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(39:56, Sonic Vista Recordings)
TRACK LIST: 1. Look Ahead 1:24 2. Anywhere but Home 6:21 3. Images of Mind 5:59 4. A Cold Morning 4:18 5. Again 1:09 6. Changing Colours 8:17 7. A New Beginning 5:06 8. Look Behind 1:37 9. Freedom Supermarket (b/t) 5:45 LINEUP: Enrico Scanu Ц vocals; guitars; flute Sebastiano Benatti Ц guitars; vocals Alex Stucchi Ц bass; vocals Tommaso Mangione Ц drums Tommaso Selleri Ц keyboards
Prolusion. The Italian band DROPSHARD was formed in the fall of 2007 by Benatti (guitars), Stucchi (bass) and Mangione (drums). As the band evolved, their line-up was completed by Scanu (vocals) and Sellari (keyboards), and demo tapes were scored. "Anywhere but Home" is their debut album and was released by Sonic Vista Recordings at the start of 2011.
Analysis. If I could use one word to summarize this initial production by Dropshard, it would be elegant. This is a CD that documents a band emphasizing moods and melodies to a far greater extent than challenging features and technical virtuosity, but not in a light or easy manner. There is a level of sophistication at work here that focuses on a rich sound without being lightweight and contains many fine details hidden away beneath a relatively slick surface, hence the use of elegant as the word to summarize this disc. The main part of this CD is the suite Anywhere but Home, an eight-part, 34-minute-long conceptual creation. Initially coming across as a dampened display of symphonic progressive rock following a cinematic-inspired prolog, it does take a few minutes before Dropshard starts displaying their core style, doing so in a gentle and unobtrusive manner. But as this epic excursion does unfold it becomes clear that this is a band that belongs in the progressive metal part of the art rock universe. For many it will take some time to recognize that, however. The thing is that the harder-hitting, compact riffs and dark distorted guitar sounds take their good time in appearing. Impact riffs appear soon enough in the second part of this conceptual tale, but the use of symphonic backing and emphasis on melodies initially makes it easier to draw comparisons to a band like Sylvan. And when a more firm riff construction takes the central place in the arrangements, it is in a dampened and almost subservient role, while the key ingredient is the lead vocal, which is given emphasis throughout actually. But as one move onwards the metal part starts crystallizing more and more, the guitar captures a more central place, and we're treated to the expected guitar and keyboard interactions to craft themes both rich and majestic, while passages of a more energetic nature make the occasional appearance too. Dream Theater associations eventually emerge too, although Dropshard has an approach much closer to the aforementioned Sylvan than to LaBrie and his compatriots. There's always room for a clean guitar motif on this disc: light, undistorted and melodic. The keyboards are utilized to provide textures closer to symphonic progressive rock than what is common among progressive metal acts in general, and the lead vocals are gentler too: energetic screams and emotional-laden screams few and far between. This melodic and rich material is never in your face and shies away from major contrasts and hard-to-grasp or -follow instrumental maneuvering. Elegant. Towards the end of its conceptual tale Dropshard opts to take on an approach that incorporates themes of a more challenging nature too, but to my ears this part of their epic doesn't work quite as good as the parts preceding it. Scanu has a good and pleasant voice, but to my ears he doesn't master the pace-filled and demanding parts as well. Rapid-burst passages and quickly evolving themes don't sit that well with his voice; much the same for emotional impact vocals. Due to that, I found the final 10 or so minutes of this CD less enthralling, in essence A New Beginning and the non-story bonus track Freedom Supermarket don't manage to keep up the quality found elsewhere to my ears.
Conclusion. The Italian act Dropshard has crafted a strong and elegant debut with "Anywhere but Home", a piece of progressive metal that should have a generally broad appeal. Moods and melodies are emphasized, the arrangements are dampened. and the compositions as such utilize elements from the art rock universe extensively. Well worth giving a spin, with fans of bands like Riverside and Sylvan a likely key audience.
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