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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Well, this was an unexpected surprise to say the least, as other reviewers have described this opus with understated eloquence, yet I found it to be even more complex to put in words, as I was hit by various levels of inspiration and creativity, listening the first time through. Normally, the process is a cursory, rather distant audition in order to focus in on the style and a later second full-blown and in depth listen to start creating the words that match the feelings the music evokes. Not here! Within a few seconds, I was immediately hypnotized by some otherworldly elements that fractured my senses (as well as my prog radar), reacting to the sounds with uttered words such as "wow", "what the hell" and mostly, "WOO!". Let us start with what the aliens say when they land on earth 'Take me your leader'! Karmamoi is centred around a rather rare talent in Daniele Giovannoni, a fabulous drummer in his own right, conjuring images of PFM strongman Franz di Cioccio, then we have a stupendous singer in Valerio Sgargi, who can modulate his expansive voice according to the needed context with apparently little effort or struggle. Combined with the stringers, Alex Massari on electric guitars and bass man Alessandro Cefali, the foursome will, if you get it, inspire the listener with fascinating aural adventure.

'Who am I and where am I going' are the uttered words that has spanned all of human existence, all races, civilizations, languages, and every living creature consciously or not, has expressed this concept. "Black Hole Era" slings the mood into the this upward spiral where voice, acoustic guitar, keys, and manic drums transmit the trepidation of adventure. The orchestral interventions add not only a lush symphonic grandeur but also serves to create the first tangible characteristics of a music that is both ritualistic, organic, and utterly ceremonial, a mixture of tribalist percussion and rampant electric guitar slashes that thrill to no end in sight. The denouement is cosmic. Speaking of stars in the universe, "Nashira" is owned by a solitary piano setting the tone, as cello and strings advocate a sombre melancholia, where Sgargi passionately lets his lungs to sing, as the athletic drumming throttles forward unconcerned and concussive. The mood is obsessive, temperamental, and yet wholly engaging, even when confronted with chaotic passages that boil the sucked blood. A relative calm arises when the synergy brings all the involved together into harmony and revelation.

The Grenfell tower inferno is the subject matter for "Take Me Home", a masterful track that drips in devastating tragedy and loss, the voice haunting and propelled by poignant despair. At times, I felt like the music was inspired by late 80s This Mortal Coil, a unique band that incorporated ghostly harmonies, heavy classical orchestrations. The swerving arrangement comes across like a burial ground requiem, a pulpit from which the vocals and choir can expiate their collective pain, as if Carmina Burana has resurfaced to plead her case. The last prayer is expressed a sorrowful guitar and collapsing cymbals. Absolutely majestic. A brief moment of levity in your prototypical prog ballad, armed with a lethal melody and off the charts vocals, "Tell Me" successfully manages to soothe the senses, as the band concentrates on a sublime path and its inherent blooming beauty. When the chorus takes over, the effect is crushingly exquisite. The apex is reached when mellotron strings and choir invite the slippery electric guitar to heighten the pain and the apotheosis is celestial. Outrageously divine.

Back to the gloomy Orwellian spookiness of "Room 101", where a tingling tick-tock of sweat-inducing angst of being mercilessly strapped in a torture chamber's chair, a damp space rife with the pungent aromas of terror and extreme anxiety. The contrasts between moments of intense infliction of agony and the even more cruel respites that offer momentary hope are perfectly presented here, as if witnessing the interrogation. When the violin streak and the piano rivulet combine slyly to wreak even more eventual havoc, is gulp worthy fare. Creepy and possessed. "I Will Come" reverts to hymn-like qualities found in the earlier "Take Me Home", but the scenery here is overpoweringly fragile, reminding one of recent Anathema as that band was emerging from their doom-laden darkness and looking for some sunlight. The vocal and choir work are absolutely majestic, as the orchestra elevates the arrangement into the upper levels of bliss, a total highlight track that sealed the deal for the romantic sucker in me. I kneel at the shrine?

