[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS
(52.31, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Centrica Experience 8:31 2. Secret Vision 7:37 3. DNA-I 6:21 4. DNA-II 8:21 5. Reality & Illusion 9:26 6. Dulcedo 3:56 7. Eternal Dimension 8:20 LINEUP: Andrea Pavanello – keyboards Giorgio Rovati – guitars Alberto de Bortoli – bass Dario Ciccioni – drums
Prolusion. Hailing from the north-eastern Italian town of Padova, CENTRICA was first formed in 2006 by keyboardist Andrea Pavanello and guitarist Giorgio Rovato. In spite of their young age, the band members are highly skilled musicians and have an impressive curriculum. Their self-titled debut album was released at the end of 2008.
Analysis. Love it or loathe it, progressive metal is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored if you are into progressive music. The number of bands falling under that umbrella is simply staggering, and – in spite of what the ‘naysayers’ may believe – so is the diversity within the subgenre. Though the haters seem to think all prog metal is nothing more than an indistinct blob of noisy riffs coupled with artistic pretensions, a less superficial take will yield unexpected results. Far from being just an exercise in ‘metallised’ self-indulgence, prog-metal nowadays is as open to diverse influences and experimentation as ‘classic’ prog was in the Seventies. No country in the world seems to be immune to the spread of prog-metal, and Italy is no exception. Unsurprisingly, many of them choose to follow the ‘traditional’ strain of the subgenre, which worships Dream Theater (a band I have never been able to warm to, in spite of repeated attempts) as its founding fathers, and places a strong emphasis on keyboards and soaring vocals. Both these elements obviously appeal to the Italian love of the theatrical, and allow for a healthy injection of melody – one of the main features of Italian music throughout the ages. On the other hand, it is also true that prog-metal (and metal as a whole), in spite of its popularity in the Mediterranean peninsula, is quite foreign to the Italian musical tradition. While many of the historical bands of the Seventies (Osanna, Balletto di Bronzo, Jumbo, to name but a few) had a distinctly hard edge to their sound, it was more akin to the likes of King Crimson or Van Der Graaf Generator than to Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. As a result, the average Italian prog metal band does not sound in any way different from a similar band from another country – especially when, as in the case of Centrica, vocals are taken out of the equation. Given the Italian passion for singing, Centrica’s choice of recording a completely instrumental album may come across as somewhat peculiar (though at the moment they are looking for a lead singer). However, this is the one factor that sets them apart from many of their fellow Italian prog-metallers, and allows them to concentrate exclusively on the music. In the best classic prog-metal tradition, the four members of the band are extremely proficient in their instruments, and – unlike bands of a more extreme persuasion – their sound is definitely more keyboard- than guitar-oriented. Therefore, it will not come as a surprise that keyboardist Andrea Pavanello is a friend and online student of none other than Dream Theater keyboard wizard Jordan Rudess. Indeed, the seven tracks on “Centrica” owe quite a lot to the New York band’s instrumental offerings – both in a positive and in a negative sense. This is undeniably music that will be better appreciated by practising musicians rather than casual listeners. In each of the seven tracks but one – the laid-back, dreamy Dulcedo (Latin for Sweetness), a piano-guitar interlude – there are enough time signature changes to make your head spin (and then some), and the mood can shift abruptly from spacey to crushingly heavy, from stately to aggressive. Describing individual tracks is therefore extremely difficult – though all the instruments get their chance to shine, the foundation of Centrica’s sound is clearly the interaction between guitar and keyboards. There is quite a sizable amount of shredding and noodling, which may be a cause for delight to some, and annoyance to others. Not being a big fan of synthesisers, I find the insistence on extracting all sorts of whistling, wheezing, swirling sounds from them a bit of an irritant. Besides the already-mentioned Dulcedo, DNA-1 is another track that breaks the mould, being mainly based on a majestic keyboard crescendo sprinkled with acoustic guitar, though things speed up somewhat in the second half. DNA-2, on the other hand, is an incredibly complex offering, chock-full of all those things that send Dream Theater fans into fits of sheer ecstasy, and make other people shake their heads in perplexity. The longest track on the album, Reality and Illusion, is a keyboard-fest of the first order; while album closer Eternal Dimension is definitely the heaviest item on offer, with some almost harsh guitar sounds, and machine-gun-like riffing, interspersed by pyrotechnic displays of keyboard virtuosity. A decidedly positive feature of this album is its relatively short running time. At under 53 minutes, it is surely more manageable than the almost 80-minute behemoths that seem to be the rule with so many prog-metal bands. Centrica thus avoid the inevitable need for padding, as well as the ‘black-out’ syndrome that affects many listeners during those marathons. Hopefully they will not surrender to the temptation of inflating their future albums beyond what is tolerable. Though not my personal cup of tea, this is a solid debut, with impeccable musicianship – hence the rating.
Conclusion. Fans of highly technical progressive metal will surely lap “Centrica” up, and the lack of vocals might make it more appealing to those who are put off by the cheesy singing of far too many ‘classic’ prog metal bands. However, as good as the playing undeniably is, this is in no way as stimulating or innovative as the likes of Exivious or Canvas Solaris (to name but two). Hopefully, their next effort will see a touch more restraint in the use of keyboards, which often seem to overwhelm the other instruments.
[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS - LIST | BANDLISTS ]