The Beautiful Con

July 19, 2020

From being the go-to guitarist for legendary acts and programs, Asad Ahmed’s undeniable guitar skills and fire is hard to neglect.

The Defiant One(s): Asad Ahmed severely cuts out the metal histrionics his hard rocking reputation is built upon and allows his other gifts to shine through.

Artist: Asad Ahmed
Album (EP): Severe Cuts

He is the go-to guy when any band or artist requires an elite guitar player. Be it Ali Zafar, Coke Studio, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Vital Signs, Karavan, Awaaz, Barbarians, they all have turned to Asad Ahmed’s undeniable guitar skills and fire. In these Covid days, release of any new music would be cause for celebration, but such superlative music as the just-released instrumental EP Severe Cuts by Asad Ahmed is manna from heaven.

The 5-track EP shows off Asad’s versatility. Each track varies in style and vibe. Each comes with an evocative title: ‘Dream of Right Now’, ‘Fly with Me’, ‘Gambling Wheeler Dealer’, ‘Hot Nights at the Palomino’ and ‘The Last Call’. Each highlights and contrasts various aspects of Asad’s musical nous and skill to varying degrees.

The EP starts off in a most unusual manner for our leading hard rock guitarist: ‘Dream of Right Now’ is bluesy and laid back. For almost the entire first minute, it features moody keyboards and sterling bass playing (both by Asad) with nary a guitar in sight. And when the guitar kicks in, it is understated. In that it highlights Asad’s tastefulness and the soulfulness in his playing. The song is also brilliant in that it is orchestrated with a wide variety of guitar tones adding varying hues to a muted palette. It’s an elegant and masterful composition which starts off the EP brilliantly.

The second track on the album, however, is perhaps a misstep: ‘Hot Night at the Palomino’ promised much, but does not deliver. The vibe is all wrong for something that might have benefitted from perhaps Aerosmith sleaze if the title is anything to go by. It never builds up a head of steam and goes anywhere and ends abruptly, but none too soon. Despite being the longest track on the EP, it only gets interesting when Asad stretches out on keyboard for a few, all-too-brief seconds. It is a decent track, but pales in comparison to what went before it and the three excellent tracks that follow.

The hardest rocking track here is ‘Fly With Me’ is the crowd pleaser here, giving the public what it wants: A galloping close cousin to ‘Meray Paas Aaja’ and ‘Agay Hi Agay’, this is Asad doing what he does best and what he is best known for. The lead tone is awesome, but the song ends too soon, just when it starts going someplace. It leaves one wanting more.

The title of ‘The Last Call’ maybe would have made one expect a mournful ballad of loss, or a track evoking that last-call drink before the bar shuts down. What one gets is much better. A paranoid, ominous sounding rocker, with a running through the streets vibe. The song ebbs and flows, dropping down only to launch into an even more stupendous solo. If anything the track ends too abruptly, maybe that was the point. Could Asad be saying this is last call with domesticity approaching? One more rock before the rocker dies. Sure hope it is not that. Asad trademark riffs are here; however, one comes here more for his solos and they range from searing to soulful.

‘Gambling Wheeler Dealer’ is menacing and at times perhaps purposely jarring. It is a really interesting composition: A groove is set up only to be broken up by a faster paced riff and then it is back to the groove. And then repeats, until it builds up a head of steam half way through only to lapse into the riff again and then a sudden end. It brings this fascinating EP to a fascinating end.

Overall, the lockdown seems to have fed Asad’s creativity well. He apparently already has another full album ready for release. Here he handles almost all of the creative duties: he wrote and produced it all. He also plays all the guitars, bass and keyboards on the album. Drums are done by Karavan holdover Allan Smith and Percussion on ‘Dream of Right Now’ by Kashif.

Production wise, the guitars are up front on all tracks, with great tones. But they perhaps overshadow all other instruments. In that sense it is less and instrumental album, as there isn’t too much interaction with other instruments here, but the EP is in fact a mainly guitar EP. Compositionally too, 4 out of the 5 tracks rate high, each being fascinating in its own way.

Overall, a few isolated moments aside, for an EP titled ‘Severe Cuts’, there is nothing much severe here. Perhaps the title is a con, sort of like the jokey Achtung Baby was a con-title by U2 for a truly emotional blood and guts album. The beauty of the EP lies in its lyrical playing. Ones expecting a metal edge on these tracks would possibly be disappointed: all you get is beautiful playing, excellently executed. And that is perhaps what the title refers to: Asad Ahmed severely cuts out the metal histrionics his hard rocking reputation is built upon and allows his other gifts to shine through.

In conclusion, this is a spectacular EP of great depth and intelligence. A welcome return from the Guitar Man, long may he play on. Vocalists around the land must be kicking themselves right about now in that Asad chose to make this an instrumental album and not let them sing over these sterling tracks.

– Severe Cuts (EP) is only available online in digital and streaming formats at multiple platforms (Deezer, Iheart, Apple, Amazon, Jiosaavn)

The Beautiful Con: Asad Ahmed’s undeniable guitar skills and fire is hard to neglect