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NOT A GOOD SIGN

Not A Good Sign

Eclectic Prog


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4 stars 4 1/2 stars, rounded down to 4 stars.

Excellent album from these veteran Italian musicians. All members are highly proficient with their respective instruments and bring together very complex, yet melodic and accessible RPI. Alessio Calandriello sings big sonorous melodies and Paolo ''Ske'' Botta has many insanely good keyboard lines on pretty much every song. There are some occasional well placed female vocals. The drumming is very agile. The lengthy instrumental passages are incredibly engaging and never outstay their welcome.

I am very close to giving this album 5 stars. There are definitely no bad songs on here. Overall, a wonderful retro prog album, with very modern production.

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Send comments to GlassHanded (BETA) | Report this review (#1007511)
Posted Sunday, July 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
seventhsojourn
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
RPI
4 stars There was quite a buzz around this album's release, probably because most of the band members are already veterans of the modern Italian prog scene through their work in Ske, Yugen and La Coscienza di Zeno. Their plan with this project was to produce an accessible style of music, different from their normal currency, and one that places a greater emphasis on songwriting as opposed to experimentation. Another distinction is that the vocals are all in English, but even before singer Alessio Calandriello's opening gambit it's clear that the net has been cast wider than Italy with this release. The guys behind Not A Good Sign have pinpointed the music of the seventies and King Crimson as major sources of inspiration, however on this evidence they also appear to have taken careful notice of happenings in Scandinavia during the nineties. The end product certainly marks a boundary with the more experimental work of Yugen but, still, they've managed to create a nicely balanced mix of prog and straightforward hard rock.

The first track 'Almost I' sets the high-impact scene with a hurly burly of sound that's dominated by mercurial keyboardist Paolo Botta jumping from manual to manual like a hyperactive flea. Guitarist Francesco Zago engages him in an early duel but he's out- gunned from the word go. In particular there's some powerful interaction between synth and string machines/Mellotron. The sound of the Mellotron is to be found everywhere on the album, shrouding just about all tracks in its shifting mist. On this opening piece it hangs menacingly in mid-air before swirling off on a mysterious tangent; the gloomy vapour of its strings then dissolve into icy stabs of brass which are themselves punctuated with aggressive guitar breakthroughs. The overall effect is not dissimilar to the symphonic psychedelia of fellow Italian band Oxhuitza

'Making Stills' hinges on Botta's electric piano although guitarist Zago also manages to put his mark on this keyboards-stained track with a sweetly weeping refrain that gets taken up firstly by synth and then Mellotron-flute. The electric piano plays its pivotal role by closing this section and introducing the next, jazzed up and backed up by clavinet, Hammond organ and synth. The closing section starts mysteriously before building to a majestic choral climax and it's about as close as Not A Good Sign get to capturing the sound of Genesis. Quite close, actually.

The title of 'Witchcraft by a Picture' may well conjure up vivid impressions, demonic images, a whiff of a Black Widow disposition perhaps. And sure enough, the intro is bogged down in a doomy riff with subterranean Hammond and guitar vibrations sending shivers up through the earth. But then the piece enters a different, dusky dimension through Sharron Fortnam's enchanting, wispy vocal. With sensitive accompaniment on acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, this is the band's setting for a sonnet by the 17th Century metaphysical poet John Donne and was written specifically with the North Sea Radio Orchestra singer in mind. In fact the band is supported on selected tracks by a small but discerning group of guest musicians, including Sharron, and they all feature on this one. There is significant input from cellist Bianca Fervidi and pianist Maurizio Fasoli on this song but the rhythm section is also an important part of the equation here, laying down a seemingly incongruous trip hoppin' rhythm under a gently rising cello line. Wonderful stuff, really! For me, the album turns on this and the preceding track and together they occupy the emotional heart of the album. They also demonstrate how the band is able to adjust a seventies-style accordingly for a modern audience.

'Not A Good Sign' is guaranteed to be in the front rank of new releases under the Italian prog banner this year, no mean feat considering the number and quality of fine releases to emerge from the country recently. Don't miss it.

