I always used to joke with my best friend Simone that if I ever met an attractive girl who could shred on the guitar, I would instantly sleep with her. Sadly, I have not yet met the subject of today’s review, Orianthi Panagaris, but I promise to sweep her off her feet if I ever do. As her name implies, Orianthi is of Greek heritage, but grew up and has enjoyed most of her success in Australia. First off, I like that she doesn’t run from her heritage for the sake of album sales, declining to take any sort of stage name. Her guitar style also bears a resemblance to Mark Tremonti, my favorite guitarist of all time. Orianthi has been attracting attention from the rock establishment since she was played her first stage show with her idol, Steve Vai at 15. She has appeared as a guitarist for Michael Bolton, Dave Stewart, James Durbin, Michael Jackson, and is currently the lead guitarist in Alice Cooper’s band.
Now I’m going to dispense with the gushing and put on my reviewer’s glasses to tackle her latest album, Heaven in this Hell (HITH). I really liked Orianthi’s previous album, Believe, and I wondered what sort of follow-up she’d give us. First of all, HITH definitely shows Orianthi’s colder and darker side, especially in the first half. Where Believe was a much more high-octane album, these songs have a much more lumbering and deliberate pace to them. This is most clearly seen in the title track, which begins with a foreboding wind howl and a spoken-word poem before Orianthi launches into a story of a love that both fulfills and hurts. The same tempo is also evident on the next two tracks, “You Don’t Wanna Know,” and “Fire.”
Given those first three tracks, and scanning the titles of the rest of the songs, one would expect to see some rage-filled, Alanis Morissette-in-You Oughta Know-type songs. But instead, Orianthi opts for a colder, more subtle sound. This is especially evident on “How Do You Sleep?” and “How Does That Feel?” The latter also has probably my favorite lyrics on the album, which essentially say, “I don’t have time for your shit, I’m fucking Orianthi for crying out loud.”
HITH also sees Orianthi successfully experiment with a wide variety of different sounds. “You Don’t Wanna Know” ends with a banjo part, which gives way to the slide-guitar country tinge of “Fire.” “Filthy Blues” lives up to its name with a bluesy acoustic solo that leads into an electric solo that recalls 80’s glam rock. Her solos on this album have the same flying-fingers quality that they did on Believe, but they are more complex and technical this time around. Orianthi is also not overly reliant on guitar chords in this album, and frequently builds riffs by picking individual notes with her clean guitar tone, which can be heard on “Rock” and “How Does it Feel?” She even breaks out the wah pedal on the verses of “Filthy Blues.” I could go on, but the point is, she really shows off her versatility as an artist on this album, and shows growth from her previous efforts.
Her vocal style is also solid on this album as it was on her last (aside from some questionable mixing on “If You Think You Know Me,” but that is probably not her fault). What irritates me about some female rock singers is that they try to pretend they’re opera singers a lot of times. This can work in the right context (such as Carly Smithson of We Are the Fallen), but can also be annoying (like Tarja Turunen, formerly of Nightwish). Orianthi is first and foremost a rock vocalist, and she shows it here.
Rating-wise, I’m not only going to say buy it, I’m going to recommend that you buy both this album and Believe (get the re-released version, with “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and “Courage” on it), and listen to them side-by-side. Start with Believe, which is more radio-friendly and easier to digest. Then move into HITH, which is more sonically interesting and versatile, and proves that Orianthi can get her point across without moving at the speed of light. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by either.
I never really quit gushing, did I? Damn. Well, at least there’s a good reason for it…
Heaven in this Hell:
If You Think You Know Me & Rock: Couldn’t find these on on YouTube. Guess you’ll have to buy the album to hear them 🙂