The nine-minute I Hear Them Whistling is the longest track and clearly the cornerstone of the album. Able to relax and move from prog to metal and through all points in-between, it encapsulates everything good about the album in one finely distilled brew.
Zio, for those unfamiliar, are the brainchild of former Karnataka and current Hayley Griffiths Band drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi, and their previous album Flower Torania – issued shortly pre-Pandemic – was a whistle-stop tour around all points of the prog and rock world, from metal to symphonic, and at times made for a challenging listen with almost djent-like assaults in a couple of cases. If you loved that one, then there isn’t anything here to put you off, as it offers a similar mix of all of Jimmy’s influences, albeit in a slightly more listener-friendly fashion for the neophyte! Together with his musical and songwriting allies Marc Fascia and Olivier Castan (guitar and keys respectively), Jimmy has assembled an impressive list of guests, including several vocalists scattered throughout the 10 tracks. Hayley Griffiths is of course present and correct, contributing to five of the songs, but elsewhere the dulcet tones of John Mitchell, Eric Gillette, Gabriel Agudi, Magda Ohman, Magda Skyllback and the highly rated industrial metal vocalist Corvax can be heard.
There is something of a concept tying this album together, as the short title track informs us exactly what ‘Truewaves’ are (I won’t spoil it, but it’s all very satisfyingly deep and metaphysical!). This heads straight into Untenable, which is the heaviest thing here by some distance. Brutal might be a more appropriate word at times, as this piece happily grabs you by the ears, slaps you around a bit to make sure you’re listening, before throwing you against the wall like Sam and Dean Winchester fighting a demon in Supernatural. The riffing here, and the tight-as-a-gordian-knot ensemble playing, would give prime Metallica a run for their money, and yet it also manages the impressive trick of throwing in melodic prog elements which drift in and out in a manner which makes you wonder if they were there at all or whether you were just punch-drunk at the time. The way these plates are kept spinning is brilliantly done, and coming in at less than four minutes this is one of the most focused and disciplined prog-metal compositions you’re likely to hear. Textbook stuff, it really is.
If you’re hungry for more razor-blade riffing, you might be a little disappointed, as this is the most overtly metal track on the album, but there is still plenty of heft among the melody to keep heavy-minded listeners satisfied. Following the lushly arranged vignette of Lonely, Space Heater takes thing in a much more mainstream-accessible pop-prog direction, with just the right amount of crunch in the gears to keep it on the right side of the rock line – a trick repeated, in even more successful fashion by the later Above The Wheels. Living Behind is a slightly quirkily delivered yet oddly affecting ballad, dealing in part with the lack of anything worth watching on the TV – a theme previously referenced by Genesis in Blood On The Rooftops over 45 years ago, and in a strange sort of way it evokes the same sort of mood. It’s very slightly unsettling as if there is darkness lurking just beneath the surface, and it worms its way into your head. Close is another finely structured piece which builds to an enormously satisfying conclusion.
The best tracks for me here though are Lonely Diamond Part 1 (there is no Part 2 – note that to be really contrarily ‘prog’ there should be a Part 2 but no Part 1…), and the penultimate I Hear Them Whistling. Lonely Diamond is the only instrumental on the album, and features the best guitar melody on the whole record – strident and anthemic, it’s a textbook way to deliver an instrumental composition. It doesn’t need words, as you can practically ‘sing’ it in your head. The nine-minute I Hear Them Whistling, meanwhile, is the longest track and clearly the cornerstone of the album. Able to relax and move from prog to metal and through all points in-between, it encapsulates everything good about the album in one finely distilled brew. If asked to provide one example of why you should check this album out, this would be the one.
There’s one more matter, however, and that is the addressing of the frustratingly murky concept in the final, spoken-word, Endgame. We now know what Truewaves are, it concludes, but reminds us that there is one more, extremely important piece of information that we must have to unlock the secret. It is… and that’s it! Don’t expect the big reveal – or at least not at this particular juncture. It’s all left to your own fevered imagination to connect all of the dots.
Faults with the album? Well, many will undoubtedly complain that at a little under 37 minutes it’s too short, and they might have a point to an extent. However, I would also counter this by saying that, as 37 minutes was and remains quite acceptable for albums produced in the vinyl era, so it should now. It was always more about 40 minutes or so as being the optimum amount of music to digest in a single session, and that still holds true today. Sure, you can get twice that onto a CD, but there’s a reason that double vinyl albums (outside of live and compilation releases) were the exception rather than the norm. And even then you would often listen to just one of the discs at a time (Physical Graffiti remains, to me, almost two distinct listening experiences, and it could be argued that Tales From Topographic Oceans is four). And in any case, with digital platforms, the length is infinite, but there is no sign of 15-hour marathon releases at this time (though I’m sure Ayreon might have plans…). Perhaps another track to nudge this over 40 minutes would have been optimum, but otherwise I’m perfectly happy with a nice compact listen, and padding out is always pointless.
So, how does this compare with Zio’s previous release Flower Torania? I’d say it depends entirely on the listener. That first album might have more in the way of tricky arrangements and stylistic switches for the adventurous palate, but this one is, to me, the more focused and overall probably more satisfying listen. Check them both out, and see what you think!