Frank Klepacki: Viratia (Self-Released) 

As audio director at Petroglyph in Las Vegas, Frank Klepacki is industry-renowned for composing music that powers popular, acclaimed games like Command and Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War and, most recently, Panzer General: Allied Assault.

In his spare time (that is, when he's not crafting an overture for, say, an all-out orc war), Klepacki writes, records and self-releases ambitious, full-length albums under his own name. His sixth and latest CD, Viratia, is a sci-fi comic-book concept album to end all sci-fi comic-book concept albums.

In addition to 10 musically compelling and (mostly) lyric-less tracks—ranging from the molten thrash metal of "Sonic Pain," to the NIN-meets-The Matrix goth-stomp of "Evil Entrance," to the ethereal Blade Runner homage of "Controlled Dream," to the thunderous blues-rock of "Overpower"—Viratia offers a 16-page graphic narrative. Written by Klepacki and illustrated by Mark Molnar, the comic tells the story of a city called Viratia on the planet Austere. There, a beautiful, tough-as-lasers government agent named Norella safeguards citizens from the mind-consuming virtual reality technology of the evil Dr. Xaltar.

Yes, it's as adolescent as it sounds, and the music offers even more guilt-ridden pleasure. Most impressively, Klepacki's multi-instrumental talents (keyboard, drum kit, guitar, bass) shine on every track.

If you're looking for a blast of pure escapism after last year's Avatar, it'll be hard to top Viratia. (See www.frankklepacki.com.)

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