be another Japanese folk blues pilgrimage to Hokkaido or Mount Fuji, guess again, because this one is a Marty shred piece. Maybe not from his 80s period with our dear friend Jason Becker, but maybe more like one of the slamming high-energy pieces found on 2014’s “Inferno” album. There’s not much to say about Marty’s playing on the track, who has probably not missed a single note in his life, but both players are in top form, and the two-part harmonies are not to be missed.
Nita Strauss has changed course a bit with this album, and probably for the better. 100% instrumental albums can be a little fatiguing sometimes. Once in a while you find something like “Senpai 3” from Sithu Aye where it’s an album of nothing but guitar, and yet every single track leaves you wanting more. Other times, and probably more often, an all guitar shred album starts to feel like a four-hour director’s cut of “Dumb and Dumber.” Or a pizza with two pounds of pepperoni. It’s just… too much. Nita’s previous album, while one of these, was actually not too bad, but this album is far more digestible, especially to the rock and metal fan who might not be a complete lead guitar geek. This may also be proven out with the early Spotify numbers, where the vocal tracks have millions of plays in some cases, while the brilliant last two instrumental tracks have only a few thousand plays. Nita has done her homework, and tailored the assignment to the professor pretty perfectly. The record has a little something for everyone, and you’ll be a fool to miss out on it.
Release Date: July 7th, 2023
Record Label: Sumerian Records
“The Call Of The Void” track listing:
1. Summer Storm
2. The Wolf You Feed (Featuring Alissa White-Gluz)
3. Digital Bullets (Featuring Chris Motionless)
4. Through The Noise (Featuring Lzzy Hale)
5. Consume The Fire
6. Dead Inside (Featuring David Draiman)
7. Victorious (Featuring Dorothy)
10. The Golden Trail (Featuring Anders Fridén)
11. Winner Takes All (Featuring Alice Cooper)
12. Monster (Featuring Lilith Czar)
14. Surfacing (Featuring Marty Friedman)
Order “The Call Of The Void” HERE.
Nita Strauss has used her tenure with Alice Cooper to master her craft, not only becoming a top lead guitarist, but also an accomplished producer and songwriter, pulling together some of the top talents in rock and metal to assemble this very compelling second solo album