By Andrew Catania
Mesmerizing the crowd with killer guitar riffs, doing solos at breakneck speed, and creating profound melodies with aggressive tugging of the guitar strings, Chris Impellitteri takes no prisoners on the fretboard. At the age of 53, Impellitteri stands as a laudable figure of the neoclassical, heavy metal genre, and unfailingly carries the legacy of the legendary shredders before him.
This renowned shredding titan started off his career in 1987 by co-founding the band Impellitteri with vocalist Rob Rock. After releasing their first EP, the band further expanded with the addition of various members. Later in his career, Impellitteri reunited with Rob Rock and released Wicked Maiden and Venom. Together the duo created some of the most aggressive neoclassical music to date.
Having a music career that spans more than three decades, Impellitteri has released ten full-length albums and sold over two million records across the globe. He has worked with some highly reputed names including Michael Wagener, the man who has produced big acts like Metallica and The Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne.
It takes a sizeable amount of talent, diligence, and perseverance to hammer out amazing lightning-fast solos rhythmically. Hence, it didn’t surprise anyone when a myriad of titles and acclaims came Chris Impellitteri’s way. Guitar One Magazine recognized him as the second-fastest guitar shredder. He was also featured on Guitar World’s list of fifty fastest guitarists of all times. Aside from lightning fast speed, Impellitteri has an amazing feel, emotion, and technicality that seldom few guitarists possess.
The way Impellitteri shreds makes him stand out from the rest of the crowd. While his speed is unreal, the music is hi-octane melody. Chris Impellitteri’s fans know that speed doesn’t have to mean clamor and racket. They keep coming back to his records and shows for that unique mix of harmony and adrenaline rush. The speed of the riff and the soulful music goes hand in hand with Impellitteri’s compositions.
Today we sat down with the virtuoso himself to learn all about his musical journey and the feats that made him the master shredder that he is today and his upcoming release The Nature Of The Beast.
The video for Nature of the Beast came out great and seems to be doing well on YouTube
CI: The comments have been fantastic. The majority of people who have viewed the new video seem to love it! The music video look is very reminiscent to how metal music videos looked in the early ’80s when bands like Iron Maiden, Priest, And Van Halen ruled the metal world. The video has our live stage set with lots of pyro.
The video has a decent amount of views in the first 2 or 3 days, of which are real views, not fake bought video views. Does it seem certain artists or record companies purchase video views to make themselves look more popular?
That’s “The Nature of the Beast” in this industry. Unfortunately, people will buy fake Twitter likes, Instagram followers; it’s widespread. I think people in the states are more aware of your records now that you have US distribution where before maybe only the hardcore fans would purchase your import CDs from Japan where now you have more visibility.
With this album, did you push the production more than your previous albums?
CI: Yes and No. We wanted to capture the bands live energy without using too many computer-generated sounds like heavy samples on the drums or editing everything to the grid.
However, we did record this record using various studios with large tracking rooms and costly vintage analog gear like vintage Neve consoles, vintage mics. The latter allowed us to capture a very big sound that is warm and punchy with lots of bite and growl in the mids and high frequencies. So, ultimately our new record does sound like it has a very big production, but not computer generated.
I know you’ve said this album is an extension of Venom. Did you have any material written from Venom for Nature of the Beast?
CI: Yes, and luckily there were a few great songs and riffs in development like “Masquerade,” “Run For Your Life” and “Man of War” that could be used for this new record. However, I had to complete the compositions during The Nature of The Beast writing. It was also fortunate to have those extra songs from the Venom writing sessions as we needed to deliver 50 minutes of playing time to our record company in Japan.
I love this new record, and the reviews so far have been great! We are ripping on this record which feels like a continuation of our previous record Venom!
Does everyone in the band contribute to the writing process?
CI: it always starts this way, Andrew.
I always first write the music by myself. For example, I’ll be in my studio playing my guitar doing finger exercises, shredding, and during this process, I often stumble onto a cool riff! This is important because the riff has always been the foundation of our songs!
Making the Riff a priority stems from being influenced by players like Tony Iommi, Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Blackmore and so on!
Once I have a great riff, I will run into the studio with my guitar and grab a drum machine or metronome to find a suitable tempo. I will then program a rough kick and snare drum pattern to compliment the riff.
Next, If the riff and drum pattern sound majestic, I will immediately record the idea so that I can listen back. If I like what I hear I begin to arrange the song around the riff….(when I am working out the verse music I can usually hear Rob Rocks voice in my head which takes me on a musical journey. Because I’ve worked with Rob for so many years, I already know how he’s going to sing over the music I create!
