The one-time UK guitar player is a towering name in fusion, with a style that’s informed players from Alex Lifeson to John Petrucci, and he has regularly cited his eighth solo album as one of his career favourites. Recorded in 1993, Hard Hat Area features a kick-ass band comprising drum great Gary Husband, Swedish bassist Skuli Sverrisson and keyboardist Steve Hunt.
Holdsworth has remarked that what makes it special is the sense that it’s a cohesive group, not just a showcase for his own jaw-dropping chops. That dynamic is there from the restrained opener Prelude and into complex, listenable fusion tracts Ruhkuzah, Low Levels High Stakes and the title piece (complete with bang-clang industrial percussion): the unit creates some stunning music together.
Holdsworth’s pioneering legato technique rarely breaks out into muscle-memory widdle; it’s his measured tone and calculated-yet-human phrasing that remain his most enduring trademarks, with a dash of Synthaxe too.
The chordal washes of House Of Mirrors pack an emotional as well as technical punch, and the insane Postlude deposits you pleasurably punch-drunk on the other side.