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David Maxim Micic - Bilo 3.0[17th November 2013]
[Bilo Recordings]

01. Everything’s Fine
02. Where Is Now?
03. Smile
04. Nostalgia
05. Wrinkle Maze
06. Daydreamers

Something like this was bound to happen. Having finalised my favourite albums of the year list, the very first album I listen to afterwards would have seriously messed with the order had I gotten around to it sooner.

As the name should suggest, Bilo 3.0 is the third solo offering from Serbian guitarist David Maxim Micic, fitting in around his work with Destiny Potato. Indeed, Potatoes past and present pop up here and there throughout the recordings, as well as a host of other guest musicians. Notably, guitarists Jakub Zytecki, Jeff Loomis and Per Nilsson throw some impressive solos into the pot this time around.

Bilo 3.0 slightly wrong-foots the listener on its first spin, as there’s barely a guitar to be heard for much of stately opening instrumental track “Everything’s Fine“, alternating between piano and strings that owe more to movie soundtracks, together with a nod to folk music, than the prog-metal you’d probably be expecting when hitting the play button. But it is very much a pleasant surprise, and the lush orchestration sets the tone nicely for the remainder of the album.

Bilo 3.0 sends the listener tumbling down a rabbit-hole on a journey that owes as much to jazz and avant-garde as it does to progressive metal. The result sits somewhere between Infinity-era Devin Townsend and Chimp Spanner, with a nod or two in the direction of more esoteric artists, like Bjork.

The phrase ‘progressive metal guitarist releases solo album’ can be enough to scare some people off, and not without good reason – but such fears are unwarranted with Bilo 3.0 – the album is far from a flimsy pretext for massively self-indulgent displays of fretboard acrobatics. Even though it is clear that David possesses the pure skills required for an album of that nature, he has resisted that temptation.

Especially in light of his decision to farm out the choicest solo spots to some undoubtedly talented chaps, David comes across as a musician first and a guitarist second. The bass and drum parts, in particular, are characterised throughout by a smooth fluidity that helps make the twisting song structures an absorbing, and remarkably easy listen, given the complexity of the work.

Bilo 3.0 hangs together as a cohesive single piece: outros and intros bleed into one another, whilst melodies and lyrics repeat across multiple tracks. Orchestral swells give way to slightly unhinged riffs that showcase some of the most imaginative use of extended range guitars you’re likely to find, well, anywhere really.

In the vocal department, Aleksandra Djelmas puts in a fantastic edge-of-sanity performance on “Smile“, complemented by Vladimir Lalic getting all operatic on the line “This world has far to little, ha hahaha haha hahaha,  hahaha haaaaa”. It is as pleasing as it is bonkers.

The album takes a cocktail-lounge interlude during “Nostalgia” and scales fresh dynamic peaks in “Wrinkle Maze” before the finale of “Daydreamers“, a glorious and grandiose eleven-minute epic that incorporates many of the elements that make the preceding five tracks such a delight, and throws in a couple of extra surprises.

Bilo 3.0 is, in short, a triumph. A quantum leap forward from the preceding Bilos, given even the slightest opportunity it will worm its way deep into your affections. Interesting, intelligent and uplifting, it is a timely reminder that technical prowess isn’t worth a hot damn unless it is contextualised by fine songwriting. Practically devoid of filler or tedious self-indulgence, Bilo 3.0 raises the bar for what can be achieved by a solo album. David’s only real problem now is how on earth he’s going to top it with version 4.0.