As I am playing the music, I tend to start humming melodies based on what I think Rob is going to do vocally and melodically…And before I know it, I have the fundamental verses, pre-choruses, and choruses worked out.
Now that the basic song arrangement is alive I now create the solos to compliment and lift the music! The solo must improve the song or make it more exciting!
Once I have the arrangement and solos written, I then Record the parts and make a quick recording. I will then give Rob and bassist James Pulli the recording so that they can write their pieces and contribute to the song! For Rob, I usually sing him the vocal melody I hear when writing the music. He’ll go yes that vocal melody is great, or he will create a better vocal melody that takes the song in an even better direction! Rob writes all of his lyrics and James writes his bass lines!
Regarding the drums: I also give the recording to the drummer so that he can work out his parts. The drummer will usually follow my double kick patterns, triplets..etc…but will also create the drum parts as a drummer would play.
Once we collectively have created our musical parts we generally will go into the studio and rehearse and get a live feel. Once the bands live playing is perfected we then begin to record the new music in a major recording studio!
Did you have the same arrangement with Graham Bonnet?
CI: Non the less, I had come off a very successful release of the Impellitteri Black EP with Rob which was a speed/power metal record similar to sounding like Iron Maiden or Priest on steroids, …The Black Impellitteri EP had all the coolest shredding Solos, screaming vocals, and riffs one could want. The Impellitteri BLACK EP cemented the sound of Impellitteri music. However, during our initial success, Rob quit the band. At that point, I didn’t know what to do. I felt like a little kid that’s lost without Mom and Dad.
Interestingly Graham had called me years earlier to audition for his band called Alcatrazz of which Steve Vai was ultimately hired. At the time I was simply too young…….that band was way older than me….. So Vai got the gig, and I continued to master my playing for the future!
Ultimately Graham’s band Alcatrazz ended, and we stayed in touch as friends…
So when Rob quit I had a record deal/contract commitment to fill. So I said, hey Graham do you want to do a to record with me? He said yes absolutely! And so we put together these other guys that were all old enough to be my Dad(Laughing). We started writing, but I couldn’t write with Graham the way I wrote traditional Impellitteri speed/power metal songs of which was my real passion being a metal kid! However, I was a big fan of bands like Rainbow and Deep Purple. So someone suggested try doing a record that celebrates Graham’s style of music which was entirely different from what I was doing. Also, with Stand In Line, I felt like the little kid in the band due to the age differences. It was a bit odd none the less. I love Graham’s performance on Stand in Line; I love the song Stand In Line and am very grateful it’s our creation. The song has stood the test of time, and we play it live The guitar solo was so hard to master as it is really fast and there are varied scale sequences that are used in repetition. Every note was picked, I am grateful I mastered that solo and recorded it! A lot of older critics hated it, but I do not think they realized how difficult that solo was to perform.
On a side note: With Graham, we reunited temporarily in the year 2000!
We wrote and recorded a record called System X. Now, finally my writing and performing with Graham felt great. System X sounds like an Impellitteri record but with Bonnet singing. System X is what Stand in Line should have been. You can hear the difference. System X was a great album I did with Graham, and I prefer it over Stand in Line.
Was Pedal to the Metal an experimentation record? Most of the Impellitteri faithful wasn’t too receptive to it.
CI: Total experiment. I always had an intention of saying, and this is the tongue and cheek part of my personality and humor, I always wanted to do a record that was very much like plagiarizing, but a new kind of movement. We were coming out of the nineties, and everyone was detuned. I wanted to do stuff where it sounded almost like In Flames or Disturbed something that was ultimately a hundred percent opposite what Impellitteri would typically do, but throw in some crazy solos. Curtis had just done the Ozzfest with a rap-rock metal band. I thought it’d be a lot of fun to do a record like that. It was never really meant to be a serious record for us because I knew the evolution of Rob and I getting back together was coming close. It was more of an interim record.
Some people call Impellitteri a Christian band. Do you think that’s accurate?
CI: We’re not a Christian band and never have been. I know we get labeled a Christian band at times, but that’s not true.
With Rob, it’s a personal belief. But the other band members have completely differing views. I encourage each member to be themselves and stick to their beliefs.
With a majority of your catalog not available in the states, are you going to rerelease your Japan catalog in the states?
CI: I think we have too. I can’t tell you how many kids I get a week tell me, oh my God, you know, I still by your stuff on import for 30 bucks or whatever. We love all of you guys including you Andrew that go out and spend money on the import albums. It shows the music has touched people in a way. I don’t know; maybe it speaks to people a certain way where they feel it’s part of them. It flows through us with some higher power.
