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Melting Clock

Rock Progressivo Italiano

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4 stars MELTING CLOCK is an Italian prog band originating from the early 2000's. Their debut album Destinazioni was finally released last winter by the Black Widow label. The CD version is 61 minutes long; the 2LP edition contains a 16-minute medley of the material of King Crimson's debut In the Court of the Crimson King as a bonus (I haven't heard it). The band page is packed with information, so I'll concentrate on the music. The album has some conceptualism, dealing of a journey or something. Both Italian and English words are printed, but all singing is in Italian.

A good female vocalist definitely isn't too common in RPI. Emanuela Vedana has a nice, clean voice and her expression is elegant, free of over-dramatization but not without emotion. She would suit in a lyrically oriented vocal music as well. The band sound is also pretty sophisticated and mellow, featuring elements from classical music and folk. Keyboardist and additional vocalist Sandro Amadei and guitarist Simone Caffè are the main composers, and neither of them is pushing their playing in the centre of attention in a virtuotic manner. All the musicians in the group are technically good, they just aren't head over heels to show it off. Does this polite democracy and the lack of more notable soloing result as a mild degree of progressive rock flavour? Well, perhaps a little on some songs, but if you want to listen to intense, ELP-influenced RPI, there are myriads of bands in that style. Melting Clock is a fresh exception, closer to being a cross between Renaissance and the most artistic Dire Straits than edgier prog such as King Crimson that they have covered. Moreover, I think the majority of recent Italian prog bands with a female vocalist have more or less been oriented to hard rock, which is very minimal here. Yes, the electric guitar occasionally speeds up, but the acoustic guitar is often more essential in the sound.

The melodic style is a relatively accessible combination of vocal oriented, calm pop rock and 70's inspired symphonic rock. Even the least proggy songs are enjoyable, and none of them actually is following the verse/chorus structure. Album highlights include 'Antares', which is one of the tracks to feature beautiful vocalise singing, and the three-part title piece which is clearly the proggiest track. This is a band worth keeping an eye on!

Report this review (#2341439)
Posted Thursday, March 12, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars Melting Clock guitarist Stefano Amadei explained the band's moniker, commencing the tale in the Department of Physics at university in Genoa in 2001: the original objectives of a small group of friends was to have fun making music, describing the attempts of the fledgling group to play covers from the bands they loved as being 'so bad that we were off beat on the various section of the songs'. This prompted bassist Alessandro Bosca to apply the Italian slang 'ci sciogliamo il tempo' ('we are melting our time'), meaning 'we are forgetting/loosing the rhythm/beat' and sparking the connection with the melting clocks in Salvador Dali's 1931 masterpiece The Persistence of Memory that some have suggested was inspired by Einstein's theory of General Relativity. According to Stefano they adopted the band name Melting Clock as a private joke: a comment on their musical skills and a pretentious link to their academic background.

Four of the original line-up remain: brothers Sandro and Stefano Amadei (keyboards and voice, and guitars respectively); Alessandro Bosca (bass); and Francesco Fiorito (drums), while the current sextet is completed by Simone Caffè (guitars) and Emanuela Vedana (vocals.). It surprised me that their coherent, largely symphonic style should result from a wide range of influences because Francesco and Stefano are metal-heads, Simone is a David Gilmour fan, and Sandro listens to Scandinavian jazz, though he has played with Daedalus, a Genoese prog-metal band alongside Fabio Gremo of Il Tempio delle Clessidre, and was a huge fan of Jordan Rudess, lending Rudess his Kurzweil K2600 when the Dream Theater keyboard player was on holiday in Italy and agreed to perform for the Italian Dreamers. The influence of contemporary acts like Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Opeth and Ayreon that the band say have shaped the direction of their sound is tempered by a critical understanding of the cultural significance of the music that came out of Italy in the 70s along with an appreciation of classic UK progressive rock; accompanying them to a gig reveals the depth of their knowledge of Italian prog, and each time they play live, they've included a classic prog cover in the set.

