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Minstrel - Ahab CD (album) cover

AHAB

Minstrel

Rock Progressivo Italiano


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tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover Team
4 stars Minstrel waited for 10 years before releasing their sophomore follow-up to the fabulous "Faust", an absolute shiny icon in my prog collection. That can be a ridiculous interval but so many prog musicians have day jobs and family obligations that one can only patiently wait, even though I must admit I was fearful of another one-shot wonder. Their lusty combination of operatic vocals, driving rhythm section and scorching guitar is a formula to die for, and it is maintained on Ahab in spades (and clubs and diamonds and hearts!) , wasting little time is setting a tempestuous story line adapted from Melville's obligatory classic Moby Dick (was the working title for quite awhile (or should I say 'a whale' !). We all know the story so I won't bother with it, just the music will be appreciated. There are some rampaging tracks here, full of ribald saltiness and maritime thunder, the Brian May-ish blasts from Michele Salvodelli, perpetuating the Queen images in a proggier vein with incredible opera vocals from the leather-lunged Mauro Ghilardini, who is a splendid keyboard player to boot (may I add a delightful gentleman also as per our ongoing messages!). When any album starts off with a track called vengeance, ("Vendetta") you know it won't be a pastoral prelude but a fulminating foray into the raunchier side, getting the frustrated Captain Ahab obsession into the spotlight for all to understand. There are some breathtaking pieces here like the fluid "Partenza" (Departure) and the stormy "Oceano" (obvious) , where all the instrumentalists really shine, a manic guitar wand and unending rhythmic twists and mood turns that immediately reassure the hungry fan that this is primo stuff! On the magnificent "Alba", the audience gets to see another one of those magical moments that was the hallmark of Faust, a gorgeous melody, fragile and elegant, perhaps even sorrowful, a progressive attribute I particularly respond to. The screaming lead guitar only compounds the pain, riding shot gun on the pleasure train, Mauro singing with confident brilliance, like a man possessed (opera will do that to you!). The pace is complex and swift when needed and redolently gentle at other times. "Cacchia" (Hunting) is a serious wink to their compatriots Universal Totem Orchestra, who on their 2 albums really shook my world with insane vocals and choir, brutal guitar/bass/drum onslaughts and machine-gun lyrics sung with fervor. It bucks, weaves and blows like a ship in the torment of a sea hurricane, with a sudden and unexpected wah-wah guitar funk job that stuns by its originality. The singing is out of whack, howling at the moon like some deranged sailor, screaming his agony and despair. Fantastic hard-hitting stuff, this! The steamrolling "Rampone" is where it gets heavy, the phosphoric guitar streaming between the cascading drum buoys, anchoring an insistent drive into the mind with devastating accuracy, Mauro's hell-bent voice ripping in the wind, with occasional lulls of gentle wisp. The devilish laugh is sizzling as well as the drilling synth solo (very Manfred Mann) but the chugging axe flight is the highlight, totally present and unrelenting. "Tempesta" is where the ragazzi want to show their considerable skills, some razor sharp shifts create this aura of uncontrollable power, like a raging tempest, a harpooning guitar doing most of the damage . "Delirio" contributes the more legend based delirium, hushed vocals narrating the senseless fixation of a vengeful, bitter man. The symphonics are lush and memorable, the mood exhilarating. The disc ends with the 16 minute+ "Morte" (Death), a recap of all the previous songs as well as the moral of the sad story, the instruments merging into a rock opera of the finest caliber, craftly conveying the realities of the storyline. Musically, it translates into a more Ferrari racer approach in transmitting the message, some may be turned on or turned off by the harder approach but I believe it suits the band's style well, as they know when to be ruled by restraint. The final effects, acoustic guitar work and suave piano lines are glorious and enchanting; the contrasts are note worthy and maintain the loftiest interest level. On my next run through I will be sailing with the Alberto Bigoni bass, see if that changes anything. While "Faust" remains an untouchable monument, the Ahab adventure has found a coveted niche next to it, lovingly embraced by the masterful artwork, poster and booklet. I am blown away by the quality of the music here and I would like to thank Mauro for contacting me via PA and asking for my verbal (at times verbose) opinion. Guys and gals, get this ! A 4.5 armada sailing directly into Port 5

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Send comments to tszirmay (BETA) | Report this review (#255925)
Posted Sunday, December 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars After almost 10 years, here is the Minstrel's second album, Ahab, which tells the story of the main character of Melville's novel. At first some listeners might be surprised or also disappointed of the radical style change, the differences between the previous album, since there are much heavier guitars, less operatic voices, less keyboards and more ferocious bass slapping. That's what happened to me, and for about a month I didn't listen it. Then, with random song selection of the music player I discovered the magical piano intro of Caccia, followed by the marching guitars and an incredible voice. So I did it again, selected the first song, Vendetta, and listened again. These are my opinions about every song in the album:

1.Vendetta: the first song of the album, which announces the main differences between the old and the new Minstrels. Ghilardini has a stronger voice, more similar to the Sala's (Mefistofele in Faust), rocking, but still with the operatic echo, making him, again, one of the most brilliant singers Progressive Rock has ever had. Here we can also notice the amazing skills of the bassist, featuring some really strong slaps.

