A Young Guitarist of the Year returns and Toto’s Africa meets extreme metal: This week’s essential guitar tracks

Juho Ranta-Maunus playing guitar in the music video for The Drift
(Image credit: Juho Ranta-Maunus/YouTube)

Hello, and welcome to Essential Guitar Tracks. As you may well know, every seven days (or thereabouts), we endeavor to bring you a selection of songs from across the guitar universe, all with one thing in common: our favorite instrument plays a starring role.

Our goal is to give you an overview of the biggest tracks, our editor’s picks and anything you may have missed. We’re pushing horizons and taking you out of your comfort zone – because, as guitarists, that’s something we should all be striving for in our playing. 

So, here are our highlights from the past seven days – now with a Spotify playlist…

Bernie Marsden – Being Famous

Being Famous is the charmingly autobiographical lead single from Working Man, the forthcoming posthumous album from blues-rock guitarist and Whitesnake alum Bernie Marsden.

What the tune lacks in bells and whistles it more than makes up for in in-your-face riffs, a good-time solo with larger-than-life phrasing, and notes-from-the-road lyrics – it perfectly captures the late guitarist's charisma and musical strengths. (JM)

Juho Ranta-Maunus – The Drift

At just 14 years old, Finnish prodigy Juho Ranta-Maunus won Guitar World’s Young Guitarist of the Year competition. Now 17, it’s clear he’s been putting in some serious practice since he was crowned champion in 2020; he already had a touch and vibrato far beyond his years, but his game has very much leveled up for The Drift.

A newly minted Ibanez endorsee, the young virtuoso’s playing combines an ear for Satriani-esque melodies and solos that are blues one second, metal the next, all with a sense of flair that nods to today’s social media shred heroes. Ranta-Maunus is the real deal, and his star is only set to rise. (MAB)

Goodnight, Texas (feat. Kirk Hammett) – Runaways

For their new single, Goodnight, Texas decided to drop their banjos and mandolins, pick up a pair of electric guitars, and trade folk balladry for hard rock riffage, with Runaways ushering in an entirely new sonic direction for the band.

For this sonic transition, they were aided by none other than Kirk Hammett, who helped smooth over any potential wrinkles Goodnight, Texas may have stumbled across during their journey by delivering “an absolute vintage wah solo” via the fretboard of Greeny.

You know the drill: plenty of wah, lashings of pentatonic turnarounds and finale full of fiery bends. Those riffs are pretty tasty, too. (MO)

John Matos feat. Eddie Hermida, and Mike Caputo – Africa

Countless artists have tried their hand at putting a new spin on Toto’s eternally meme-worthy hit Africa, but none have been as head-spinningly violent as this. Viral social media metal shredder John Matos “had the dream of making an extreme metal version of Africa for a long time” – and we’re here to inform you that it now exists, and it’s expertly realized.

Matos’ arrangement is on-point, with those iconic intro chords present and correct, and the chiming synth lead converted into a high-gain diminished finger-twister. The rest of the track goes on its own gut-punchingly heavy path, but its guitar solo is more Steve Lukather than you might expect, with the perfect combination of melody, technique and tone. Just, ya know, a bit more extreme metal. (MAB)

U2 – Atomic City 

U2 have now officially entered the Las Vegas residency stage of their career, but – lest they be accused of resting on their laurels for following the Elvis and Sinatra path – they still have some surprisingly spry new material up their sleeves.

There’s a youthful spirit to their new single, Atomic City, with The Edge dipping into the punk sounds of his youth (those clipped, Joe Strummer-style rhythm strokes in the verses) and having some of the guitar hero fun he’s more than earned (the Hendrix-ian, wah-colored solo). (JM) 

Europe – Hold Your Head Up

It won’t come as a surprise to hear that the new single from Swedish hard rock veterans Europe – a band who began operating in the early ‘80s – sounds as if it is in fact a long-lost cut lifted straight from that decade. It is a time capsule track of the highest order, reportedly written with the aim of paying homage to “elements of early Europe”.

Well, if that’s the brief, the band have absolutely nailed it: buckle up and let those swashbuckling riffs, wailing solos and synth pads transport you to way back when. (MO)

Marnie Stern – Believing is Seeing

Marnie Stern’s stint with the 8G Band on The Late Show with Seth Meyers has done nothing to dampen her adventurous six-string spirit. Ahead of her first album in 10 years, The Comeback Kid, she’s dropped its second single, an intoxicating melange of intricately woven tremolo-picking, scything arpeggios and punk powerchords. Even after a decade away, no-one sounds quite like Stern. (MAB)

The Mountain Goats – Murder at the 18th Street Garage

The Mountain Goats’ forthcoming album, Jenny from Thebes, is a sequel to their much-loved 2002 breakthrough, All Hail West Texas. Beyond its eternal anthems, the latter album is famous for its fidelity – or lack thereof, recorded as it was by Goats frontman and songwriter John Darnielle on a boombox.

Jenny from Thebes may have similar subject matter to its thematic predecessor, but boy has the Mountain Goats’ sound evolved in the two decades since West Texas. With shady characters committing dastardly deeds, and an anthemic twin-lead guitar hook that powers the chorus, new single Murder at the 18th Street Garage is more Thin Lizzy than lo-fi – not that we’re complaining. (JM)

Neck Deep – It Won't Be Like This Forever 

Since forming back in 2012, Neck Deep have gone on to become one of Britain’s finest pop-punk exports in recent years. Through four highly popular albums over six years, what was once a promising band has turned into an institution of the genre, and it looks as though Neck Deep are still on an upward trajectory, as they gear up to release their fourth studio album next year.

With guitars in hand, the group is an absolute hook machine, and the infectious It Won’t Be Like This Forever is no exception – come for those delightfully balanced guitar layers (peep the baritone in the mix), stay for those bruising progressions. (MO)

Also on this week's playlist...

  • The Rolling Stones – Sweet Sounds of Heaven
  • Within Temptation – Ritual
  • Victor Wooten and The Wooten Brothers – SWEAT
  • KK's Priest – Hymn 66
  • G.U.S.H. – Down The Drain
  • Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Man of the Hour
  • Nervosa – Elements of Sin
  • Sum 41 – Landmines
  • Lynch Mob – Caught Up
  • The Menzingers – Come on Heartache
  • The Joy Formidable – Share My Heat
  • Maya Delilah – Necklace

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.