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The Former Life - Electric Stillness CD (album) cover


The Former Life

Crossover Prog

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Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Electric Stillness' - The Former Life (7/10)

The Former Life is a band fuelled by the musical partnership and chemistryof Matteo Ballarin and Andrea De Nardi, two young proggers with a vested love for many of the prog rock legends. With half of the full band having been in a Pink Floyd tribute band, it wouldn't be beyond the realm of reason to guess that this new Italian act is largely mellow, soft and melodic. Although the influence of Floyd and other progressive acts is clear in The Former Life's sound, they fuse this vintage inspiration with the likes of jazz fusion and modern rock. "Electric Stillness" is a meeting place of the old and new, and with the retrospective recent addition of an eighth track to the album, The Former Life have given their debut a flow and structure that the original version lacked.

If anything, it is clear that Ballarin and De Nardi are incredibly inspired musicians, putting several years worth of ideas into this album. "Electric Stillness" feels as such for the variety of sound and style that's been put into it. Although the opener "Sundering Jewel"s atmosphere oriented piano gives the initial impression of the band fusing a strong classical sound into rock, "Hijacked" goes for something new, treading close to jazz fusion instrumentation and the syncopated rhythms of post-punk. Although The Former Life flirt with the prospect of sounding scattered and aimless by incorporating so many different sounds into their sonic brew, "Electric Stillness" saves itself by reintroducing these styles again throughout the album. "London Rain" takes the listener back to a bouncy fusion sound, sporting the not-inconsiderable axe skill of Ballarin. The most pronounced element of The Former Life's sound consists of a modern-sounding take on progressive rock.

Perhaps somewhat like the style legends Porcupine Tree, the vintage prog sounds of synths and soaring guitar leads are fused into what is otherwise a rock style very aware of its contemporaries. Indeed, this idea of fusing the old and new is a concept about as old as progressive rock itself, but The Former Life do it a good service. Often, the band will explore several different styles within a different song, and the transitions are kept smooth, thanks to a focused approach to songwriting. Even above the impressive guitar work, the vocals are the strongest part of the band. They're both pleasantly dramatic and melodic, and do well to compliment the music's slightly melancholic atmosphere. The Former Life do all of these things with a generally mellow approach, and although it would have been nice to hear "Electric Stillness" leap out with something more assertive once in a while, each song is solid and memorable, thanks largely in part to the vocal melodies.

In its original incarnation, "Electric Stillness" accomplished a strong consistency from song- to-song, but as an album, the flow was left feeling like a broken circle, working towards something but never reaching it. This issue has been remedied by the addition of "Fragments of the Jewel", a piece that gives me the impression that The Former Life came to the same conclusion. Although it works well on its own as one of The Former Life's more atmospheric pieces, it provides the denouement that "Electric Stillness" lacked otherwise. Connecting to "Sundered Jewel" with its title and even reprising some of the album's most memorable ideas from "Belong to the Stars", "Fragments of the Jewel" is a very welcome addition to the experience. If you got the chance to hear the album last year, I'd recommend you hear it again with this revised finale. It gives the album the conclusion it deserved. The Former Life aren't yet doing anything of a truly original or distinct nature on "Electric Stillness", but they have demonstrated some great skill here, both in regards to their compositions and the way they have conveyed them in the recorded medium. I look forward to hearing where they go next!

Report this review (#881864)
Posted Tuesday, December 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars The Former Life is an Italian prog band from Vittorio Veneto that was formed in 2008 on the initiative of Andrea De Nardi and Matteo Ballarin who had previously collaborated in other bands and projects. According to the official website, the band was named after an imaginary life that the musicians dreamed to have experienced in the era of the giants of rock and was meant as a metaphor to express the shadow of our past and its merging with today's shadows ' a thin thread keeping us tied to what seems to be past and gone, and yet inevitably needs to be recalled, being the only key to access a 'latter life' (a life change). Their sources of inspiration range from Pink Floyd to classical music and jazz but the final result is not too derivative and the song-writing is rather good. In 2011 they self released an interesting debut album, 'Electric Stillness', with a line up featuring along with Andrea De Nardi (vocals, piano, organ, keyboards) and Matteo Ballarin (vocals, guitars) two guest musicians, Edoardo Papes (drums, percussion) and Giovanni Scarabel (bass). Later the line up was completed by drummer Manuel Smaniotto and bassist Carlo Scalet for the live activity that followed the release of the album.

According to the band, 'Electric Stillness' was conceived as a conceptual work about the abandonment of an unwanted former life (or experience) and the growing desire for change and rebirth, symbolized by a beautiful jewel which 'sunders' into two halves. In the booklet there's a short poem that in some way sets the atmosphere, a foreword to the music you're going to listen to... 'The brightest awakening comes after the longest sleep, as the suspended chord resolves to the perfect triad... Few notes of recollection can be played but sometimes you find the right key to playback... yourself / That's like regaining the memory of your former life...'.

The opener 'Sundering Jewel' begins with an amazing, dreamy prelude for piano solo that recalls slightly Le Orme's album Florian. Then the other instruments come in and the music takes off taking you away from the Venetian lagoon, towards an obscure moon... 'We're doomed to stay apart and to play the dark songs of elsewhere / Should this remind us of a former life, we'll escape, like we've never escaped / Nor we'll obey their rules...'.

You can walk on the moon on the notes of the following 'Hijacked', an evocative instrumental track that leads to the spacey 'Belong To The Stars', a long piece blending dreamy melodic lines and dark passages, hazy memories and fading nightmares... 'I'm a pilgrim in search of no land / Betrayed by oblivion and fear / Fuddled, brainwashed, wrecked and bound to be here...'. The melancholic 'MesmerEyes' takes you back to earth, where love is nothing but hate in disguise and where you have to bear the burden of your mistakes. Now you have to seek for a place to start back, forgetting the past and its long shade of guilt.

'London Rain' is a beautiful track divided into three parts. It's about the madness of men who forget too easily the errors of the past and turn they faces away from the blood of the innocent victims of violence. The mood is dark, there's a sense of impending tragedy, a bomb is going to explode. If you can absorb a disgrace as if it were rain you're probably insane... 'There is still a huge ravine between you and how you should be, man...'.

'A Milligram Of Joy' begins with an electric guitar solo that shines in the dark like a crazy diamond. There's a strong sense of nostalgia, you're looking for your past but you can't find it, you're wondering where your days have gone but there's no way to have them back... 'What have they done with my stolen days? / You know your enemies are altering the game / But will you, will you let the wind erase another trace? / There ain't no angel to save us strangers / Now that I twist and burn inside / Now that I want back my milligram of joy...'.

The conclusive title track 'Electric Stillness' closes the circle and brings you back to your dream, to the stage of a long gone shadow play... 'Voices then came to whisper me of a latter life / I felt their wide wings caress my illusions / While calling me across the outermost boundary / I saw a sundering jewel, high above us / And we strove hard to reach it / But at the top of those white marble stairs / I was left alone, and shown the root of all my inborn weakness / Electric stillness reigned...'.

Well, on the whole I think that this is a very good album. By the way, 'Electric Stillness was re-released in 2012 with a bonus track. Have a try!

Report this review (#951814)
Posted Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | Review Permalink

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