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(58.09, ‘Alchemy Room’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Inside My Fear 6:35 2. La Fin Absolue du Monde 14:50 3. Obsession Red Blood 6:39 4. Lost 6:42 5. Waking the Child-1 13:27 6. Waking the Child-2 9:42 LINEUP: Fabio La Manna – guitars; keyboards Irene Mondino – vocals Andy Monge – drums With: Tommaso Bosso – bass
Prolusion. Hailing from Torino (Italy), ALCHEMY ROOM are a project put together by Italian guitarist and keyboardist Fabio La Manna in January 2007. “Origin of Fears”, their debut album, was released in the summer of 2009. The band’s name refers to the actual place where the album was composed.
Analysis. At a first glance, it would seem that Alchemy Room are just another outfit jumping on the very crowded bandwagon of female-fronted, symphonic prog-metal. However, as much as this particular brand of progressive rock is definitely not my cup of tea, I found “Origin of Fears” an unexpectedly pleasant listen. This does not mean that the album is in any way perfect. As debut albums go, it is an extremely ambitious effort – in fact, even too much so. Since Alchemy Room are Italian, I believe that a well-known, hopefully self-explanatory saying from our common home country will describe their debut album to a T: there is too much meat on the fire. As other reviewers have pointed out, Fabio La Manna, the band’s founder and mastermind, has crammed a multitude of ideas and influences in only 58 minutes, with results that, while not intrinsically bad, are baffling for the average listener. One decidedly good thing about “Origin of Fears” is that Alchemy Room seem to have absorbed the Italian flair for melody, which is particularly evident in the guitar parts. Instead of indulging in the current (and deplorable) fashion for merciless shredding, La Manna tackles his numerous solos in a surprisingly tasteful, even restrained manner. This is definitely a positive factor in such a strongly guitar-dominated effort – though, in all fairness, the keyboards play an equally important role in providing overall cohesion to the compositions. Irene Mondino’s vocals, on the other hand, while a refreshing change of pace from the operatic excesses so common in the subgenre, are not commanding or powerful enough to avoid being swamped by the music. She would be clearly more suited to fronting a more ‘traditional’ prog band than a metal-based one. The individual tracks are so chock-full of different styles and influences that they are almost impossible to describe with any degree of effectiveness. Oddly enough, they all open with low-key, acoustic guitar chords, and end rather abruptly, as if still in the middle of things. The first part of Waking the Child could be taken as the blueprint for Alchemy Room’s style: it is all over the place, with subdued, atmospheric sections alternating with full-tilt heavy metal assaults, almost jazzy passages, melodic guitar chords, and a lengthy keyboard solo. The album’s longest track, La Fin Absolue du Monde, is another clear example of the band’s tendency to overdo things, with too many basically good ideas crammed together in a song that comes across as ultimately directionless – the obligatory acoustic beginning, followed by treated vocals over drums and riffing in staccato bursts, then a clean guitar solo, then more of the same, interspersed by spacey keyboard passages. Built around a recurring main theme, the song is often reminiscent of a more controlled version of Dream Theater. In a way, the most cohesive effort on the album is the token ballad offering Lost, a song that sounds more akin to neo-prog than prog-metal, down to the somewhat catchy chorus in the vein of so many female-fronted, gothic metal bands. The album is brought to a close by the folksy, melodic feel of Waking the Child-II, featuring what is possibly Irene Mondino’s best performance and a lengthy guitar solo with a strong Gilmourian flavour. Generally speaking, the blend of harder-edged, aggressive sounds and high melodic quotient that is one of the trademarks of the album may also bring to mind a band like Riverside, or even the mellower episodes in Opeth’s catalog. While Alchemy Room are undoubtedly a group of gifted musicians, “Origin of Fears” falls rather short at expressing their full potential – mainly on account of some shortcomings on the compositional front, as well as an excess of ambition. It is to be hoped that, in their next recording effort, they will pare things down and concentrate on giving their songs a coherent structure, rather than building up an accumulation of diverse influences that will ultimately only give the listener a headache. On the other hand, they deserve credit for creating some pleasantly melodic textures in their songs, while not denying their metal roots – and also for keeping the running time below an hour. A longer album of the same nature would have been much harder to stomach.
Conclusion. “Origin of Fears” will be an appealing proposition for guitar buffs, since Fabio La Manna is definitely a talented musician – and so are his bandmates, including Irene Mondino (whose vocal performance should please fans of female singers). As regards originality, Alchemy Room do not offer anything particularly out of the ordinary, though their genuine feel for melody deserves praise. However, they need to learn the fine art of restraint, and curb their ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach to songwriting.
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