Yngwie Malmsteen: Odyssey - Album Of The Week Club review

Yngwie Malmsteen's Odyssey was a deliberate attempt to pursue chart success, with former Rainbow man Joe Lynn Turner roped in to provide melodic ballast

Yngwie Malmsteen: Odyssey
(Image: © Polydor)

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Yngwie Malmsteen - Odyssey

Yngwie Malmsteen: Odyssey

(Image credit: Polydor)

1. Rising Force
2. Hold On
3. Heaven Tonight
4. Dreaming (Tell Me)
5. Bite the Bullet
6. Riot in the Dungeons
7. Deja Vu
8. Crystal Ball
9. Now Is the Time
10. Faster than the Speed of Light
11. Krakatau
12. Memories

Part Ritchie Blackmore, part Nigel Tufnel, Yngwie J Malmsteen has careened through the netherworld of neo-classical heavy metal for three decades, a self-created, self-certified genius who remains absolutely certain of his destiny.

“He has been lauded, fêted and acclaimed for over 30 years” ran the sleevenotes that accompanied a compilation of his early days. True, but much of that praise has fallen from the lips of Yngwie himself. He has never been backwards at coming forwards.

After being brought to America by the shredfinder general Mike Varney and showcasing his chops with Graham Bonnet in Alcatrazz, he was soon positioning himself front and centre, picking up a fine singer in Jeff Scott Soto for Yngwie J Malmsteen’s Rising Force and Marching Out.

Joe Lynn Turner, who'd lost his job with Rainbow when they disbanded in 1984, hooked up with Yngwie in 1987. He proved an excellent foil on Odyssey, edging Malmsteen towards the same slick commercial sound as he had with Rainbow, although the guitarist's playing was more restrained in the wake of a near-fatal car accident that had left him in a coma. 

Odyssey was still Malmsteen's most successful album, and remains his highest-charting American release.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in April 1988

  • Hairway to Steven - Butthole Surfers
  • Seventh Son of a Seventh Son - Iron Maiden
  • This Note's for You - Neil Young and the Bluenotes
  • Lap of Luxury - Cheap Trick
  • Diamond Sun - Glass Tiger
  • Shove It - The Cross
  • Savage Amusement - Scorpions
  • History of a Time to Come - Sabbat
  • Hang Time - Soul Asylum
  • The Xenon Codex - Hawkwind
  • The Mona Lisa's Sister - Graham Parker
  • North and South - Gerry Rafferty

What they said...

"Yes, it may be in a more commercial format, but Yngwie’s playing dominates in as much the same fashion as it did the earlier Rising Force recordings. And while we’re on the subject of Malmsteen’s pre-pubescent doodlings on guitar, how come there is so much archive material bolstering the newer numbers? The original version of Far Beyond The Sun resurfaces as the main theme for Krakatau, and Riot In The Dungeons must be of similar age." (Metal Forces Magazine

"I'm much happier with the song-based formula that Yngwie was employing late in the '80s than the purely instrumental music that dominated much of Rising Force, while the neoclassical influences are toned down somewhat to share the stage with hard rock and power metal styles, as well as the pervasive presence of Joe Lynn Turner, who is probably up there with the best singers that have accompanied the guitarist through his career." (Encyclopaedia Metallum)

"The mellowness of Malmsteen's guitar work makes him sound constrained and passionless, and the album shows little difference in approach from his previous output, lending credence to critics' charges that Malmsteen plays with mindless technique at the expense of substance, fire, and emotion." (AllMusic)

What you said...

John Davidson: I didn't expect to enjoy this. My impression of YM was as an early exponent of Power Metal with a heavy emphasis on guitar noodling.

On listening to Odyssey, while I've no reason to entirely change that, he actually writes some decent songs with the faster pace ones sounding like early 80s Rainbow and the radio-friendly ones drifting between the Foreigner/REO Speedwagon-style 'sway with your lighter while we sing the chorus' and Magnum's Vigilante-era type of melodic guitar oriented rock.

The album is a product of the late 80s, so unless you were Metallica or Guns N' Roses there simply was no avoiding the hairspray and shoulder pads production values and the slightly cheesy keyboards on a few of the songs.

Rising Force opens proceedings with that Rainbow-style classic heaviness - leavened by JLT's more radio friendly vocal, so it is more Eyes Of The World than Gates Of Babylon.

Hold On, Heaven Tonight and Dreaming are increasingly radio/MTV-friendly slices of melodic rock to near power ballad. These are JLT's home territory. He sings well, and indeed they are decent songs, but they do sound the most dated in terms of their structure and arrangements.

Bite the Bullet sounds like it fell off the back of another song. Riot In The Dungeons reminds me of an old-school Dio-era Rainbow song complete with daft fantasy lyrics but with JLT's more radio-friendly vocals. Deja Vu is a cracking little 80s metal number that hits the right mix of melody, crunch and soloing.

Crystal Ball and Now Is The Time evoke the more MTV-friendly melodic rock side again with Magnum/Thunder being the closest comparisons. Faster Than The Speed Of Light is the compulsory hard-driving NASCAR rock number - it nips along at a fast pace and has some great soloing in the middle, but lyrically it's a bit repetitive.

Krakatau is probably my favourite track. Despite having warmed to JLT's "none more melodic rock" vocals, I find this instrumental number shows off YM at his best. It’s quite proggy, but is much more than just a guitar noodle, with multiple guitar sounds and even the bass getting some attention.

Memories isn't bad little acoustic guitar run, but its a bit of an anticlimactic way to finish the album. Overall I’ll confess it has grown on me and given me a new appreciation for YM and JLT that I certainly didn’t have before. 7/10

Nigel Lancashire: If it had ever been in any doubt that Yngwie Malmsteen wanted to be 80s metal’s version of Ritchie Blackmore, despite his frequent and well-documented protests to the contrary, then Odyssey made it glowingly – occasionally gloriously – obvious. Teaming with ex-Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner (Yngwie had already worked with Graham Bonnet in Alcatrazz, and would even end up recruiting ‘forgotten’ Rainbow frontman Doogie White and even playing with Ronnie James Dio). Continuing the Rainbow link, Bob Daisley is enlisted to play on the Odyssey that tracks Yngwie himself doesn’t supply bass for.

The shift towards slick production and songs for melody’s sake over vehicles for soloing undoubtedly had many longstanding Yngwie-nuts (wingnuts - heh) appalled, but Odyssey was a chance for mainstream rock and metal scene attention, which he achieved with a very best-of-Rainbow-sounding record. 

I don’t feel that Yngwie is as natural a soloist as Blackmore, often more concerned with speed and tricks than feel, but I’ll be dammed though if this album doesn’t often beat the JLT-fronted Rainbow albums in its energy and classically-tinged bombast. 

Where Odyssey scores over, say, Difficult to Cure is by more successfully combining JLT’s lyrics – oddly more Dio-esque sword and sorcery style than they had been with Rainbow – with immediate, catchy, hook-laden melodies and just enough musical fireworks to keep the air guitar guys happy, whereas Blackmore at the time seemed too focused on playing down the epic rock aspects to score more Billboard popularity.

Bursting in with Rising Force, Odyssey is well balanced between fast rockers, commercial slammers like Heaven Tonight and Deja Vu, ballads (Dreaming) plus the inevitable instrumental workouts. Playing out of the record with two instrumentals (Krakatau and Memories) is actually a smart move, feeling almost like a cool down after a gym session.

Success-wise, Odyssey proved the short, sharp pinnacle of Yngwie Malmsteen’s career, with personal life issues. an unstable band structure, variable live work and a bad reputation for attitude hampering his talent. That said, the view from that pinnacle was pretty damn good for a while - 8.5? Dammit, 9/10!

Carl Black: Buried in amongst the widdly-widdly, egos, high kicking and lunging there are actually some songs to review. YM is obviously a talent, no question. But throughout this album, on practically every song, he puts his talent before the song. I always compare YM to Joe Satriani. Take Flying In Blue Dream. Joe could, if he wanted to, litter that song with solos and notes and do that thing were the guitar keeps up with the keyboard and sounds like a pneumatic drill as YM does in Rising Force and Heaven Tonight and many others. JS let's the song flow and, yes, he solos, but not to the detriment of the song. 

YM writes songs so he can solo. Big no-no for me. We do get a a bit of 80s power metal such as Riot In The Dungeon. Which is cool. But all too often it slides into a Bon Jovi affair, such as in Deja Vu. Plus the obligatory ballad. With the obligatory "eyes closed, emotional" solo. If they could sack the guitarist off and get a team player in, it may have been better, ha ha. 

I wonder if a producer ever said to YM, "why don't we leave this gap in the song, Yingwe? No need for a solo!". If a producer ever did say that, I think I know what the (short) answer would have been. Having said all this, I listened to all the album. And enjoyed it. But don't think I'll be going back.

Brian Carr: For me personally, my review could simply be “you had me at Joe Lynn Turner,” but those few words would be so out of balance with the massive amount of notes Yngwie plays, I would worry about some sort of cosmic disruption, and we’ve all been living enough of that the last couple of months, so why tempt fate?

It’s really too bad Maestro Malmsteen’s bajillion-note attack and unfortunate ego put so many people off, because he is also capable of writing some wonderful melodies and hooks. Pre-Odyssey examples include You Don’t Remember, l’ll Never Forget and Queen In Love from Trilogy, and the beautiful instrumental Black Star from his debut. 

On Odyssey, melodic rock tracks are in abundance, giving Yngwie the opportunity to bring his virtuosic playing to the masses with radio and MTV grabbing onto Heaven Tonight. Honestly, I don’t know why tracks like Hold On, Dreaming (Tell Me) or Now Is The Time didn’t get similar attention. They are just as radio ready.

Malmsteen’s playing approach is definitely not to everyone’s taste. He follows the virtuosic approach to the guitar and takes every opportunity to show it. But his dedication to the craft is impressive, so I can’t begrudge him for guitar runs Faster Than the Speed of Light at every opportunity.

I’m kind of surprised I didn’t listen to this more often over the years. I believe the album always struck me as a little long. The band plays tremendously well throughout this Odyssey, and as I mentioned in the beginning, I’m always happy to listen to one of my favourite voices in Joe Lynn Turner.

James Praesto: The term “Devil’s Advocate” is sometimes mis-used to describe anybody who spouts an unpopular opinion. By its original definition, it’s rather a person who takes the opposing side in a discussion or debate, to coax more elaborate and informed responses from all parties involved. As I have a feeling, Yngwie will get a lot of the usual “all noodling, no substance” comments in here, without backup arguments, I will happily play the Devil’s fiddle today. Let’s boogie.

Just categorically stating that all Yngwie does is mindlessly masturbating his scales, is like saying all Eddie Van Halen ever do is tapping and dive bombing. There is so much more to both players’ legacy and repertoire, and whereas Eddie claimed his spot on the wall of fame with ease, Yngwie has made it harder for the average rock fan to embrace his qualities in the same way.

First of all, there is a vast difference between the two in how they broke onto the scene. Eddie was part of a band that broke the rock’n’roll mold, loaded with great songs, a charismatic front man and all party, all the time. It was easy to fall in love with the music of Van Halen, whether you appreciated the guitar playing of not, and they established themselves as America’s rock darlings on the charts. 

Yngwie cut his teeth in smaller no-name acts like 3rd Stage Alert, Steeler and Alcatrazz, before deciding to go solo (pun intended). His guitar playing in the early 80’s was sublimely unique, in the sense that he took the best parts of Blackmoore and Uli Jon Roth, and perfected them with strong classical influences, and a clever use of harmonic minor phrasing. His technique was absolutely flawless and his tone was that of a master. 

People who dismiss his masturbatory tendencies, without ever checking out why he was such a force to be reckoned with, need to listen to Alcatrazz live in Japan in 1984, or his first solo album, just dubbed Rising Force. Sure, you had players like Eddie and Randy Rhoads already creating huge footprints in the world of metal guitar playing, but none could touch Yngwie at what he pioneered. His sense for both classical melody and showman flair, paired with his Hendrix-esque approach to riff rhythms, set him apart from all his contemporaries, and there is a reason many established greats today list him as an early influence. Remember, this was before he went all “Fat Elvis” on us.

By the time of the release of Odyssey, Yngwie’s bullheaded ego had already pushed people in the music industry away, and he had started establishing his ever revolving door of singers and backup band members. Sure, he had never pretended to run an actual band, but this made the consistency of his releases a somewhat disjointed experience. After all, 99% of the average music listener tends to define a band by the voice of the singer. On Odyssey, Yngwie made the smart move to enlist the talents of Joe Lynn Turner, and that was a difference-maker.

Odyssey was a huge departure from earlier albums, for a couple of reasons. Yngwie had been in a very bad car accident just the year before, ending up in a coma and with a paralysed right arm, sustaining nerve damage in his picking hand. During this same time, to make matters worse, his mother died from cancer. 

After extensive rehabilitation, he crept back into his comfort zone, but now with a much more pronounced left hand legato, and with much less pronounced right hand picking. The resulting performance on this album is therefore a little bit of a hot mess. It is sloppier, but more melodic. It is more fluid, but less aggressive. 

As an extension of his time-out from the scene during his rehabilitation and mourning, he gave himself some time to work more on the actual song-crafting instead. Previously, his songs had been vessels for his soloing, but on Odyssey, he wrote music that were songs first, and solos second. 

With Joe’s voice, the album came alive as a fantastic 80’s radio-metal extravaganza. This is also his first solo album where he let another person write the lyrics, which elevated Joe’s role in the delivery of the vocals.

The opener Rising Force is an older track, found on demos all the way back to when he had just moved to the US in the early 80's, but on top of the typical Malmsteen opening riff, he managed to write a very smart vocal melody that married the past with the present, and catapulted the whole album into an area that the rock audience could digest more easily. 

The following trifecta of Hold On, Heaven Tonight and Dreaming (Tell Me)” remains Yngwie’s strongest showing on an album from a songwriting perspective. It’s perfectly cheesy and anthemic, checking all the late 80’s radio rock boxes. His guitar solos are more thought out and sound less improvised, and they actually stay within the window allotted to them within each song (for the most part, it’s Yngwie after all). 

He also set his solos up more successfully on this album, as in the case of Hold On, for instance, where he lets Joe’s wailing and his own playing actually co-exist before taking over. However, as an Yngwie purist, his very sloppy technique during these solo spots makes me absolutely cringe, but we will chalk it up to the recent car crash and move the hell on.

Riot In The Dungeons is a little beige, but the Déjà Vu/Crystal Ball combo stay on track with big melodies and solid riffing. Now Is The Time showed what Yngwie’s next album Eclipse would sound like, and the album draws to a close with my favourite track on here; Faster Than The Speed Of Light” (yes, some instrumentals followed, but still).

Yngwie was always his own stubborn advocate – devil and all – and unfortunately that has taken a toll on his career. Left to his own narcissistic devices, he is incredibly formulaic and one-dimensional, especially once the novelty of his pioneering technique was adopted by everybody else later in the 80’s, retiring him to the elephant graveyard of great ideas past. He managed to do well on Odyssey, though, delivering an album pretty much anybody could appreciate. Unfortunately, it was mostly downhill from here on.

Jacob Tannehill: Yes yes and yes, Yngwie was is and will always be an ego-driven blow hard (just look at his most recent albums, where he sings, but that’s a whole other story).

I would have to say that this album came out at the absolute perfect time. If it would have came out earlier or later it probably would have sold less than it did. The teaming of him and Joe Lynn Turner was awesome, and they created an album that capitalises on Joe's vocals and Yngwie's guitar playing. 

Their songwriting combination on songs like Dreaming (Tell Me), Deja Vu, Heaven Tonight and Crystal Ball proved that Yngwie could do it somewhat his way. The first song Rising Force and a lot of the second side of the album begin to hit typical Yngwie territory, but him and Joe was what he needed at the time. Don’t dismiss this album without listening to it first. I will always be a fan of his, and I love this album to death. Probably his absolute last solid album, there’s very few clunkers on it.