Soundtrack to some long-forgotten Bond-like escapist adventure, "Your Name" unites the organic symphonics with a muscular beat, a controlling bass, and some clever guitar inflections. Chase, heavy breathing, and echoed voice, this is quite the departure from the previous material. When the atmosphere settles, the other polar opposite arrives suddenly, with no quarter given. Ornate piano and a colourful bass prepare the table for a forlorn voice to take over the proceedings once again, choirs in the background and orchestrations that evoke a gloomy, rain drenched afternoon of dullness. Sgargi pleads in an amazingly convincing gargled tone, the intolerable sorrow of the crying Massari lead guitar to slay the inner demon. A jazzy flurry of piano stets this to bed. A Jazzy flurry of piano introduces the epic 12 minute "Zealous Man", a clever return to the desolation of the earlier "Room 101" (you can tell its prog when there are so many little detailed connections, segues and follow ups) before the animated strings take over, the electricity cranked up on the chair, and the intimidator crows his delight with his sadistically soft tone. Claustrophobic, bombastic, resonating and persuasively possessed, the track is a perfect example of modern progressive rock, done with finesse, power and skill. And our Italians surely have a lovely proven history in that regard! Contrasts, shades and streaks of light, all filigree and shadow. When the gripping massed violins return for another stab, the drums kick into overdrive, fuelled with chiseled excellence, the charring lead guitar flinging this superb piece into the stratosphere. WOW!

A final "Arrivederci", the title track comes like a symphonic tone poem from South Tyrol, all that was missing was an alpenhorn to say goodbye, 'pfiat-enk' (in Tyrolean) or Wiederschaun. A cinematic ceremony of progressive rock infused with expertly involved classical orchestra that provides all the ingredients needed for a wonderful date with your headphones, a glass or two of Montalcino and some Roman (yup) candles.

5 cords from aural cliffs

Report this review (#2951392)
Posted Friday, September 15, 2023 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars I am giving this album attention due to the strong acclaim it's been receiving despite the fact that it is album being a collection of previously-released songs that have been re-worked (several orchestrated), with newcomer Valerio Sgargi stepping into the lead vocal (and principle collaborator) for Daniele Giovannoni's compositions.

1. "Black Hole Era" (7:43) what a voice this Valerio Sgargi has! It's comparable to that of Gino Vannelli! Powerful guitar soloing in the seventh and eighth minutes. A top three song right off the bat. (14/15)

2. "Nashira" (orchestra version) (9:11) solo piano opens this seemingly playing avariation of the previous song's chord sequence. Valerio enters and the piano drops out in lieu of a cello. In the second minute other instruments begin to join in: piano, cymbal-dominant drums, fretless bass, oboe and a few other orchestral sounds but in the third minute a heavy chordal footsteps for a minute. The volume on the reed instruments seems far too high throughout this song- -even when they're in the lead or soloing, but that doesn't prevent Valerio from giving one heck of a performance (or guitarist Alex Massari in the final minute). A top three song for me. (18.5/20)

3. "Take Me Home" (orchestra version) (8:31) though the song starts out sounding like a very classic, stripped down performance of "My Funny Valentine," the highlight here is how Valerio sings a duet with himself: in two very different voices and styles, side by side, starting with the second verse. This voice could be the new That Joe Payne! The second half of the song is quite cinematic in its bombast: bombastic prog at its finest. My third top three song. (18.5/20)

4. "Tell Me" (6:07) thought the chorus sections remind me a lot, melodically and in the strummed 12-string guitar chord sequence, of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine," this is a nice, nuanced song with yet another extremely enjoyable vocal performance by Valerio Sgargi. (8.875/10)

5. "Room 101" (orchestra version) (8:40) acoustic guitar picking like at the opening to Genesis' "Dance on a Volcano" is joined by flourishes and embellishments from individual orchestra instruments. Enter Valerio Sgargi and a Depeche Mode-like singing style. Even after the brief burst of prog bombast Valerio continues singing in a commanding David Gahan-like monotone. Then the music begins to build and cycle, provoking Valerio to reach for notes that Devy Townsend or That Joe Payne are commonly heard to hit. A switch in the fifth minute to a new smoother, more orchestra-supported space music allows for more exposition to individual instrumental performers, like the piano, members of the strings, the whole bass section, and, of course, the electric guitar, but ultimately leads to a JC Superstar-like climax. (17.75/20)

6. "I Will Come in Your Dreams" (5:27) gentle piano and low strings lay the foundation for Valerio to sing--this time in a very old Elvis/operetta style of voice. Pretty but nothing very new, proggy, or exciting with this one. (8.66667/10)