2. Presagio: this is actually a kinda psychedelic passage song, which lasts only two minutes and doesn't give much contributes to the album itself.

3. Partenza: ok, here we go. This is the third song, which translated means "Departure". Here we can listen to a brilliant multitrack work of Ghilardini, who put all together some of the lowest notes of his vocal range, showing again (and again, and again) his incredible skills. The song is divided in two parts, in the second the piano is the only rhytmic instrument, and Ahab is singing on it. Sublime.

4. Oceano: the second instrumental song of the album (if you consider also Presagio), this time showing the skills of Savoldelli, the guitarist of the band. There two parts here too, the first rappresenting the calm and the quite ocean, the second the tempestuous one, with much more anger with the chords and the solos, returning then to the calm.

5. Alba: this isn't actually a song more than a crescendo. It begins with soft piano and soft vocals, until the multitrack choir enters again (the same of "Partenza"), with "Nasce l'alba", giving more life to the music, which finds it apex with the 7/4 part with all instruments at the end. My favourite song of the album.

6. Caccia: I've already said about the very beginning with the piano, the marching guitars, and the incredible singing of Ghilardini. The song goes on with a fully progressive rock part full of guitar solos, time changes, until it fades slowly to the end.

7. Rampone: it starts with the heaviest and most ''metallish" chords I've ever heard of the band, featuring also dissonances with both electric and classical guitar. The vocals are also quite rude and strong, but all this fades with the chorus, which creates an atmosphere of hope. Then starts again the strong part, but it is immediately stopped and we return to have feelings of hope and peace. Briliant.

8. Tempesta: a 3 minute passage song, full of guitar solos, time changes, all typical progressive rock things, which prepare the listener to the end of the album.

9. Delirio: a dark monologue of Ahab, who is sure of his imminent death. Another passage song that preannounces the end of the album.

10. Morte: "Death" in English. This is the ''Faust'' of the album, if you remember that song of the previous album. It begins with another much longer monologue of Ahab, before his death, who thinks about his life and if what he had done had or didn't have sense. It is divided in two parts and also here there is the multitrack duet, this time with his high notes. After the second part of the monologue, there is a long incredibly complex part of piano solos, guitar solos, bass solos, time changes, everything, showing again the great skills of this unknown band. Then the music suddenly changes, only the piano, the classical guitar and a harp remain, playing a silent melody, which introduces the last words of Ahab, resigned words. Another progressive crescendo, with more and more instruments, with higher and higher vocals and more and more harrowing words, "Per navigare sono costretto a soffrire, per soffrire costretto a cercare, per cercare sognare, per sognare morire.", "To sail, I must suffer, to suffer, seek, to seek, dream, and to dream, die!", leaving the scene to a 6 minutes instrumental piece with classical guitar and other acustical instruments.

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Send comments to Propu (BETA) | Report this review (#263607)
Posted Saturday, January 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Minstrel's second album is another close-to-masterpiece.

This Italian band is on the theatrical end of the RPI scene where they combines the best of literature, opera and RPI. One third of each, I would say. Ahab is a concept album, as Faust was. The music is symphonic and in the opera tradition. It is also very heavy within the RPI tradition too. Richard Wagner meets Osanna, in other words. Mauro Ghilardini operatic vocals gives Minstrel their own very special identity. So does Michele Savoldelli's guitar solos too. In short, the line up on this album makes it a very special Baroque RPI album.

The songs are all great on this album. Oceano and Morte is the strongest songs here with their brilliant melody lines. I am missing a true killer track here which would had elevated this album to a classic album status. But this album is so strong that I just falls over in pure joy anyway. Put this album alongside the two other best RPI albums from this century on a rostrum. It is that strong.

4.25 stars

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Send comments to toroddfuglesteg (BETA) | Report this review (#303097)
Posted Sunday, October 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars I was quite impressed with their debut album released some ?nine years prior this one (" Faust"). This one is also a concept album which is built around "Ahab": the captain of the boat chasing the famous white whale "Moby Dick" (written by Herman Melville).