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Send comments to seventhsojourn (BETA) | Report this review (#1008154)
Posted Monday, July 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is definitely one of the most melodic, symphonic prog albums I've ever heard released from the AltrOck stable--especially considering the band's members have all previously contributed to some pretty unmelodic, dissonant, experimental Avant/RIO. As others have already pointed out, the keyboard work on this album is stunning; Paolo "SKE" Botto has already proven himself with his contributions to both YUGEN and his own solo project, SKE, but here he really shines--which is saying a lot because all of the instrumental contributors to this album are stellar! Despite the exemplary, virtuosic play on the album's opener, "Almost I" (6:37) (8/10), I do not find myself really drawn in to the song until the Section beginning with the eery arpeggios (around the 4:31 mark). From there through the end of the KING CRIMSON ITCOTCK- like"Almost II" (3:11) (10/10) the band achieves, IMO, pure prog perfection. For me, the other highlights of the album are: song 6, "Coming Back Home" (5:49) (10/10), which has a highly melodic and memorable vocal while remaining full-bore prog in its musical flow and attack; the beautiful Genesis-like 4. "Making Stills" (6:41) (10/10); 7. "Flow On" (6:05) (9/10); the album's King Crimson-esque (Red-era) title song (7:54) (9/10); the album-ending instrumental, "Afraid to Ask" (3:05) (8/10); the unusual 'song-within-a-song,' 5. "Witchcraft By A Picture" (7:35) (8/10), featuring the gorgeous voice of North Sea Radio Orchestra's Sharron Fortnum, and; "The Deafening Sound of The Moon" (4:31) (8/10). Wow! That's a 9/10 average over the entire album! It doesn't get much better than that! Guess this one's a real winner! Fans of 60s-70s King Crimson and Genesis will definitely find a lot to love in this excellent AltrOck/Fading Records release.

4.5 stars rated up for consistency, great performances thoughout, and amazing production.

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Send comments to BrufordFreak (BETA) | Report this review (#1010598)
Posted Saturday, August 03, 2013 | Review Permalink
ProgShine
COLLABORATOR
Errors & Omissions Team
4 stars Not A Good Sign is an 'All-Team' project of the Italian label AltrOck. Released by their umbrella label Fading Records Not A Good Sign (2013) is composed by musicians from other bands of the label. Paolo Botta (keyboards) comes from the bands Ske and Yugen, Francesco Zago (guitars) also comes from Yugen, Alessio Calandriello (vocals) and Gabriele Guidi Colombi (bass) from La Coscienza Di Zeno and Martino Malacrida (drums) from Antifone Libere and others.

'Almost I' is the track one on the debut self-titled album from this new project. A powerful instrumental with King Crimson colors. 'Almost II' gives continuation to the album with a more melodic and slower track. A great performance of the vocalist Alessio Calandriello (La Coscienza Di Zeno).

'Not A Good Sign' is the track that gives its name to the band and to the album and it is a monster one. Weird signature tempo, astonishing vocals and great dynamic. It includes a full change in the second half of the song, this time based on piano and acoustic guitars.

One thing to be mentioned about Not A Good Sign is their 'kitchen'. It's important for a band to have solid drums and basses, but not just that, it's also important that they are clever in what they're doing. And Not A Good Sign has it! Martino Malacrida and Gabriele Guidi Colombi are two monster musicians.

'Making Stills' is the next track and for a moment it reminded me of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (1973). But soon after the intro we can see the 70's Italian Prog influence. This instrumental track has everything! But it's most a fast pace tempo song with absolute superb keyboards by Paolo 'Ske' Botta. 'Witchcraft By A Picture' is heavier and shows us a bit of Black Sabbath's influence for a moment, the only exception being the vintage keyboards. But this is in fact just the intro, the rest of the song turns out to have female vocals by Sharron Fortnam and in my opinion it is the weakest track on Not A Good Sign (2013) because it escapes completely from the band's proposition.

And while 'Coming Back Home' is yet another song with 70's style and great dynamics; 'Flow On' has a cello (by Bianca Fervidi) and a very weird drum beat. I would say that this track is a bit more modern than the others. In the end of Not A Good Sign (2013) we have two tracks: 'The Defeaning Sound Of The Moon' with its riffs and moods and the instrumental 'Afraid To Ask', that end up like an unusual lullaby with Francesco Zago's heavy guitars, Maurizio Fasoli's (as a guest) piano and once again Bianca's cello.

Every time I receive a new album from AltrOck/Fading I crack a smile, because I know that it's going to be a high quality product. And especially if they put together musicians of their other bands together to record. The high quality we have on the album was most certain, and in fact it is!

Not A Good Sign (2013) is a strong album that the test of time will show us how good is. Just hope that this project comes back to the studio anytime in the future to make more records! Guaranteed quality!

(Originally posted on progshine.net)

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Send comments to ProgShine (BETA) | Report this review (#1031047)
Posted Monday, September 09, 2013 | Review Permalink
Progulator
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars As a general rule of thumb, I view supergroups as overrated. Why? Because in most cases the phrase "the sum is greater than the parts" simply does not apply. Not a Good Sign, however, proves that a supergroup can in fact be absolutely brilliant. Essentially this new band is an Altrock/Fading Records collaboration featuring members of Yugen and La Coscienza di Zeno. What's great about the band is that for me it played out to be a recognizable blend of the two groups, but the cool part was it sounded absolutely nothing like what I expected.