7. "Your Name" (orchestra version) (8:21) more orchestra presence than on most of the other songs, the rock band and dramatic voice of Valerio Sgargi yield a bombastic sound worthy of any Andrew Lloyd Weber or Alan Menken theater presentation. The radical switch of tempo and style (and electronically-treated vocal) at the halfway point is a bit odd--and takes some getting used to--but is smoothed over by another sublime electric guitar solo in the eighth minute. (17.5/20)

8. "Zealous Man" (orchestra version) (11:55) more melodic, pensive piano opens this one, setting up in way that rivals Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, or Oscar Hammerstein. By the time we reach the third minute the soundscape has burst into swirling prog fullness, but then, at 3:30, it all turns quiet with some chorus-treated 12- strings and muted vocals, but then a David Gahan-like voice takes over for a bit before yielding to the powerful play of a fretless bass and cello. Prog bombast returns in the sixth minute as Valerio's voice turns "distant choral"--to set up, of course, another masterfully calculated Dave Gilmour-like guitar solo--this one amid swirling orchestra strings--but no! It's cut off! In the eighth minute we've gone back to the quiet 12-string (zither?) palette with some slow tympanic drum play over which Valerio croons in a voice from another era. But then the prog bombast returns and, yes, the electric guitar is given a second chance to fulfill its emotion-manipulating mission. A well composed and performed song, even if it does feel quite contrived to toy with the listeners' cortisol levels. (22.75/25)

9. "Strings from the Edge of Sound" (1:57) an orchestrated song whose choral-style vocal and wording makes it sound like it comes out of a rendering of a Dickensian Christmas musical. "Marley!" "Scrooge!" Prelude to a love story? (4.425/5)

Total Time 67:52

I've never heard any of the previous versions of any of these songs but, if I were to venture a guess, I'd say that all of them were birthed as piano-voice duets--arias--all intended to end up on a stage within the context of an Andrew Lloyd Weber-like musical theatre performance. The rock instruments were added for support, the lead guitar solos as a mirroring emotional outlet, and, later, the full orchestral versions created to fulfill the composer (and vocalist)'s Broadway/West End aspirations. In the end, this is great music and that's what counts. Should these songs ever end up on a stage, I would be a willing attendee of their theatric live performance.

What a revelation is this newcomer Valerio Sgargi! I look forward to seeking out and hearing more of his recordings (in the same way I've done for That Joe Payne since I first heard him on Nikitas Kissonas' METHEXIS project's Suiciety release back in 2015).

Does anyone else find a similarity in the sound of this album to that of the 2014 album, Speak, by Jason Hart's I AND THOU?

A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of theatric progressive rock music that would, I feel quite confident, be quite welcome in the homes (and to the ears) of EVERY prog lover.

Report this review (#2968842)
Posted Thursday, November 16, 2023 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars It is safe to say that over the years I have not been the most consistent fan of Italian band Karmamoi, and felt that their last album, 2021's 'Room 801' was a step in the wrong direction. That saw them again working as a trio of Daniele Giovannoni (drums, keyboards, backing vocals), Alex Massari (guitars) and Alessandro Cefalý (bass) along with a series of guests, including singer Sara Rinaldi who was there for her third album as lead singer. Also on that album as a guest was Valerio Sgargi, who has now joined as a full member of the band on lead & backing vocals plus keyboards. The band are now working as a quartet with no guests, apart from the use of an orchestra. What we have here is a somewhat unusual approach in that there are only four new songs, along with five songs from previous albums which have been rearranged and revisited for orchestra to provide new dimensions.

While I have not been a consistent fan of Karmamoi, I have reviewed the last four of their releases (just missing out on the 2011 debut) so I have actually heard a lot of their music, but it is safe to say none of them have had the impact on me that this one has. When some bands introduce orchestras to the arrangement, it seems forced and just not right at all, but here it is seamless and feels as if it has always meant to be heard in this manner. Sgargi has a wonderfully relaxed and emotional tenor, happy to sing in a more classical or stage manner where the time arises (such as on "Take Me Home", taken from 2018's 'The Day Is Done' which until now I thought was their finest hour), providing plenty of drama and passion.

This album is a milestone for Karmamoi, and we can only hope they use it as a stepping stone to even greater things as this is easily their finest work to date and something all progheads need to seek out immediately if not sooner.

Report this review (#2985453)
Posted Tuesday, January 23, 2024 | Review Permalink

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