The '90s were not a good decade for shredders. In 1990, it seemed as if their place within the rock & roll pantheon was secure, but grunge and alternative quickly banished them to an underground world where most cult artists exist -- a world of independent record labels, word-of-mouth buzz and specialized magazines. Nobody escaped the purge, even though all of the guitarists were quite talented. Once they were away from the spotlight, the guitarists decided to go hardcore, not compromise their principles and make music for one very specific audience. That's why outsiders will be confounded by records like Greg Howe's Ascend, even if they're stunned by his technical mastery. Like hardcore punk, bebop or gangsta rap, shred guitar sounds the same to the untrained ear -- and it is, to a certain extent. Each album utilizes the same song structures and pacing, while all the guitarists emphasize technique, playing so fast that only aficionados will catch the subtle differences between musicians. Howe is a speed demon, essentially, and he can't keep his right hand off the fretboard or stop himself from sweep-picking even on the acoustic "Maniacal" or his classical piece, "Her Dance," two of the numbers from this, his sixth solo effort. There is a certainly a thrill in hearing him play, but the speed is getting the better of him, since Ascend is essentially a high-octane hard-rock shred record, with few of the blues-rock influences that marked his initial releases, or the jazzy experiments he tried during the middle of the decade. In other words, it's one for the fans, and they'll likely find enough great moments within this album to be satisfied -- they'll be able to find the subtle pleasures that distinguish "Unlocked" from "Abrupt Terminal." But it's easy to understand why anyone who isn't in the shred circle would find this a little monotonous.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine