The first thing to note about this recording is the rather impressive list of guest contributors. On vocals - Jason McMaster of Watchtower, Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation; on guitars - Marty Friedman of Megadeth; on keyboards - Jens Johansson of Stratovarius, Jimmy Pitts of Scholomance, David Bagsby of Xen; on bass - Michael Manring of Attention Deficit (god), Sean Malone of Cynic (demi-god), Doug Keyser of Watchtower, Ray Riendeau of Rob Halford; on drums - Jeff Eber of Dysrhythmia, David Penna of Sys-X.
Wow. Ron Jarzombek sure knows how to make friends in the right places (the guy has also played with Hate Eternal drummer Derek Roddy, Behold... the Arctopus drummer Charlie Zeleny, Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler, and others)... not to mention the base lineup of brother and percussion wizard Bobby Jarzombek on drums and Riot's Pete Perez on bass. With musicians like these at your disposal, it's possible to create just about anything imaginable. Ron, being the prolific madman that he is, has chosen to create a whacked out novelty trip through the world of instrumental absurdity.
Ridiculous things start happening from the very start, as "Aquanet" comes in with the horribly familiar staticy beeps and bloops of a dial-up modem connecting to an ISP. Only, that isn't some kind of sample you're hearing, it's Ron actually recreating the sounds of a dial-up modem with his guitars. I'm afraid I will never know how he accomplished this. Bizarre. The song then breaks into the kind of non-stop guitar abstractions that you will be subjected to throughout the remainder of the album. Everything is a lead, though occasionally a Watchtower-esque thrash riff will pop its head into the fray. At some point towards the middle of the song, Jens Johansson comes in with a keyboard lead before bowing out to a funky bass solo from Pete Perez, which gives way once again to Ron's ego. Just kidding. The great thing about Ron is that his leads and solos are totally off the wall, goofy, and whacky... and you will NEVER get tired of them. This is nothing like listening to John Petrucci leave the remainder of his band in the dust for five minutes. This is more like listening to Ron Thal and Electrocution 250's Todd Duane trading rhythmically labyrinthine leads back and forth while being filtered through a Disney cartoon and backed by frenetic drum acrobatics and utterly solid bass heroics - and I don't mean the kind of thing you hear with Spiral Architect, where the band wanders around like aimless sheep while the bassist performs advanced finger exercises for the entirety of the song. There is some serious synergy going on with these guys. It's unrivaled. Anyway, the song draws to a close with a sample of an answering machine repeating "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try again. If you need help, please hang up and dial your operator" in an increasingly annoyed and agitated tone of voice. On top of this, Bobby Jarzombek goes crazy on his kit with absurd footwork and lightning fast fills.
"Just A Little Bit" is more of the same. Nothing too special.
Then comes "Words for Nerds". Ink Compatible is actually a sort of humorous concept album about the perils of computers and the clueless users who succumb to them. The concept is revealed initially at the introduction of this song, where we hear a clip of a guy reading about jiggawatt hard drivers, LSD monitors, and EMBEES of memory before realizing that he's reading about a computer. It then breaks into a whacky instrumental segment which goes through more changes than I can count in the span of about one minute before culminating in a brief but decidedly evil sounding lead from Ron. Another pause, and now we're treated to a clip of a female shopping around for a word processor with very specific requirements. This rolls right into a gorgeous extended bass solo from Michael Manring - outstanding performance, by the way - which goes on for approximately a full minute before dropping out into yet another spoken segment. This time it's some guy attempting to futilely enter a URL into a web browser. Before you have a chance to get your bearings, the band comes back in with a twisted keyboard medley that sounds like Sesame Street wrung through The Twilight Zone, and then bam - another break. A guy talking about backing up fixed hard drives and reconfiguring his dot matrix, and then the guys finally come back in for good with some goofy melodies to bring the song to a quiet end.
"Melissa's Friend" is up next, and it starts off once again with a guy complaining about his computer... something about critters crawling all over his files. Ron comes in with a truly malicious sounding tapped lead, and eventually we get to hear Daniel Gildenlow sing about computer viruses with the full emphatic power of his mega-dramatic vocals. He holds nothing back.
"Read Me" isn't anything terribly exciting. An instrumental that starts off with some almost neo-classical shredding harmonized with what sounds like a toy piano. Goes on into more extended solo'ing from Ron. There's some whacky stuff going on towards the end of this song, with upbeat major key melodies simultaneously juxtaposed against wild shredding, thrash riffing, spooky keyboard lines that sound like something out of Ghostbusters, and various other strange guitar noises. Ends abruptly and moves into...
"Multi-Masking". The intro to this song is comprised of vocals that were recorded backwards. I read on RJ's forum at one point that this portion needs to be played in reverse in order to get the actual lyrics, and he even mentioned what the lyrics were, but I forget. That moves into a brief medley of what sounds like a MOOG synthesizer mixed with xylophone, and then the band comes in with the usual. Some wonderful guitar and bass interplay towards the middle of this song, and another neat keyboard lead from Jens. There's another bass solo floating around in there as well. Following up is "In Memory Of...", which is the most laid back track on here. It starts off a bit slow, but picks up towards the middle with monster bass work from Sean Malone and a very fusion-y feel.
At twelve minutes and twelve seconds, "A Chaotic Realization of Nothing Yet Misunderstood (or ACRONYM)" is the next and longest track to be found here. Dysrhythmia's Jeff Eber is behind the drumkit on this one, and he holds it down well. Ron Jarzombek is probably at his most frenetic here... simply all over the place.
The album comes to an end with "The Cereal Mouse", which is a little over a minute long and is a very fun thing. It's like a shred lullaby with cartoon synths. This is the kind of stuff that makes Ron Jarzombek so wonderful.
The weak point of this album can be condensed into two words - Jason McMaster. I didn't really like him in Watchtower, and I don't like him here either. In fact, he sounds noticeably worse; his voice cracked and strained. Nothing unbearable, just not particularly enjoyable. Also, the spoken segments found in several of the tracks here can get old after a while.
Aside from that, this is quality technical metal that doesn't take itself too seriously and is very fun to listen to. My highest praises to RJ.