An indication that their music has the potential for broad appeal was the decision of Black Widow Records to allow the band to produce a limited 2LP edition of their debut album DESTINAZIONI. Black Widow co-owner Massimo Gasperini may have thought long and hard about the vinyl release when the band had enough material for three sides of an LP but a cover medley of King Crimson tracks 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN, IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING and STARLESS, first aired to great response during a gig at Genoa's L'Angelo Azzurro club in March 2019, would provide the material for side four, renamed ALLA CORTE DEL RE CRIMISI for the album, artfully segued together and enhanced by violin from Hanako Tsushima.

There's a huge debate about the merits of singing in your own language or writing lyrics in English to broaden your appeal and though some might think it a brave choice for a band producing their first album, the band were adamant that the right choice for them was to sing in Italian. As a compromise they include English translations of the Italian lyrics on both CD and vinyl editions of DESTINAZIONI, provided by Emanuela and Stefano as an interpretation for non-Italian speakers. The singing is expressive, poetic and at times almost operatic; the translations reveal an impressionistic flair that reminds me of Peter Sinfield's best work ? much of it for PFM. There can't be many better voices than Emanuela's in any form of rock.

The album artwork was painted by their friend Matteo Anselmo, depicting a young woman at a bus stop waiting for a boat. This is a conceptual link to Genoa, especially the tracks ANTARES and title track DESTINAZIONI to Genoa. The compositions are thematically linked by the representation of different aspects of a journey. Though the music is largely credited to Simone and Sandro, with a good proportion of the lyrics provided by Emanuela, the process of structuring each piece is dependent on rhythmic arrangement by Francesco and Alessandro and colour and mood supplied by Stefano. Having originally begun recording the album in November 2018, the time spent in Studio MAIA under the direction of Andrea Torretta was used wisely, settling on the most satisfying arrangements that capture the drama of each individual story. Stefano explains that he wasn't interested in music that he found unchallenging, describing their style as being characterised by evocative and engaging sounds which belie the compositional complexity, drawing in the listener.

Album opener CALEIDOSCOPIO was an excellent choice as a first single because it's archetypal, condensing Melting Clock into a shade less than eight and a half minutes. It's incredibly well-structured, built up from short phrases emphasised with distorted guitar yet despite its intricacy, the multiple instrumental layers are all clear and distinct and floating above is Emanuela's gorgeous vocal melody. There are tempo and metrical changes and a fast organ solo but generally the lyrics express reflection, representing an inner journey. BANALMENTE is a political song, played in a recognisable Melting Clock idiom attacking those who don't question, preferring not to know or hold any responsibility for any atrocity carried out on the orders of others, along the lines of John Stuart Mill's 'Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.' The references to 'sand covered in blood where corpses are lying in the sun' followed by 'digging our trench to defend the high season party' bring to mind the fate of refugees who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean and landed on Italian territory, a journey of desperation and hope that sadly too often ends in tragedy. There's poignancy in Sandro's particularly effective baritone during this piece.

Like a number of rock progressivo bands celebrating their Mediterranean roots before them, Melting Clock employ Middle Eastern scales and rhythm patterns on a couple of sections of VETRO which enhance the feeling of imprisonment and suffocation spelled out by the lyrics inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian classic We. A song of different moods, the brief cinematic opening is followed by bright acoustic guitar which gives way to the eastern Mediterranean flavour and the start of the vocals. During the singing, which has a story-telling quality Emanuela holds the melody while the instrumental backing is largely rhythmical (guest percussion is provided by Fabrizio Salvini) though there's quite a lot going on with guitar and keyboards adding splashes of colour in the background. Following the last verse there's a bright synthesizer line before a reprise of the acoustic guitar and eastern theme which precedes a piano flourish ending. I was present when this was first aired at a gig ? it was one of the last compositions written for the album - where Sandro said he had been concerned about both the technical requirements of performing the piece (the verse is in 19/16 time) and its reception. I can report that not only did the music flow well but that it was really appreciated by the audience.

