February 19, 2020

There are moments of great restrained melodic prog beauty here, and there are also sections of sheer metallic hammer to make even the most carnivorous of metalheads nod appreciatively. It’s Prog Metal Jim, but not as we know it.

Zio. Let’s start with a little explanation about who, or what, constitutes Zio. Essentially, it is a band project helmed and founded by drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi. Now, let’s continue with a little explanation about Jimmy – though no-one who has seen him play will need any! Previously the man behind the kit for Karnataka, and featured on the classic Secrets Of Angels album, he is currently a member of The Hayley Griffiths Band, which of course contains three members of that Karnataka line-up. Jimmy has also played with a host of other bands and artists including Franck Carducci, The Ravens, and a whole lot more, and on stage he is the closest that the prog rock scene has to Animal from the Muppets. Seriously, he could go out under the name Dr Teeth And The Electric mayhem without even having to bill it as a tribute band! Keith Moon was a pretty wild player, but he did at least spend most of his time sitting down. Jimmy Pallagrosi is, to put it simply, a force of nature.

So, how does this album sound? Well, to these ears it’s like a glimpse inside the head of the man behind it. Jimmy has two great musical loves: prog rock on the one hand, and hitting things very hard on the other. That alone gives a good clue about the album. There are moments of great restrained melodic prog beauty here, and there are also sections of sheer metallic hammer to make even the most carnivorous of metalheads nod appreciatively. It’s Prog Metal Jim, but not as we know it.

A word about the lyrical content first. The album follows a hugely ambitious conceptual tale of sci-fi comic-book fantasy written by Jimmy himself. I won’t delve into it here, but you can find it on the Zio website, and it features characters, such as Torania, Alan, Belbi and Nato, who are played on the album by guest vocalists Hayley Griffiths, Joe Payne, Heather Findlay and Franck Carducci. Pretty star-studded for sure. Don’t worry over much about the story though, because the album stands on its own two feet just fine without it. The concept is a great bonus, and adds a lot of flesh to the bones of the record, but the music here doesn’t need anything to prop it up, as it is very, very good.

There are short tracks, around the sub three minute mark, which are all excellent in themselves, but definitely serve the album best by framing the longer ‘epics’, for want of a better word, which make up the rest. After the introductory Ride Along, X-Ray really gets the album into top gear. Opening with some powerful riffing and tricky timing, the track constantly feels on the edge of collapsing in on itself, yet thrillingly never quite does, like a motorcycle rider on the Wall Of Death. It’s impossible to classify: it’s not exactly prog, not exactly metal, yet you couldn’t really call it prog-metal either. It’s just Zio. After a short bridging sequence midway through, the track stampedes into a gloriously untamed metal section which is quite breathlessly exhilarating. It slows toward the end, but hell, we’re still catching our breath. That one is going to be some track live!

Elsewhere there is some possibly even better stuff on display. Erwin’s Opera contains some more traditionally ‘prog’ material with some beautifully lyrical guitar work from guest Richard Henshall (Haken), while the following Inner City: Shorroma may be the crowning glory of the whole record, its bludgeoning power combining with a claustrophobic, urban feel and moments of blissful proggy release to create a piece of significant power and quality. There are also a couple of tracks which contain such an array of influences as to be gloriously, monstrously barking mad! Straight Up From Underneath crams more ideas into its seven minutes or so than many bands do in an hour, with soaring guitar lines channelling the ’70s pomp and majesty of early Queen while an astonishing mid-section conjures up some kind of alternate reality broadway musical composed by a panel of Frank Zappa aficionados. In a good way. There are other itches to scratch here though. For instance, have you ever wished to hear Jamiroquai jamming with Slayer, and hoped that just maybe Rick Wakeman might drop in toward the end to spice things up? Well, now you can wonder no more. Simply listen to Interstellar List, and finally abandon all hope of pigeon-holing this extraordinary music.

All of the lyrics are written by Jimmy, but the music is a collaborative effort with guitarist Marc Fascia and keyboardist Olivier Castan (with a little help from Payne and Griffiths), and there is a real ‘band’ feel to proceedings. It may have had its genesis as a Jimmy Pallagrosi project, but make no mistake about it, this is a real team effort, and it shows. Castan even helped out with illustration on the packaging side. If some of Jimmy’s more sedate prog endeavours have shown his Dr Jekyll side, he lets Mr Hyde have the freedom of the lab here! Go on, grab some of that potion and run with it. You may grow some bushy facial hair and begin terrorising the neighbourhood, but what the heck? Just tell ’em Jimmy sent you…