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Panda Fight Club

Rock Progressivo Italiano

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars The amusingly named Italian prog group Panda Fight Club formed in Milan in 2009, with this, their debut album `Ultimo' arriving six years later in 2015, and a confident and boisterous first effort it is - and a concept album at that! While so many Italian groups like to pile on the deadly serious symphonic bluster and swooning theatricality, the Panda's prefer instead to kick listeners in the guts with a tough heavy guitar attack and bold vocals, sharing a similar fortitude to other modern acts like Il Bacio della Medusa and Civico 23, without forgetting plenty of peppy keyboard dalliances in the manner of the youthful sounding La Forza Elettro Motrice/FEM Prog Band.

Performed entirely in Italian and detailing the exploits of the last panda on Earth, the group concoct a vibrant and adventurous soundtrack to their tale, opening with `Heihe 2058', an instrumental introduction of Federico Nespoli's hard- driving Rush-like guitars, Christian Colombo's crashing drums and Lorenzo Nespoli's sleek slithering bass purring amongst Dario Errigo's whirring keyboards. `Fame senza Fine' erupts with throbbing Hammond organ bursts and Simone Pagani's rollicking swagger of a vocal, the darkly chiming guitars and swooning voice of the title track `Ultimo' are quickly swept away by stormy riffing, and the manic pure-RPI blast `Animalisti' throws in some glistening piano and playful bombastic synth twirls around menacing group vocals and relentless hard guitar grooves.

`Caccia Nuova' eventually moves the disc closer to metal with plenty of crushing heavy riffs and up-tempo bursts back and forth, and the energetic `Braccatolla' fuses skittering drums over sparkling Hammond organ and swirling synths all delivered with the same sprightly excitement of FEM's `Sulla Bolla di Sapone' from 2014, just given the addition of a muscular vocal. Lovely pristine piano weaves throughout `Sogno alla Chetamina', only to be quickly obliterated by manic ranting spoken word passages that turn roaring and forceful. It's also a nice slow-burn guitar soloing showcase and carefully builds in grandiosity, perhaps delivering the most symphonic moment of the disc. Finally, `Il Risveglio' wraps the disc with plenty of wounded and weeping vocal heart, as snarling guitar grumbles in unison alongside jazzy bass breakdowns and ghostly piano with skilfully executed dramatic heavy blasts, making it a dangerous and suitably powerful closer.

Panda Fight Club have delivered an addictive gem of a modern styled prog album that doesn't forget to offer nods to the rich history of vintage Italian symphonic music, and it's even better that it runs a welcome vinyl-length 40 minutes as well. The band consider the panda a reflection of progressive rock in general - beautiful, distinctive but now quite rare to encounter. Well, Panda Fight Club will be glad to know that Prog rock is thriving and more vital than ever, so the future looks bright for this talented band that offers a unique and exciting interpretation of the Italian Prog/RPI experience, and their accomplished debut `Ultimo' comes highly recommended.

Four stars - well done, fellas!

Report this review (#1694459)
Posted Sunday, February 19, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Panda Fight Club come from Meda, a town located in an area called Brianza, not far from Milan. The band came to life in 2009 and immediately started to work on a concept album telling the story of the last panda, an animal of rare beauty condemned to extinction by the ruthless laws of natural selection, a bit like progressive rock. The musical palette of Panda Fight Club mainly draw on seventies influences and bands such as Premiata Forneria Marconi, Biglietto per l'Inferno or De De Lind, but they're not stuck in the past and you can hear in their sound also elements of metal and hard rock mixed with a good deal of irony and freshness. The current line up features Christian Colombo (drums), Dario Errigo (keyboards, Moog), Federico Nespoli (guitar), Lorenzo Nespoli (bass) and Simone Pagani (vocals). Their debut album, entitled Ultimo (The last one), was digitally self-released in 2015 while the physical copy on CD followed in 2016. In my opinion it's an amazing work and it's really worth listening to.

The beautiful instrumental opener "Heihe 2058 (Overture)" sets the atmosphere and takes us in the dreamy world portrayed by the beautiful art cover painted by keyboardist Dario Errigo. There's an excellent interaction between guitar and keyboards perfectly backed by a brilliant rhythm section... Let's go! China, year 2058. In a forest on the mountains still lives a Panda, the last one...

With a sudden change of scenery "Fame senza fine" (Endless hunger) takes us in the middle of a banquet. The theatrical, almost operatic vocals play the role of the master of the house: a powerful, unscrupulous, voracious tycoon whose richness and haughtiness seem to have no limit. His greediness and gluttony are enormous, Pantagruel or Gargantua if compared with him were just picky people without appetite, he can have everything but he wants more, something particularly rare and precious... For his next banquet, the main course has to be the last panda on Earth!

Back to our hero! "Ultimo" (The last one) begins by an electric guitar arpeggio, then soaring vocals come in to play the role of the solitary panda wandering in a forest with no borders. The atmosphere is tense and melancholic, the mood of the protagonist is blue while the forest is compared to a cage without bars nor locks. Desperate, downhearted, sole survivor of a species on the brink of extinction... Ultimo is the name they gave to him, a name that sounds as a sentence to death.

The sarcastic "Animalisti" (Animal activists) marks another change of scenery and introduce us to another kind of danger that threatens the poor animal. The music here every now and again recalls Area and Magma while the frenzied vocals play the role of some intransigent, crazy animal activists speaking up for animals rights. They want to capture Ultimo to compel him in some way to breed and extract from him some blood and DNA samples to clone him and preserve in this way his species...

The aggressive "Caccia nuova" (New Hunt) describes another threat for the panda, a merciless hunter. Here the vocals play the role of the human predator and try to express the feelings of the hunting man and the reasons that push him set off on and adventurous journey just for the pleasure of killing his prey. The predator comes to life where the prey dies, a new hunting trip begins...

Back to our panda! "Braccato" (Chased) is a frenzied piece that describes the last moments of freedom of Ultimo and his breathtaking efforts to run away and escape from all the people who want to capture him. Eventually, who is the winner? We don't know. The track ends by the sound of a shot...

The psychedelic, almost mystical "Sogno alla chetamina" (Ketamine dream) tell us that the gun used to shoot at the panda was loaded with a powerful narcotic. In fact, ketamine is a medication mainly used for starting and maintaining anaesthesia that provokes a trance-like state while providing pain relief, sedation, and memory loss. Now the poor animal is dreaming, and in his dream he changes into a blue mammoth with the wheels, a bus, a dodo, he's falling down in a deep abyss... You can hear also some voices speaking around him, speaking to him. There are some doctors who try to wake him up...

The surreal "Il risveglio" (Awakening) ends the album with a coup de théatre. Slowly the silence is broken by the rain, the fog clears, the protagonist emerges from his state of unconsciousness and... Surprise! The panda is not a panda but a man who can see the light of a new, brighter day. He's not alone any more but just a man among other men. Anyway the relief last a while since he still feels as a sole survivor in his heart...

On the whole, a very good album with a curious storyline!

Report this review (#2080665)
Posted Monday, December 3, 2018 | Review Permalink

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