I’m grateful that people do that. I also feel very guilty that people have gone out and spent that kind of money. It is something we will be looking into doing.
You’ve been pretty much ignored by US metal publications and Guitar Magazines for most of your career. There are still people out there saying they haven’t heard your name in 20 years, thought you retired or entirely out of the music business. This late in your career, do you feel that you need vindication for these publications to acknowledge your guitar playing and Impellitteri albums finally?
CI: No, Impellitteri has sold over 2 million records, have fans all around the world, guitar players post themselves on YouTube playing my guitar solos and music, that’s gratifying enough. We play concerts that draw over 30,000 people who come to see us play live, and I have been paid very well to do what I love! I have won the Best Rock Guitarist Readers Poll in BURNN Magazine, been on multiple covers of guitar magazines like Young Guitar, and I have had legendary musicians play in my band and tour with me. In effect, I do not need validation!
I will say that in some ways we’re lucky to have been ignored by the US media because it forced us to find other markets to play our music to…..like Japan!
Japan, was a Godsend. When Grunge killed all of those 80 ’s bands and artists that were the darlings of the media world Impellitteri suddenly became huge in Japan, and our popularity in Japan spread through Europe and into the underground of the United States…
When Japan first embraced Impellitteri, I started to notice a change in our global popularity!
I understand that Guitar World will be doing a feature on you for the first time in 30 years?
CI: That’s correct. I’ll be in the holiday issue, and I’m very excited about that, and that’s all thanks to you!
I told you that I contacted Eddie Trunk last month on his show and asked him why he’s never mentioned you and a few other musicians. He says shredder type guitarists don’t have any mass market appeal. While I agree with him, he’s supposed to be carrying the torch for rock and metal. He never answered my question as to why he’s never mentioned you, but he’ll have the same bands/band members that have sold maybe 500K albums over the course of their 30-year career. He shows favoritism to certain bands, and you can see that.
CI: I don’t think that person has any influence over our fans. I have never met the guy, but am happy to hear he tries to promote rock music in general.
What little I have heard about this Eddie person does not lead me to think he is the torch bearer for rock and metal. He has a group of people that he showcases his favorite bands and I guess that works for him. However, his favorite bands may not be the bands millions of others want to hear! We have so many fans around the world that say they would love to hear more about Impellitteri but these media type guys ignore us. Maybe that is the secret to our longevity? The more the media ignore us, the more the fans support us! Of course, our music does the talking as you can hear on our new record THE NATURE OF THE BEAST!
I’d consider people such as yourself and others who do this for the passion of music far more important to us! You are in the daily trenches with musicians, and you speak directly with the fans. Plus you seem to do this for the love of our style of music and not the notoriety.
I know you’ll be touring Europe in support of Nature of the Beast, what is it going to take to get Impellitteri to tour the US finally? Now you have to remember people are reconnecting with you after thinking you’ve been MIA in the music scene. What would be a happy medium?
CI: When we have done secret shows in LA there are usually lines of people around the block trying to get in to see us play! So, I realize people in the United States want to see Impellitteri.
If we do a US tour, we want to play in venues that can accommodate our production and have fans of all ages attend. I think mid-sized theaters would be perfect… in other countries, we have played for audiences as large as 90000 people! We’d love to tour the USA.
I’ve noticed since the Venom album you’ve been trying a new picking technique.
CI: The answer’s yes. I wanted to develop a picking technique that would allow you to play fast, but have a consistent percussive attack to the strings…I also wanted to loosen the wrist so there would be no right-hand fatigue when playing long passages at high speed. I have developed this unique picking style which achieves the results I was looking for.
The technique evolved from me watching John McGlaughlin, Al Di Meola, and Eddie Van Halen
I have always mimicked the pick attack of Di Meola and McLaughlin.
However, I was watching something with Van Halen, and I noticed Eddie does this effortless tremolo picking technique where he was sliding on single strings almost chromatically…the sound was impressive. So I wondered if I could do that picking technique playing complex scale sequences and at high speed. I usually like to have my palm rest on the bridge when I am picking, which is how I play most of the time.
With this new technique, you anchor your forearm to the body and your right-hand does not rest on the bridge. It is imperative that your wrist is very very loose.
I now blend this new picking technique with my original picking technique, which is on many solos of The Nature Of The Beast.
The Nature Of The Beast will be released on October 6th, 2018 in Japan via JVC Victor Records and on October 12th, 2018 worldwide via Frontiers Records. To order, please visit here
To follow Impellitteri, please visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/chrisimpellitteriofficial/