Inspired and endorsed by Greg Lake, Italian ensemble serve up a concept album to launch a heavy prog entity into the world.
Ambigrams became all the rage upon the release of Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons” – around the same time this collective came into existence only to transmogrify their style, albeit not title, many times during the next two decades, until the right combination of players pooled their talents into songs which drew the attention of a certain veteran who used to front KING CRIMSON and ELP. It helped, of course, that the band’s bassist Massimo Marchini knew Greg and would work as artistic director for the revitalized Manticore Records after his passing, but the group’s pull is rather irresistible after several spins of their first platter, so any link to the late art-rock classic should be irrelevant. “Ambigram” was worth the wait on the merits of music alone.
There’s fragile diaphaneity running through “A Mediterranean Tale” – the album’s opening epic, co-produced by Lake – to let the robust riffs and Francesco Rapaccioli’s passionate voice gradually transpire from behind guitar strum and piano passages, before Beppe Lombardo’s nervous, if flamenco-flavored, six-string lace comes to set a contrast between the initial balladry and subsequent electric despair. As a result, it’s impossible to escape the heavily infectious, hellish allure of the tremulous “Cerberus Reise” – despite the quartet’s following too close, here and on a few other tempo-shifting numbers, in the wake of a certain Torontonian trio, especially when cosmic synthesizers rave on “Pig Tree” to undermine the piece’s bluesy wail and woozy prog-panorama with the metal drive of Gigi Cavalli Cocchi’s drums, and Hammond roar.
Still, the Italian ensemble excel when they suffuse the album’s overall sci-fi slant with sludgy soulfulness and catchy chant on “Imaginary Daughter” or venture into an ivories-splashed, madrigalesque extravaganza of “L’Absinthe” and beyond. The foursome unleash their fantasy until acoustic licks and Max Marchini’s supple lines are allowed to ripple the sonic surface in the folksy, and spaced-out, serenade “Patchwork” and go for artificially fierce, flaming funk in “Pearls Before Swine” – as opposed to the stained-glass vocal harmonies of “Sailing Home” that finds female choir backing the band’s spiritual flight. Paola Folli’s wordless singing will take it even closer to the celestial realm, yet one doesn’t have to earn for heaven to revel in the wonder of this record – the unambiguous joy of discovering a new mythology.