Bry Outlaw: OK, so maybe nowadays Yngwie has totally lost the plot. He is not a vocalist, and desperately needs one to redeem his flagging career. Odyssey is his fourth album and last purely great album. It’s a pity that the Malmsteen/Turner line up couldn’t last. 

Odyssey is by far the most accessible album that Malmsteen did. The songwriting is very melodic and the guitar playing is somewhat reigned in. If you like Rainbow with Turner you should love this album, in fact it’s probably better than the majority of the Rainbow albums that he did. The tour for this album was awesome. I love this album but it’s not my favourite Malmsteen album. Marching Out and Trilogy are the best.

Marike Elzinga: To me this is an outstanding album. Malmsteen excels on Rising Force, Riot In The Dungeons and Faster Than The Speed Of Light. Joe Lynn Turner was great in the line-up as well, though Malmsteen did have more excellent singers during his career. He really needs to get himself one of those again!

Dave Hinsley: Oh yes! Now we're talking! Kicks off with Rising Force. The duelling between the keyboards and the guitar in the solo. Magnificent! Joe Lynn Turner on vocals almost outshines Yngwie on guitar. Great songs, great album. In my opinion he didn't better this. 10/10, that's my score right there!

Jonathan Novajosky: Brand new to me, but I was excited to learn that Joe Lynn Turner is on vocals here. I really love his work with Rainbow. The easiest way to describe Odyssey is that it's classic, fun, 80s hard rock. Over-the-top solos and riffs and powerful melodic vocals carry most of these songs to greatness. 

Rising Force is a crushing opener with its spacey synth background and monstrous drum beat to kick off the album. Once Turner got going, I knew I was going to love this album. Seriously, he's so good and underrated. I don't understand why many modern rock/metal bands cannot get melodic vocalists like him. Hold On was another favourite of mine. It's catchy, fun, and rocks hard – just what you would want from an album like this.

There's very little I don't like on this album. Dreaming (Tell Me) is okay, but a little too drawn-out and the same can be said for Krakatau (although it is still a solid rocker). The second half of the album is just as strong. I loved the soft intro to Crystal Ball and the blazing guitar work by Malmsteen on Now Is The Time. I must admit I have never really heard any of his songs before, but it's very clear he is one of the most talented guitarists in rock history. I will definitely give Odyssey a couple of more listens this week. 8/10

Mike Knoop: I remember hearing Heaven Tonight on the radio when it came out and thinking, “Yngwie finally got his big hit.” It was way too pop metal for me, but good for him. I knew and, apparently, he knew that blazing instrumentals like Black Star, Far Beyond the Sun, and the epic Icarus' Dream Suite Op.4, transcendent though they were, weren’t going to translate into major commercial success. Plus, by 1988, even warhorses like Judas Priest and the Scorpions were softening their sound to net hair metal stragglers, so I didn’t blame Malmsteen and company for doing what they needed to do to get the brass ring. It just wasn’t for me.

I am glad that 30+ years later, I have listened to the full album. It’s full of the neoclassical flourishes that put Malmsteen a cut above other shredders for me. Malmsteen also has a great singer here in Joe Lynn Turner, who seems perennially under-appreciated, if only because he joined established bands with fabled former singers like Ronnie James Dio or Ian Gillian. Looking at the bios for the rest of the band (stints with Ozzy, Hammerfall, Stratovarius), there’s no slouches on the album.

I gravitate towards the fast ones; opener Rising Force, Faster Than The Speed of Light, Déjà Vu, Riot in the Dungeons, and, especially, the fantastic instrumental Krakatau. I wish the two other instrumentals, Bite the Bullet and Memories clocked in at more than an average 90 seconds. I don’t really like either of the maudlin power ballads, but at least they have bravura solos.

Great pick this week. I’m going to listen to it again, then work my way backwards through Malmsteen’s catalog.

Final Score: 7.14⁄10 (164 votes cast, with a total score of 1171)

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