Gideon is of course guitarist with the mighty Shepherds Reign, one of the finest metal acts in Aotearoa, so when I saw a post from him on FB earlier this week where he put up a teaser for a new track I was intrigued. What would a solo piece be like from someone who is known for crunching out mighty riffs? A quick conversation later and I was amazed to be sent a 5-track EP, as this had been kept incredibly quiet and was surely going to surprise a few people when they find out about it. The reason he has managed to keep it so much on the downlow is that Gideon has undertaken the vast amount of playing on his own(when the drummer he wanted was unavailable he programmed them himself). James Cullen, a former Mainz classmate is studying composition at Auckland University and although Gideon proposed the initial strings and orchestral parts James then added to them. Mixing was by another ex-Mainz student, Joseph Griffiths, while it was mastered by Acle Kahney (from TesseracT).

It is titled EPsode II as this is a follow-up to a 3-track EP he released in 2020 which I am probably going to investigate, as this release had surprised me in many ways. I used to listen to a great deal of guitar instrumental music back in the day, and I still don’t think you can really get past Steve Vai for the combination of sheer skill and musicality (there is a section on the title cut of this EP which is pure Vai), but found many of the other shredders leaving me cold as they forgot there is a need for melody, rhythm, dynamics and composition and not just a blast of showing how quickly someone can play. Also, I have seen Gideon play in the unstoppable force which is Shepherd’s Reign so just how heavy was this going to be?

When Blue Volcano started with a string section I just stared at the speakers, not quite sure what I was hearing as surely this could not be the same person? In fact, a great deal of the first part of that track sounds like modern classical with some guitar at the front, before switching the other way around with the strings providing the support for his wonderfully fluid guitar lines. This just screams class from the very first note, and although it is 4:22 long, in many ways it feels like it is twice that length as there are so many different sections which take us through a series of emotions with powerful use of dynamics and space which provides the contrast which music needs to breathe and really come alive. This just does not sound like a musician recording mostly on his own, with some mates helping out in different places, but more like a full-blown release from a major artist with label support.

I have never been a fan of programmed drums, although I recognize they are a necessary evil, and there are times when Gideon manages to push them so they sound real, but hopefully for the next release we will have a sweaty human behind the kit as that would have lifted this release even more.

Gideon states his key influences were, Joe Satriani, Hans Zimmer, Plini, Paramore, Coldplay, Dream Theater, John Petrucci, Steve Vai, Mateus Asato, Yngwie Malmsteen while he was attempting to mix the different genres of Rock, Metal, Progressive Metal, R’n’B, Virtuoso Guitar, and Cinematic Music. Undoubtedly that is quite some mix of influences and intentions, but the metal has been kept in the background somewhat as there has been a desire to push the melody and not the force, with riffs kept to a minimum. I also think he has been far more restrained than Malmsteen, and is all the better for it, but has captured the fluidity of Satriani.

There is real delicacy on the likes of Pushing Away, which is reflective and far more Hackett-like in its approach, containing an inner beauty and allowing Gideon to really express himself. The variation between the tracks, and inside the tracks themselves, is considerable and the result is an EP which has pleasantly surprised me in a great many ways. Given that Shepherd’s Reign are incredibly active at present and having only recently returned from touring in Australia with Devilskin they will soon be headlining a show at Galatos, I do wonder how much time Gideon will have to put into what is ostensibly a side project. Let us just hope that it is not too long, as this is an absolute delight, from a guitarist who knows how to keep the focus on the music. Superb.

Rating: 9/10