When I listened to the opening number ("Vendetta"), I wondered if I was listening to the same band. From Italian symphonic prog, I was drawn into deep metal music with no link at all with the music I was waiting for. And "Partenza" just confirmed the feeling. More metal, unfortunately. Bizarrely (but very well received), the last two minutes are delicate and feature passionate vocals and intimate piano. Quite a mix!

The long instrumental "Oceano" is also a dual track: at times quite, at times violent. But in both cases it is very well performed and the guitar is just fabulous. On the smooth side, the piano is extremely relaxing.

We are brought back again into the most gentle Italian symphonic genre with the beautiful "Alba". The vocal part from Mauro Ghilardini is formidable. A monument of emotions and skills. The instrumental breaks are not shy either. Guitar is again the strongest element. A highlight. What a great track!

"Rampone" is another one which combines opera-like vocals, metal lines and sweet passages. Vocals are the highlight (once more). But be warned: this song (and this album) features quite dual music. I am not sure that these two extremes (metal and Italian symph) will please a lot of prog ears. These combinations are not quite frequent to say the least.

As you might have expected, "Tempesta" (storm it means) is quite devastating, even brutal. It is a speedy and escalating instrumental which is extremely well built and performed. Fasten your seat belt! The next song is perfectly described in the title: "Delirio". It is the weakest track of this album.

The long "Morte" is the climax of the story (but maybe not the highest point of this release). It is a good synthesis of the whole work. Metal style is on the forefront ( a bit too much IMHHO). After six minutes of a violent treat, things are calming down and the band is offering again the other facet of their music: needless to say that I prefer this side of their moon... The long closing instrumental combines some fine acoustic work.

"Ahab" is an album quite difficult to rate. It is flirting with the four stars if you're a metal freak, more on the three stars side if you're an ISP lover. I guess that you understand that my rating is three stars even if I would have loved to rate it with seven out of ten.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#307744)
Posted Sunday, October 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
andrea
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Well, "Faust" in my opinion is a very interesting work but for the band it was very difficult to perform it on stage on account of the many characters and voices. So, after the release of their debut album the band started to work on a new opera but this time they decided to conceive it as a kind of monologue with the voice of the protagonist backed only by a choir. The new album, "Ahab", was inspired by Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick and was released in 2009 with a line up featuring Mauro Ghilardini (lead and backing vocals, piano, keyboards), Michele Savoldelli (electric and acoustic guitars), Gianpaolo Pasini (drums) and Alberto Bigoni (bass). The overall sound here is sharper than on the previous album but the final result perfectly fits the storyline and Mauro Ghilardini's operatic vocals are magnificent.

The opener "Vendetta" (Revenge) is full of dark energy. You can imagine the protagonist, Captain Ahab, pursuing his white obsession crossing a ghastly sea. He looks for revenge, he wants to kill the white whale that injured and humiliated him. He can't give up his crazy dream... "Oh, My God, you know"! / I feel in my limbs blood, sweat, and tears / They devour my bones bent by memories...".

The short instrumental "Presagio" (Omen) lead us to the departure of a wild, cursed hunt across the sea... On "Partenza" (Departure) we can hear the captain shouting his orders... "Hey! Raise the anchor! / The wind will see us off! / Starbuck at the helm!/ Ishmael on the pontoon! You, on the lookout! And you, up there... And you, to the topmast! Go! Forward! Hey! Raise the anchor!". Wind and sunlight now swell the sails and the land rapidly vanishes behind the ship while the call of the see resounds in the air. The adventure begins with a frenzied rhythm and a dark feeling...

"Oceano" (Ocean) is a long, complex instrumental track that describes the ship sailing across the sea. It begins calmly and the mood is dreamy, then the dream turns into a nightmare and aggressive electric guitar riffs announce a storm and a troubled night.

"Alba" (Dawn) is dreamy and melodic. As dawn breaks and the light shines through the clouds the voice of Mauro Ghilardini delicately soars from a calm piano pattern drawing hopes and doubts. Memories flows inside the protagonist as a river that looks for the sun. Then he makes a vow... "I will sail forever pursuing this dream / As long as I have strength and breath / I won't forget this promise / And I'll win this wager / And I'll seek the knowledge / Until I'll understand the true meaning of life...".

