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(63 min, Black Widow Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Introduzione 0:14 2. Cavalcata 5:49 3. Mare in Tempesta 3:17 4. Via Egnatia 5:41 5. L’Assedio di Antiochia 8:13 6. Fuga da Amman 5:56 7. Kairuv’an 6:08 8. Masqat 5:15 9. Jangala Mem 6:46 10. Il Vento Del Tempo 7:00 11. Finale 9:33 LINEUP: Flavio Gonnellini – el. & ac. guitars, b/v Mattia Liberati – vintage keyboards Marco Gennarini – violin; b/v Simone Massimi – bass Shanti Colucci – drums Igor Leone – vocals With: Fabrizio Proietti – classical guitar (4) David Jackson – saxophone, flute (11) &: Several additional musicians
Prolusion. Formed in December 2010, INGRANAGGI DELLA VALLE is, then, a young band from Italy, “In Hoc Signo” their debut album. All eleven of the tracks presented are composed by guitarist Flavio Gonnellini and keyboardist Mattia Liberati.
Analysis. The musicians list several English and Italian bands as their influences, but never the American prog-rock legend Kansas, which seems to be strange to this writer. I sense a strong Kansas vibe throughout the album: several of the group’s trademark elements are used here, most evident in the keyboard/guitar/violin harmonies, and also in the vocals on quite a few occasions. Although the lyrics are in Italian, singer Igor Leone’s delivery is often similar to John Walsh’s. The same words are relevant to some of harmony vocals. There are no pauses between the tracks here, and most of those within the first half of the album appear as an epic multi-sectional suite developing non-stop. Through each of the first four pieces, Introduzione, Cavalcata, Mare in Tempesta and Via Egnatia, the musicians bring the spirit of progressive Hard Rock (often bordering on Prog-Metal) directly into the world of classic symphonic Art-Rock at its best, doing so much in the same way Kansas did back in 1976 on their astonishing masterpiece “Leftoverture”, though the last of them also reveals a Pink Floyd-evoking landscape at one point. The vocalist injects a powerful and expressive spirit into the compositions, which compliments the instrumentalists’ arrangements, most of which are complex, performed fast, with a high level of intensity. The violin of Marco Gennarini, the (exclusively vintage) keyboards of Mattia Liberati and the guitars of Flavio Gonnellini rise above the basic sonic tapestry, weaving melodies both intricate and accessible. While all the players provide their leads in different directions, the overall sound is amazingly cohesive. A seasoned maturity is evident across the rest of the material as well, reflected in the fine textural and dynamic nuances, and the artful counterpoint among all the instruments involved. The fifth track, L’Assedio di Antiochia, and also the two that the CD finishes with, Il Vento Del Tempo and Finale, have a lot in common with the previously decribed ones, but a section on each of them finds the musicians turned to quasi Jazz-Fusion. Matters develop in an even more unexpected manner within the core of album, on the tracks Fuga da Amman, Kairuv’an, Masqat and Jangala Mem, all of which are largely instrumental, at least on average, rarely using heavy riffs in addition to metalloids. On each of them strong jazz-fusion undercurrents permeate the art-rock fabrics, offering a brilliant mixture of elements. To be more precise, there are still quite a few of Kansas-style moves in all cases, but Gennarini’s violin playing here is not always like Robbie Steinhardt’s and is at times closer to Jean Luc Ponty’s in approach, while Liberati uses keyboard voicings that often sound like Chick Corea rather than Kerry Livgren. The latter two compositions have sections that are prime indicators violin, guitar and keyboards-wise alike, giving rise to The Mahavishnu Orchestra comparisons. As for the former two, the jazz-fusion-related influences in evidence are Allan Holdsworth and Return To Forever respectively. Now, however, I must make a reservation. What sets this Italian band apart from any wannabe performers is that their influences are mixed with their own unique artistic vision. Without expending too much ink on the details, it’s safe to say that IDV has a universal appeal that transcends the limits and frontiers of conventional Art-Rock as well as Jazz-Fusion. Besides, all of the album’s compositions, while complex, are highly polished, as if the band had developed them during years of live performances. On each of the tracks, from beginning to end, it’s clear that these guys are not amateurs.
Conclusion. Unusually deep and rich for a band’s first effort, “In Hoc Signo” is simply one of the finest debuts for a progressive rock group in recent years, and IDV is easily one of the most interesting bands to blend in such a dizzying array of influences, a large melting point brimming over with as wide group of sounds that Kansas, Return To Forever and the other aforementioned legends suggest. The album is one of the top discoveries of 2013 and should be at the top of any prog lover’s want list.
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