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4 stars Italian group Nathan formed in 1997, although three of its members were actually active in the late Seventies, and while little recordings here and there showed up during the last two decades, their proper full-length debut `Nebulosa' emerged only two years ago, and an underrated pleasant surprise it turned out to be! The band perform keyboard-dominated symphonic progressive rock but prioritise compact vocal-driven songs at the expensive of much drawn soloing, and 2018 has seen them follow up their first disc with `Era'. What we have here is another fine album from these skilled musicians, one that unexpectedly lifts to incredible heights if the listener gives it the attention it deserves and makes the time to let their music sink in.

`Figli di Cane' sets a nice early high standard, with Daniele Ferro's twisting electric guitar work constantly snaking in and out of the subtly sensational piece alongside Piergiorgio Abba's glistening keys, Fabio Sanfilippo's powerful drumming and Mauro Brunzu pulsing bass backing up Bruno Lugaro's commanding call-to-arms croon (and female singer Monica Giovannini provides lovely restrained backing vocals here and throughout the entire disc). This winning opener reminds of a cross between legendary vintage Italian proggers Le Orme and a modern symphonic group like Logos, and it also makes unexpectedly fleeting darker turns for great dramatic effect.

Piergiogio's keys are front-and-center throughout `Invisibile', swooning with orchestral-like fancy one moment, cloaked in Mellotron veils the next, and when they're surrounded by ragged guitar noodling, the piece wouldn't have sounded out of place on a Clive Nolan/Arena album (and listen to that gorgeous outro passage in the final minute!) ' just, you know, sung in Italian instead! `Le vie dei Canti' is a more romantic and softer break that still finds a bit of grunt, and `L'ultimo Giro' clips along with a swaggering mid-tempo stride that calls to mind the positivity of the early Neo-Prog albums.

The urgent `L'ombra del Falco' is the centrepiece of the album, all fanciful whirring synths, punchy organ bursts, pretty piano and thick coursing bass behind Bruno's dignified rasp, and the track will have Le Orme fans weeping for joy. The intelligent and sophisticated `Indaco' is sobering piano-lifted introspection with sublime scratchy Mellotron blasts and deeply heart- wrenching soloing guitar emotion, making for another standout moment that prog fans will completely fall for. `Maschere' has brash and crunching bombastic breaks, and closer `Esistono Ore Perfette' bristles with a touch of danger and an air of regal pomp, the piece perfectly encapsulating the sound of the classic Le Orme years, just given a modern approach (although it disappointingly fades out prematurely mid guitar solo - boo!).

`Era' is the sort of album that requires patient listening. On the surface, many of the tracks have the same basic structure ' tight songs with raspy vocals that rarely stop, reprising choruses with short little instrumental bursts here and there, and maybe a slightly extended outro once in a while. For some listeners, attention might wane, but commit to multiple spins, and very quickly the power and refinement of Nathan's music becomes apparent. There might be flashier bands around, but Nathan's secret weapon and their strength lies in how skilfully and delicately implemented all their instrumental touches are, and it helps make `Era' another superb effort from the fellas. If you like modern acts like Logos and Panther & C but still want music respectful of the vintage Italian prog masters (especially Le Orme), this quiet achiever of an album will be just for you, and with 2018 seemingly a little quieter on the Italian prog front, Nathan might just have released one of the standout albums from that country for the year.

Four stars.

Report this review (#2010069)
Posted Monday, August 27, 2018 | Review Permalink
3 stars In 2016 this promising Italian prog band released their acclaimed debut CD entitled Nebulosa, in 2018 the successor Era, now as a four piece formation, with guest musicians on choirs, backing vocals and guitars.

They start the album with Figli Di Cane: a modern sound with a tight and powerful rhythm-section and harder- edged guitar, embellished with electric piano, organ and fat synthesizer flights, and topped with strong Italian vocals. Halfway a dreamy part featuring soaring keyboards, warm vocals and twanging acoustic guitars (evoking early Genesis). Then a bombastic eruption with organ and propulsive guitar riffs, flashy synthesizer runs and fiery guitar, accompanied by Mellotron choirs. The music turns into a dynamic mid-tempo with moving Italian vocals and fiery electric guitar work, slowly the music fades away, Nathan has delivered a captivating first musical impression, to me it sound like a modern blend of Seventies symphonic rock and Nineties Neo-Prog.

The next three compositions are 'trademark Nathan': a modern blend of symphonic rock and Neo-Prog with frequent shifting moods and a lot of soli on keyboards and guitar, topped with powerful Italian vocals. My highlights are a fiery guitar solo with howling runs in Invisibile, sensitive Hackett-like guitar and a spectacular break with propulsive guitar riffs and fat synthesizer flights in Le Vie Dei Canti and varied keyboard work and harder-edged guitar play in L'ultimo Giro. Although there is a lot to enjoy in these three songs sometimes my attention slips away. Because the atmospheres sound a bit similar, or more like a cascade of nice musical ideas than a composition.

The dynamic song L'Ombra Del Falco alternates between dreamy and bombastic: from twanging acoustic guitars with soaring keyboards, tender piano, delicate flute and warm vocals to a powerful mid-tempo with dynamic drums, a powerful male voice and fine female vocal harmonies and sumptuous keyboards and harder-edged guitar play. A kind of 'Neo-Prog meets 70-77 Genesis' (Tony Banks Mellotron, organ and synthesizer sound).

Next Indaco, my highlight on this CD. First a dreamy part with melancholical vocals, tender piano and synthesizer work and a majestic Mellotron violin sound. Gradually the music has turned into a slow rhythm with soft synthesizer flights and Mellotron drops, culminating in compelling soli on electric guitar and Minimoog, goose bumps! The final part delivers first a mellow interlude with warm piano and Mellotron, and then a bombastic finale featuring Mellotron and powerful electric guitar.

The final two tracks are a bit more song-oriented (Maschere has even hit potential), alternating between symphonic rock, Nineties Neo-Prog(Arena, Everon) and AOR (Eighties Styx and Kansas): strong Italian vocals, lots of shifting moods and breaks, often powerful and bombastic, layered with harder-edged guitar play and tasteful keyboards (electric piano, Minimoog, Hammond, Mellotron).

My rating: 3,5 star.

The first edition of this review was recently published on Dutch prog website Background Magazine.

Report this review (#2041923)
Posted Sunday, October 7, 2018 | Review Permalink

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