On "Caccia" (Hunt) the rhythm rises again. It's a piece full of energy that describes the ups and downs of an endless, cursed ride across the ocean looking for the white whale... "Go on, never stop! Go on and on, you'll never lose your prey...Vile is the harpooner and vile is the captain if the blood of his prey doesn't stain his hand!... My hand, you can't fail / Take hold of the gleaming steel and strike... / Fury of the seas, listen to me / The time of revenge has come... Cruel fate, you turn us away from our course! But who seeks justice finds glory and renown...".

"Rampone" (Harpoon) describes the inner conflict that is raging in the heart of the captain. The music is evocative and dark. Melodic passages alternates with fiery guitar riffs and "deep reed" colours. You can hear an infernal smith forging a magic, evil harpoon... "Forge the point in pagan blood / I want a harpoon in mortal temper / Baptismal blood, save the baleful iron that marks every inch of me... Wind, renew my thoughts of violence! Rain, refresh my warrior instinct!... Following my mind, my fatal vow / I shall die, but I'll be free...".

"Tempesta" (Storm) is an evocative instrumental track featuring a sparkling electric guitar work that leads to "Delirio" (Madness), a monologue with narrative vocals and an orchestral background that describes the madness of the captain and the horror feelings he experiences when he looks at himself in a mirror. Eventually he comes back to consciousness for the tragic grand finale.

The last track "Morte" (Death) is a long, complex epic. It begins with a heartfelt recitative part where the voice of Mauro Ghilardini is backed and counter-pointed by the powerful rhythm section. Wave after wave, memory after memory the captain realizes that his hunt for knowledge is useless and that the unknown is still an enigma for him, "a past overflowing with mystery that returns like a wave on the shores of the present, thence surrounded like valiant, naive men by the dark sky of hope that wraps bodies like a clean shroud...". Now Ahab begins to feel guilty and his words sound like a lay prayer to Mother-Nature but it's too late! Now the music describes the fighting between the men and the white monster... Then the struggle gives way to a calmer part and melodic, operatic vocals soar... This time there's nothing more to say, there's nothing but the sea, no harbour on the horizon, no time left to regret, no goal to reach... "It's an everlasting trial... / An inner battle to discover / A doubt to abandon / A new faith to set off towards oceans of light / Immense but fragile expectations...". The captain's obsession leads him and his crew to perdition and death. When the sounds of the battle fade away we can hear a child playing and singing as a final message of hope. A dreamy, instrumental coda concludes this excellent work. On the whole a really good album featuring a beautiful packaging and a booklet full of drawing and images related to the plot. Do not miss it!

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Send comments to andrea (BETA) | Report this review (#702206)
Posted Sunday, April 01, 2012 | Review Permalink
apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Neo Prog Team
3 stars As most of the Minstrel members were involved in several other projects, 9 years of silence would pass before the group would return with a second album.For some time keyboardist Arrigo Magli would perform with Minstrel, but he only appears in one track in the new ''Ahab'' album, while bassist Marco Fiorina was replaced by Alberto Bigoni.As expected, the new album was a concept one, based on Herman Melville's ''Moby Dick'' and it was released on BTF/AMS.

A more powerful and still bombastic side of the Italians would be presented here with strong orchestral themes and crystalline, operatic vocals by Mauro Ghilardini, much in a Heavy/Symphonic Rock style with vibes from BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO's early albums and links to the style of compatriots PRESENT.Dynamic, pounding musicianship with complex changes and endless piano interludes/preludes, delivered in a thetrical mood with a Rock Opera aura.Here Mauro Ghilardini performs a long monologue of Captain Ahab, being definitely one of the best operatic singers to be around.Despite the clean metal riffing at some point, the album contains excellent salvation parts with smooth melodies and dreamy piano lines, keeping a lovely balance throughout.The music can be rhythmic, angular or mellow depending on the track.Classical influences are all over the place and ''Ahab'' is also full of some majestic piano/guitar interactions of the highest level.Not that on the last track, the deeply atmospheric 16-min. ''Morte'' there is a guest appearance by Ghilardini's son on vocals.Beautiful, cinematic, orchestral, grandiose Progressive Rock with Classical-influenced variations, bursting the pure energy of electric guitars and offering Soundtrack-like movements with a great atmosphere.

Minstrel' career was put on ice after the release of ''Ahab'', as Ghilardini & co. were absorbed again by other musical activities.This album should easily appeal to all fans of powerful, Classical-based Progressive Rock and it will sound even better if you don't mind a touch of Metal in the menu.Strongly recommended...3.5 stars.

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Send comments to apps79 (BETA) | Report this review (#1087314)
Posted Sunday, December 08, 2013 | Review Permalink

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