STRADE AFFOLLATE was brought to the band by Simone. The acoustic guitar takes something of a lead but it's obviously gone through the Melting Clock arranging machine. The understated piano that enters during the second verse and the Hammond-like organ arising during the middle eight enhance the melody as the layers build up, with restrained distorted guitar appearing in the third verse. This is a song of hope after the confinement of VETRO and partly because of its message and partly from the way it's structured, it's probably the most accessible track on the album, capable of bridging into more mainstream genres. L'OCCHIO DELLO SCIACALLO is another political song written by Sandro. Lasting less than three minutes and translating as The Jackal's Eye it's a short exhortation decrying corporate culture. The abrasive guitar introduction actually gives away to a pleasant melody where Emanuela and Sandro sing call-and response vocals. The drudgery is represented by drumming on the lower kit (though Francesco does use a limited amount of cymbal) and there's an excellently executed cello solo provided by Stefano Cabrera. The band is particularly proud of ANTARES, the first song they wrote for Melting Clock. It also happens to be a personal favourite of mine because it's structured like a classic early Camel song, with amazing melodies and contrapuntal keyboard and guitar lines. This is another track that links to Genoa and the sea, so it's not surprising that it begins with sea sound effects. Another composition that relies on building upon short phrases (c.f. LUNAR SEA by Camel), it's enhanced by Mellotron-like washes and contrapuntal synthesizer lines and some excellent twin lead guitar work, plus flute played by Fabrizio Salvini and cello played by Stefano Cabrera. Sandro shares some of the vocal duties but its Emanuela's wordless vocals leading up to the dramatic denouement that steal the show, generating the physical signs of frisson, the pilomotor reflex and goosebumps.

SONO LUCE has a lengthy instrumental introduction, arranged differently from the first time I heard it though the bass work still catches my attention. Even though there's a Gilmour inspired guitar solo (it was written by Simone) the overall sound is less classic prog and more neo-prog with a delicacy to the piano and brightness to the guitars, giving a feeling of hope. The title (Made of Light) and lyrics are suggestive of a journey towards enlightenment but they still reference the sea and the shore.

The title track is something of a departure from the other melodic-symphonic tracks and it's cleverly presaged by the short late-Floydian or early Marillion-sounding instrumental QUELLO CHE RIMANE. It's here that we get a better feel for individual influences in what is a notch or two up on the challenging stakes, both for the performers and the listener on the longest track on the album. DESTINAZIONI is substantially heavier than anything else the band has done and begins with a nod to King Crimson and Dream Theater prog-metal while managing to stay adventurous throughout. Less reliant on stand-out melodies, it involves a lot of changes of style without breaks or segues, from fast and heavy to stately, from reflective to angular and aggressive, providing a metaphor for the cyclical nature of time. It conforms more to a classic prog template with accurate patches of analogue keyboards sitting well with the updated sound, exemplified by another fast organ run from Sandro but perhaps best illustrated with a few bars of guitar and keyboards that sound like Gabriel-era Genesis which appear toward the conclusion of the song, the most obvious incorporation of a classic prog influence.

The medley ALLA CORTE DEL RE CRIMISI utilises pretty faithful recreations of the original King Crimson material, down to the Wetton bass trills on STARLESS and with the role of David Cross covered brilliantly by Hanako on 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN. Massimo Gasperini has overseen some of the brightest names in contemporary Italian prog and hints at great things for Melting Clock, saying that he enjoys seeing the band's excitement about their own music. I also think they have a bright future, provided what is really a quite stunning debut gets attention beyond Genoa and Croydon.

