January 29, 2020

…a positively delicious album brimming with the treasured hallmarks of the genre

There’s just something about Italy. The depth and importance of Italian contributions to progressive music over the last fifty years is impossible to overestimate. The romance and tradition of the old world imbues the Italians’ music with unparalleled richness and flavour that has continued down through the decades. From the 1970s titans of the genre such as PFM, Le Orme, and Banco – each with their own unique strengths – to the multitude of bands in the intervening decades who incorporated folk, jazz-rock, avant-garde and especially classical into their compositions, the Italian prog scene is perhaps the most beloved, the most expansive, and the most rewarding to explore. And now, freshly into a brand new decade comes Il Velo Dei Riflessi (The Veil Of Reflections), the sparkling and impressive debut release from Milan quartet Quel Che Disse Il Tuono (What The Thunder Said). A positively delicious album brimming with the treasured hallmarks of the genre, the foursome (guitarist Francesca Zanetta, formerly of compatriots Unreal City, keyboardist/flautist Niccolò Gallani of Cellar Noise, bassist/lead vocalist Roberto Bernasconi, and drummer/keyboardist Alessio Del Ben) marry the sound and feel of past greats with a modern edge, and manage to produce an appealing symphonic blend that feels familiar, but not stale. All of the aspects we love are here: the twists and turns, the dynamic arrangements, the compelling melodies, and oh my, all those vintage keyboards… simply glorious. Purists will also take comfort in the fact that the words are sung in Italian, and truth be told, that’s as it should be. There is a natural passion to singing in one’s own native tongue that cannot be replicated when delivering – or in some cases, awkwardly stumbling over – translated lyrics.

All of these delights are front and center in the outstanding nine minute opening track Il Paradigma Dello Specchio (The Mirror Paradigm), which is loaded with tight playing, dramatic shifts in the music, and those commanding, spine-tingling keyboard melodies, often among the most vital ingredients in the best Italian albums. Right on its heels, Figlio Dell’Uomo (Son Of Man) opens with some thick riffing and a deliberate, thumping groove soon accented by organ and mellotron. Clean guitar chords signal the verse that quickly builds into an extended and heavily symphonic section with lead guitar and keyboard trade-offs and further mood and tempo changes.

A gentler, more melancholy opening to Chi Ti Cammina Accanto? (Who Is Walking Next To You?) comes across as a touch Floydian, before a lovely piano and flute duet enter, soon accompanied by vocals. The second half of the song alternates between that gentle beauty and a suddenly more ominous sound. An excellent piece, but I had hoped it would go on for a bit longer – it feels like there could be more to explore there! Il Bastone e Il Serpente (The Staff And The Snake) switches things up again, opening with a rockier, evolving riff that is joined by an aggressive lead synth. Following the main song section, the piece takes on an experimental symphonic vibe that recalls some of the best Nordic bands of the genre (this band doesn’t shy away from international influence), and finishes with a lengthy instrumental section. Fantastic, and a strong contender for the best track, but it does have tough competition.

An obvious admiration and respect for the tradition created by the many who came before them…

The nearly 14 minute (and largely instrumental) epic finale Loro Sono Me (They Are Me) fires on all cylinders and succeeds on all levels – a true prog workout and a superbly played journey through an assortment of moods, themes, and styles. Numerous influences are called to mind, but they come and go quickly, like little flashes of lightning, and are unable to be dwelt on (although I do get an unmistakable sense of Goblin once or twice). The album ends as it began, with the sounds of distant thunder… and just like that, 49 minutes have gone by. The best albums always feel shorter than they are, and seem to cry out to be played again straight away, and this is certainly one of those.

There can be no doubt that Quel Che Disse Il Tuono are standing on the shoulders of giants. They have an obvious admiration and respect for the tradition created by the many who came before them, and a lot of their sound can be described as ‘retro’ – but what they do, they do exceedingly well. It’s exciting to think of what their followup albums may bring in the future, because they certainly have what it takes to be one of the leading modern bands of this style. As it stands now, we’re already being treated to what will surely be one of the top albums of 2020. It’s heartening to see that substantial music of this ilk is still valued and being created some fifty years after those dusty old records first arrived on the scene. With all its beauty, mystery, imagination, and passion, Il Velo Dei Riflessi is an absolute must, and definitely not just for Italian prog fans – this will appeal to a much broader cross-section of music lovers as well.

Il Paradigma Dello Specchio (Primo Specchio) · Figlio Dell’Uomo (Secondo Specchio) · Chi Ti Cammina Accanto? (Terzo Specchio) · Il Bastone e Il Serpente (Quarto Specchio) · Loro Sono Me (Catarsi)