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Colossus Project - 2008 - "The Empire & the Rebellion"

(77:41, Musea Records)

TRACK LIST:                   

1.  Astral Prelude 6:16
2.  Droids 9:07
3.  The Dark Lord of the Sith 7:59
4.  Meeting the Force 7:15
5.  Two Suns 4:10
6.  When I Was a Jedi 7:58
7.  The Millennium Quartet 1:19
8.  The Millennium Falcon 8:48
9.  My Tears for Alderaan 3:55
10. The Rebellion Suite 19:21
11. May the Force Be With You 1:33


Alfio Costa  vintage keyboards
Roberto Aiolfi  bass; ac. guitar 
Giovanni Vezzoli  drums  
Hamadi Trabelsi  vocals 
Vincenzo Zitello  flutes; harp, violins; clarinet (4, 5, 9, 11)
Flavio Costa  guitars (3, 10)
Fred Schendel  guitars (4, 5)
Giorgio Robustellini  sax (6 to 8)

Prolusion. The Finnish progressive music association Colossus and the French progressive rock label Musea have for several years now cooperated in an ongoing series of musical projects, where artists are invited to create long, epic tunes over a set theme, often a movie, and where the compositions in addition have to follow specific guidelines. For this 2008 release a different approach was taken though, and this time around Italian Alfio Costa was contacted and asked to form a band to record one specific project. After a bit of to-and-fro, Costa decided to take on the original Star Wars movie, assembled a core group of musicians and started working on "The Empire & the Rebellion". Various guest musicians got involved during the process, and the final artist rooster ended up a long one. In December 2007 the recording process ended, and in 2008 Musea issued it under the name COLOSSUS PROJECT, the first of these releases implemented by the Finnish prog-rock society released under this moniker.

Analysis. One typical trait of the previous releases initiated by Colossus that seems to be lacking from this production is the emphasis on epic compositions. With 11 tracks listed and none above the 20 minute mark, this approach seems to have been rejected for this release. The fact of the matter, having said that, is that it's still very much present on this creation as well; the whole album is one long song divided into 11 parts. It's not a continuous track though, as most of the segments are tied together by sounds and background noises, but all parts tie rather nicely together even if atmospheric sounds are utilized to make it so. Assembling the components for the album has given Alfio Costa and his fellow collaborators a greater variety of choicees in terms of changing musical styles explored, where one can change sound, mood and atmosphere in rather drastic manners without creating a major dramatic disruption in the composition, thus the background noises and mood pieces function as transitional segments to great effect in this case, giving the composers and musicians better creative options when planning and making this release. When that is said, the style explored on this production is pretty similar, at least superficially, to most other releases inaugurated by Colossus. Symphonic progressive rock is the name of the game, with a distinct emphasis on the vintage variety in general and the Italian brand of the style in particular. The Hammond organ is the dominant instrument on most tracks, serving swirling melodic layers and mellow explorations, as well as being the main element in the more majestic sounding segments. Various types of keyboards flesh out the melodies, adding nuances and textures in some parts, serving up vintage multilayered symphonic elements in others, while the piano gets to occupy the limelight in several mellow passages. The bass guitar is given a prominent place in the mix, with jazz-tinged themes as well as harder, driving bass lines with leanings towards funk in sound being the most common varieties delivered. The drum patterns tend to be on the quirky side and in quite a few instances with leanings towards jazz in style, while the guitars for the most part are hidden away in the mix, with a few notable exceptions. The Dark Lord of the Sith is one case where the guitar is given a prominent place in the composition, and here it is utilized as the main provider in twisted, distorted brief segments which reminded me quite a lot of an act called Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, and a particular creation of theirs called Sleep Is Wrong. This stylistic variation, notable on this production due to the massive discord it creates, stylistically compares to the album overall. The second instance where the guitar hits the limelight a bit is in the slick, almost lounge-like jazzy exploration named The Millennium Falcon, where the guitar is placed a bit back in the mix to deliver distinctly blues-tinged licks and solo fragments, contrasting with the general style explored and invigorating what otherwise might have ended up as a too tedious composition, adding tension and stylistic variation in energetic fashion. Apart from the slight stylistic variations explored on this creation, with a few folk-tinged segments in addition to the ones detailed above, what separates this album from many others in the Colossus series of productions is the mood and atmosphere. With Star Wars as the conceptual theme, the at times extensive use of spacey synthesizer, mellotron and keyboard textures is hardly a surprise. That the overall atmosphere mostly is on the dark side wasn't expected though. The movie that inspired this release is one of few nuances; the good are very good, the bad are very bad: light and dark with few shades in-between, the most notable aspect of the state in between being the character of Han Solo. However, the album in question explores mostly the nuances in between light and dark, with a distinct leaning towards the darker moods. Personally I think this is a good thing, but fans of the movie might feel a bit let down by the lack of extreme polarization in the musical landscapes visited on this release. Overall I found this to be a strong release. Some of the segments may be a bit on the long side, not all themes explored are brilliant, and there's a certain cheesy aspect to the release that is unavoidable when exploring a theme such as Star Wars. Still, it's a solid piece of work, with the close to twenty minute long The Rebellion Suite as my personal favorite, a creative and adventurous composition with many unexpected elements and a fair share of strong, memorable passages.

Conclusion. Followers of 70s symphonic rock in general and the Italian variety of this in particular seem to be the main audience for this creation, and despite the topic at hand I think many of those will find this release to be quite compelling. Fans of Star Wars in general and the original movie in particular might also find this one interesting, at least those of them who don't mind listening to vintage sounding, complex rock music.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: February 13, 2008
The Rating Room

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