I can't imagine too many debuts are worth five stars ? but DESTINAZIONI is

Report this review (#2403538)
Posted Tuesday, May 19, 2020 | Review Permalink
5 stars Melting Clock came to life in Genoa in 2001 to play progressive rock covers of bands such as Pink Floyd, Genesis, PFM, Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Opeth or Ayreon just to name a few. After many years spent honing their skills and some line up changes, in 2019 the band released an excellent debut album, entitled "Destinazioni", on the independent label Black Widow Records with a line up featuring Emanuela Vedana (vocals), Simone Caff' (guitars), Stefano Amadei (guitars, bouzuki), Sandro Amadei (keyboards, vocals), Alessandro Bosca (bass) and Francesco Fiorito (drums) plus the guests Stefano Cabrera (cello) and Fabrizio Salvini (percussion, flute). According to the band, it's a concept album sui generis with pieces revolving about the theme of travel in all its meanings and the art cover by Matteo Anselmo gives a clue of its musical and lyrical content...

The ethereal opener 'Caleidoscopio' (Kaleidoscope) is a long, complex track that takes you by the hand for a walk on an inner path leading through visions and dreams, where doubt is the rule and consistency is short lived. The theatrical voice of Emanuela Vedana is charming as she evokes a chant of free dizziness, unequal flows and rhythms soaring from the heart or inner demons dancing in circles while the soul emerges from a dark abyss of emotions and feelings...

'Banalmente' (Banally) starts softly by a piano solo intro. It's a beautiful, bittersweet ballad drenched in sarcasm and indignation that criticizes conformism and passive acceptance of injustice, the lack of solidarity and the renounce to fight for a better future. The lyrics depict images of men of power trying to defend their castles of sand by building useless fences and bloodstained beaches where the dead bask in the sun. Right on those beaches the rich dig trenches to defend their high season party...

The disquieting 'Vetro' (Glass) is a dark piece with operatic vocals and a mysterious, Oriental flavour. The music and lyrics conjure up a cage of glass where the protagonist is trapped in anguish and pain. It's a kind of nightmare that melts only when the night falls down hiding the spectral landscape of hundreds of glass cages, each one containing a captive soul. Hugged by darkness the protagonist can fall asleep and fly away...

'Strade affollate' (Crowded streets) is an acoustic ballad where the sense of redemption prevails. It depicts people without dreams that keep on walking like shadows through silent streets, then the lyrics exhort those persons to break free from the chains of Time and start singing again, expressing their feelings, trying to find a new sense of human dignity...

'L'occhio dello sciacallo' (The jackal's eye) is a surreal short track that alternates nervous passages and lighter ones. The music and lyrics compare a business company meeting to an obscure ritual where the team manager plays the role of the priest and the employees have to pray since only the most devoted will be saved. But a voice speaks up, refusing to be accomplice, slave and executioner, she asks for help because she knows that she can't save the world alone... In vain!

The slow, mysterious 'Antares' tells of a journey towards the horizon, following a call coming from a place full of music and poetry. A shining star, Antares, shows the way in the darkness. Unknown, faces, voices, streets, strange melodies, a dream of freedom that takes you away...

'Sono luce' (I am light) is another beautiful, introspective piece where music and words describe a mystical experience. Space and time melt and the protagonist takes off, flying over pain and sadness, becoming light and air in a perfect symbiosis with her inner self and the nature that surrounds her...

The short, evocative instrumental 'Quello che rimane' (What is left) leads to the final track, 'Destinazioni' (Destinations), a long suite divided into three parts, 'Il cerchio del tempo' (The Circle Of Time), 'Crepe' (Cracks) and 'Partenze' (Departures), inspired by the cyclical nature of Time. There are many changes in rhythm and atmosphere, aggressive electric guitar riffs alternate with softer, dreamy passages and soaring operatic or narrative vocals... The music and words evoke fragmented images and illusions of a journey that eludes boundaries and time, of an endless flight where songs change and dress in new notes... Until the circle closes and everything starts again.

On the whole, a wonderful work that grows spin after spin.

Report this review (#2652088)
Posted Monday, December 13, 2021 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars A 21st Century Italian prog band from Genova, this folk-classical founded band sports something that is kind of a rarity in Rock Progressivo Italiano: a female lead singer.

