Album Review: NITA STRAUSS Controlled Chaos
Although we live in the twenty-first century, the topic of women in rock and metal remains a contentious one. That goes for both fans and musicians—but as the more visible group, female performers are forced to accept a certain amount of discrimination and rejection as a standard part of their none-more-public day jobs. Having spent her life striving to “make it” in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, Nita Strauss has figured out the best way to clear one of the music industry’s most awkward hurdles. Be really, really, really good at what you do. In Nita’s own words, repeated like a mantra: “Leave no doubt."
Anyone who claims to doubt Nita Strauss’s ability after listening to Controlled Chaos is either a moron, deaf, trolling, or some combination of the above. For that matter, anyone insisting that Strauss “prove herself” should really ask themselves whether or not they’re capable of matching her technical and professional achievements. Chances are they’re not—and the resulting envy is one of the reasons why female rock and metal instrumentalists get targeted the way they do.
The average guitar player would probably do unspeakable things to get the chance to play with Alice Cooper or contribute a song to a compilation put together by Steve Vai. Although Nita Strauss had already spent many years playing with everyone from the aforementioned shock-rock icon to Iron Maiden tribute act The Iron Maidens and funk aficionado Jermaine Jackson, it was Steve Vai’s offer that first motivated Strauss to pursue a solo career. Work on “Pandemonium”, the song that appears on Controlled Chaos in its updated form as “Pandemonium 2.0”, began the day after Vai asked Strauss to be a part of She Rocks, Vol. 1.
Track that album down, and you’ll discover a ton of great music performed by a selection of awesome guitar talents. Not female guitarists who happen to be “good for a girl”, but players who, like Strauss, leave no doubt in their wake. After proving herself to herself, Nita Strauss finally felt ready to take the plunge and crowdfund her debut solo album – which quickly generated $165,000 via Kickstarter, beating its original target more than eight times over.
Casting gender issues aside, Controlled Chaos invites an obvious question: Is this album worth that kind of investment?
To be fair, the pyro bill for the music video below must have been pretty serious—but even taking that into account, Controlled Chaos sounds as expensive and classy as you’d expect. The production does feel overly restrictive now and then, but it rarely detracts from the overall impact of each performance, much less the fun factor that Strauss brings to the table each time she cranks her amp up. Ultimately, this album lives up to its name.
Sexist guitar fans do sometimes accept women who play acoustic – but although Controlled Chaos does include a very cool, Metallica-inflected acoustic piece called “Hope Grows”, Nita Strauss’s strongest moments will inspire plenty of devil horns and headbanging. In fact, this album’s only real weak point is “Here with You”, a fairly generic ballad outclassed by the closing song “The Show Must Go On”, during which Strauss duets with a rock ‘n’ roll violinist.
Dragonforce-style whammy bar work, over-the-top harmonics, and speedy arpeggios are some of Nita Strauss’s most notable calling cards, but Controlled Chaos isn’t just about gymnastics. Strauss’s chord choices are sometimes predictable, but frequently spicy – a reflection of her classic instrumental influences (Vai, Malmsteen, Jason Becker, and a long list of others) and the fact that she is descended from the composer Johann Strauss. Throw in some powerful riffage (see “Mariana Trench” and the melodeath-influenced “Lion Among Wolves”), and you have a totally solid debut release.
Controlled Chaos may not be a groundbreaking masterpiece like Passion and Warfare, but that was far from Steve Vai’s first solo effort anyway. It would be great to hear Nita Strauss get heavier and weirder next time out, and stretch herself still further. Still, this remains a great debut that—as its creator intended—leaves no doubt.