When Yngwie Malmsteen left Alcatrazz in 1984, the heavy metal titans found themselves in the position of having to find a new guitarist capable of filling some incredibly huge boots. Just as importantly, if reports are to be believed, they were looking for someone much less likely to punch vocalist Graham Bonnet in the face. A few hopefuls auditioned for the difficult role, one of which was a massively talented young man from Connecticut.
His name was Chris Impellitteri. Graham was rather keen to give Chris the job, but as history has shown, he was outvoted in favour of the now legendary Steve Vai. Impellitteri, in turn, formed his own eponymously named band, and with huge input from vocalist and songwriter Rob Rock, self-released a debut EP in 1987.
‘Impellitteri’ mightn’t be as well remembered, or as hugely celebrated as Alcatrazz’s ‘Disturbing The Peace’, but its four numbers really capture an energy, and are almost as much a celebration of well played old school metal as a showcase for any guitar related histrionics.
‘Lost In The Rain’ kicks off this short release with a full throttle riff, akin to Alcatrazz playing at full pelt crossed with the energies of the 80s thrash scene, introducing Chris as a man who is able to shred with the very best. His hard edged style immediately sets in place a love of pure metal, but its when this track reaches its two featured solos the magic really happens. Across several bars, the guitarist plays lightning speed arpeggios – arguably better than Malmsteen’s since they’re far more than souped up Blackmore-isms – showcasing a really bright tone. When sliding effortlessly from those into multi-layered harmonics to add a little more melody, Chris provides a slight musical breather before returning to a full scale, full throttle, fretboard melting lead. In terms of introducing himself, this new guitar hero was not about to do things by halves. Not to be outdone, vocalist Rob Rock begins the number by reaching for huge, metal driven notes, only to go up a gear into full scream on the chorus, echoing Neil Turbin’s more enthused squeals, laying down a really intense old school vibe. Drummer Loni Silva, meanwhile, thunders with the force of Scott Travis throughout, going pound for pound with Impellitteri’s guitar work to try and reach peak speed metal thrills. It’s sort of tiring, yet quite exciting in a “trad metal played at a thousand miles an hour” sort of way, but it makes no secret of the band’s pure intentions. It really sets the mood for the kind of metal listeners should expect from the rest of the EP.
The slightly more melodic ‘Play With Fire’ immediately sounds like one of Malmsteen’s better numbers from the period, with its slightly dirtier guitar tone colliding with massive Mark Boals-esque vocal. The marriage of speed and trad metal is, again, particularly impressive and rarely allows pause for thought, but between a simple hook, another blindingly technical lead break and with its leaning towards a new power metal sound, it’s all especially huge. As before, Rock’s vocals run through some upper echelons of metallic squealing, with a few Halford baiting wails connecting with a rather bombastic lyric. It’s one of those tracks that would be in danger of sounding silly if overthought, so best approached at face value. A touch more sophisticated – though never losing any metal credentials – ‘Burning’ leans more towards a deep jagged riff, presenting a bigger sound, but also something a smidgeon more melody driven. That doesn’t stop Chris reaching for a high octane lead in record time, of course, and here, he’s absolutely hammering his frets after about four seconds, but beneath the speed and bluster, you’ll find an excellent slab of classic metal. The core of the riffs seem to pre-empt Judas Priest in their ‘Painkiller’ phase by a few years, and as such show off a great weight and tone. Chris sounds effortlessly great when tackling the deeper tones and throwing in the odd whammy bar noise, and even better when using that to battle against a solid drum part. It’s best to concentrate on the music here, though, as the vocal melody and lyrics are a bit empty – all squeals and repetition – and although Rock does his best with the job in hand, he certainly sounds better elsewhere.
Hands down, the best track from this debut, ‘I’ll Be Searching’ explores more of a melodic metal influence, with a mid tempo groove that isn’t a million miles away from classic Dio, the heavier elements of Rainbow, or the Icon debut. By injecting a little melodic metal to temper the shredding leads, Impellitteri – the man and the band – appear to hedge their bets, laying down something that’ll appeal to almost all fans of a classic metal approach. Throughout the three minutes, in old metal terms, the band hit upon a perfect sound; Impellitteri’s riffs retain a force even with the melodic lilt, Rock’s vocals sound more at ease in the guise of huge metal singer, and the featured solos – although rather less enthused – still capture a burgeoning talent who sounds as if he’s ready for the big time. With a much greater concession to harmony vocals beefing up a chorus, it also shows how well the band can adapt to something with a hint of classic rock flair – something which will reach a greater potential on their follow up release. Even if the first three tracks are in danger of wearing out the audience, this captures a perfect melodic metal number, proving that Impellitteri already had a strong musical grounding.
Decades on, the ‘Impellitteri’ EP still retains a youthful bluster, and sounds like riff-based force to be reckoned with. In terms of first steps, it’s more than solid enough. It wasn’t exactly a million seller in 1987, but it made enough waves for Chris and his band to be brought to the attention of Barry Kobrin’s Relativity Records, who not only reissued the EP on vinyl and CD, but signed Impellitteri for another release. That first full length, ‘Stand In Line’ would really put the guitarist on the map. It also showed how Chris was a man with a sense of loyalty: having recognised how Graham Bonnet had championed him at the Alcatrazz auditions, he hired the sunglass-wearing legend for the album’s lead vocal duties. A definite nod to Rainbow would definitely help the Impellitteri sound become more appealing, but without drawing focus away from Chris’s own style. If he never made another album, that would be enough for him to become one of metal’s cult heroes – but the reality turned out rather differently.
After years of being out of print in the US and Europe, ‘Impellitteri’ was given a long overdue reissue as part of ‘The Complete Beast 1987-2009’ in 2023. The comprehensive box set from Cherry Red/HNE Recordings marked the first official UK release for the EP. Buy the box set here.