A broad description of Not a Good Sign would be that the songs are more song oriented compared to, let's say, Yugen, but convention and creativity come together to find that sweet spot time and time again across the length of the record. Very present are things like verses and choruses with very singable melodies (although not poppy by any means), but tying these together are a vast array of awesome melodies and well composed arrangements. Might I say, in fact, that the texturing on this album holds up to the best I've heard in a rock setting.

The album kicks it off with "Almost" parts 1 and 2, the former being an instrumental and the latter a vocal piece. Separately these two tracks offer us pretty much the spread of what the band does, but on virtually all tracks following these the band rolls elements found in "Almost" into single, coherent pieces. "Almost Part 1″ is all about the interplay between heavy, dark, and vintage elements. It's really quite ominous as open spacey melodies back up against loads of overdriven guitar and Hammond across easily recognizeable motifs, including some hints at the avant-prog that we'd expect from the Yugen gang. As it transitions into part 2 we get a demonstration of Calandriello's vibrant voice over what is probably the tamest composition of the album. Just prepping us, I guess, for the wild storm ahead.

"Not a Good Sign," the title track of the album, is really where we start tying together elements we saw in the opening two tracks. What starts off as crunchy riffing over shifting Hammond parts quickly transforms into a first verse whose chord changes come across as slightly jazzy, creating a nice backdrop to Calandriello's vocals, then passing into a prechorus and finally moving into an amazing chorus that capitalizes on its heavy and menacing display of syncopation, emotional vocals and really cool synths.From here the direction changes dramatically, but in a natural way as we move into an instrumental section starts off light and then sways back and forth between thick synths, heavy avant- rock, and fluffy breathing moments before returning to the verse/chorus. All in all the result is a title track that is well deserving of the album's name.

Before moving on to the other vocal pieces I'd like to deviate from the track order a tad and mention the two instrumentals: "Making Stills" and "Afraid to Ask." It's actually really funny, because my thoughts as I listened to these piece were something along the lines of, "sounds like SKE wrote these." And indeed, I was correct. "Making Stills" and "Afraid to Ask" show what an fine knack Paolo 'Ske' Botta has for lovely melodies and catchy rock. These two tracks are a chalk-ful of lush texture, pastoral atmosphere, and are ultimate extremely soothing and uplifting. The melodies are memorable while the dynamics show a strong sense of gracefulness. Of particular mention is the ending to "Makiing Stills" which features a slow, deliberate movement that breathes beautiful chord changes and repeating motifs over which Zago delivers some tasty leads.

What I really love are albums that start off strong but reveal how incredible they really are as the record progresses, rather than starting off with a bang but then getting progressively weaker. Not a Good Sign proves do do things right on their debut; at least from where I'm sitting, they knocked my socks off time and time again during the second half of the record. After a heavy intro, "Witchcraft by a Picture" takes a huge turn as it turns heavenly as it introduces the angelic vocals of Sharron Fortnam from Northsea Radio Orchestra. The instrumentation is perfect and thorougly enhances the vocals. If I thought it couldn't get much better I was wrong; the outro is stunning in its gorgeous repetition of an uplifting piano motif, fantastic chord changes and a drumbeat that blew me away. From here it moves towards a slower and heavier variation with loads of analogue towards a breathtaking finale, making this one of the highlights of the album, if not my favorite piece.

From its onset, "Coming Back Home" takes us in a more dark/intense direction, with something about the feel that reminded me a lot of Not a Good Sign's compatriots, Barock Project. Dreamy choruses and a brilliant instrumental section that delivers variations on the verse follow to take us back to the verse/chorus before ending off this fantastic piece in which once again, Martino Malacrida's drumming left me picking my jaw up off the floor. Following "Coming Back Home" is "Flow On," a piece that does everything well from brilliant drumming, great keyboard/bass guitar complimenting, to epic composition that takes you on a journey through wonderfully progressive soundscapes. Finally, "The Deafening Sound of the Moon" shows us that the boys from "La Coscienza di Zeno" know how to write some seriously dark tunes which are marvelously executed by Zago's brutal riffing and Ske's dirty Hammond. Speaking of Zago, he really gets his moment to shine on this song and I must tip my hat off to his phenomenal abstract and maniacal riffing/solo section in the middle of the piece. To cap it off, just in case you didn't get your dose of nightmares for the week, might well have to change your diaper after the humongous closing that is basically an all out assault of eerie synths textures combined with heavy drum/bass/guitar.

So, what's the verdict? Not a Good Sign is a thrilling ride from start to finish with enough freshness and nuance to calm even the harshest of critics. Couple that with the fact that Zago and Ske know how to arrange a piece to the point of pure genius and the result is an album that I really feel like I could recommend to everyone.

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Send comments to Progulator (BETA) | Report this review (#1287891)
Posted Sunday, October 05, 2014 | Review Permalink

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