1) "Caledoscopio" (8:21) acoustic guitar and bouzouki! What welcome sounds! Too bad they soon disappear among the electronic instruments. Nice palette--symphonic and yet not too Italian and not too NeoProg. Singer Emanuela Vedana has a very pleasant voice--reminding me a bit of Quidam's original singer, Emila Derkowska. In the middle of the fifth minute things soften up, we moved to picked acoustic instruments and piano while Emanuela switches to a little more of an operatic voice before falling back into her But then at 5:30 we stop and take a drastic right turn onto the autostrada bombastica with organ in front. Soon the horses are reigned in and Emanuela returns. Solid and professional, not just a replication or imitation of older songs, sounds, and forms making it rather refreshing. (17.875/20)

2) "Banalmente" (5:16) ballad-like piano opens this one before cymbals, picked acoustic guitars, and Emanuela join in. This time Emanuela's voice reminds me very much of many of the wonderful vocalists that countrymate Riccardo Prencipe uses on his Corde Oblique albums. At the end of the first minute the blues-rock complement of rock instruments join in, taking the song into a whole different mood and then, at the end of the second minute we hear keyboardist and composer Sandro Amadei for the first time as a lead vocalist--though only briefly--as the intensity and power of the music amps up. Emanuela re-enters, giving the music a strong Eliana Valenzuela / HOMÍNIDO feel. The lead guitars in the dynamic instrumental passage start out rather tame but then turn quite raunchy as the intensity ramps up. The song finishes as a piano-dominated GENESIS-like piece. (8.75/10)

3) "Vetro" (7:10) acoustic guitars of a blues-rock flavour open this with full band support, but then at the one-minute mark the band reveals its real motif--something more dramatic and cinematic--over which Emanuela opens with some background operatic alto vocalise. When things settle down and she begins singing with lyrics up front and center, the musical whole has quite a bit of LAGARTIJA feel to it. This soon changes as the music continues to develop, to smooth out into quite an absolutely gorgeous full soundscape with a killer-heart-wrenching chord progression. But, unfortunately, this doesn't last very long as at 3:27 everybody shifts to staccato pizzicato play for a weave that serves as Spanish-sounding bridge back to the Lagartija motif. I'm really like all of the motifs here though part of me is wishing several could be developed more, for longer periods. Luckily, all motifs cycle through at least one more time (including the killer-heart-wrenching one). We close out with the Spanish pizzicato motif but this time supported by a little more rock-electric instrumentation. Great song! (14.25/15)

4) "Strade affollate" (4:57) picked acoustic steel-string guitar opens this one for half a minute before Emanuela joins in, singing, again, in a very folksy voice, giving the song a true CORDE OBLIQUE sound and style. Her lovely voice, however, remains in the realms of us mere mortals, never forcing itself into operatic modalities, which is actually quite endearing. Full-band joins in for the second verse, doing nothing to disrupt the spell that Emanuela has put us under until fourth minute when the electronic walls of sound kind of engulf her. But we switch back to a calmer, more supportive sonic field for the instrumental finish as a nylon-string guitar plays a beautiful recapitulation of the main theme to the end. Very nice song--almost perfectly crafted. (9/10)

5) "L'Occhio dello sciacallo" (2:51) a singing duet between Emanuela and Sandro Amadei over/within some theatric, almost lounge music. Quite lovely and romantic--like watching a tango dance. (9.25/10)

6) "Antares" (7:39) water/boat sounds are joined by a couple acoustic guitars and analog synth strings. Then things shift with the full band playing a very muted Latin soundscape as Emanuela sings (mixed a little farther back than previous songs). Sandro joins Emanuela for the second verse, at times double her, backing her, and even taking the lead, creating a beautifully arranged vocal dance. Of the support instruments, only the bass seems to be trying for extra attention. After a brief synthesizer solo, the singers turn to a more operatic style for the next verse (starting at 3:20). It's quite lovely and not ever over-the-top. This ends at the end of the fourth minute and we enter an extended instrumental passage in which piano arpeggi, chunky bass, and solid drums support not one, but two electric guitar solo--both occurring concurrently for over 90 seconds. Then the band gets heavier but this is punctuated by brief interludes that are filled with Emanuela's Annie Haslam-like upper-register vocalise--but the heavy music eventually wins out and plays to the finish. (13.75/15)

7) "Sono luce" (6:40) solo piano tinkling around the mid-range of the piano is joined by electric bass and then jazz guitars and drums' cymbal play, but then the whole band kicks into full gear at 1:10 with some nice guitar strumming and active bass play while drums lay back (until 2:00) as synth takes the lead, doing some very nice soloing. I am always a bit surprised to find this rather long instrumental piece at the song's opening as I know the album's concept has a lot to deliver. But then, around 3:40 the music stops and rebuilds with some strummed Irish bouzouki opening the new section with piano and military drumming behind another stellar, passionate Eliana Valenzuela-like vocal performance from Emanuela. Lead electric guitar takes over for Emanuela in the sixth minute with a fiery-yet tastefully melodic solo before the song comes to a calm end with Emanuela cooing some wordless "ooo"s. Nice. (9/10)

8) "Quello che rimane..." (3:21) this one opens with some awesome Blade Runner-like synth saw sounds trampsing in a wide spectrum over a droning low synth foundation. A single broad organ chord joins in at 1:20, signifying a bridge to a new motif: one with tom-tom play and chunky bass supporting slow, gentle acoustic guitar picking. Emanuela's wordless "ooo"s join in for a bit from 2:10 to 2:33 before a very interesting synth "horn" takes on the lead to the song's end. Wonderful. Beautiful. (9.25/10)

9) "Destinazioni" (14:59) a heavy, very RPI-sounding prog opening turns introspective with everybody settling back to let piano support a melodic lead guitar solo in the second minute. Then, at 1:38, the soundscapes switches to picked guitar-base with synth woodwind coming in at the end of the second minute and then Emanuela entering in a SEVEN REIZH-like theatrical performance in the third minute. Her wonderfully nuanced vocal performance, however, never seems to want or need the center stage: it's as if she's just trying to mix in with the rest of the storytellers--perhaps even as the narrator. But then things get a little heavier with bass and drums driving the song more insistently forward and Emanuela's voice steps up to accommodate--becoming quite a force. When the band ramps up even more, Emanuela steps back and lets the instrumentalists do their thing: at first with a staccato drum-led motif, then with a guitar-led rock section that sports a Keith Emerson-like Hammond front and center. At 6:40 we again have a stop and spacey atmospheric synth bridge into a contemplative section in which Emauela talks in an almost-secretive voice over some sparse, calm but kinetically-charged music. At the end of the ninth minute the band begins to burst out of their restraints and eventually enter into a plodding excursion over which Emanuela croons her "ooo"s until guitar and piano arpeggi take over in a nice little weave until 10:17 when multiple steel-stringed guitars and Irish bouzouki take over with some cool interwoven strumming. Full band rejoins and Emanuela steps in to continue the story telling with some straightforward singing (kind of mixed into the background). As the drums join in, Emanuela switches to her acrobatic Annie Haslam-like vocalise and the rest of the band coalesces into an intricate, almost-Celtic dance with everyone playing the same ostinato speeds. The song then slams to a pretty electric guitar solo stop around 13:35 which then turns into more of Emanuela's vocalise repeating the same melody lines that the guitar just played, taking us almost to the end of the song ? and album. Wow! I am worn out! And yet I feel so good, grateful and privileged to have been a witness to this gorgeous music--to this beautifully rendered album and story. (28/30)

Total Time 61:14

A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of my favorite albums to come out of Italy in this, the 21st Century. Highly recommended to any and all self-professed prog lovers.

Report this review (#2944809)
Posted Thursday, August 10, 2023 | Review Permalink

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