Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Leonardo - The Absolute Man CD (album) cover


Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)


Various Genres

3.46 | 72 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

2 stars Leonardo, The Absolute Man is an ambitious multi-singer prog rock opera orchestrated by Trent Gardner, the mastermind of Magellan, where he played keyboards, trombone and vocals. For this project, Gardner recruited his brother Wayne (Magellan's guitarist) and the rhythm section of US proggers Dali's Dilemma (Jeremy Colson on drums, Patrick Reyes on rhythm guitar, Steve Reyes on bass). The line-up is completed by a dozen singers, each interpreting a different character in the saga of Leonardo da Vinci, the famous Italian polymath who lived during the High Renaissance. The vocalists are drawn from the US prog rock/metal scene and feature some notable names, such as Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery), Robert Berry (3 with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer), Dream Theater's James LaBrie (in the role of Leonardo himself), Michelle Young (Glass Hammer), and Steve Walsh (Kansas).

As a huge fan of Ayreon, Avantasia, Kompendium, and Nikolo Kotzev's Nostradamus, I am a sucker for this type of multi-singer productions, so I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth in Gardner's magnum opus. Alas, although there were a couple of tasteful bites here and there throughout the 63+ minutes of the album, overall the experience left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth.

Given the quality of the line-up, there is obviously nothing wrong with the musicians' performances, which are all of high quality. The music itself is also generally pleasant. Unsurprisingly given that Gardner is the project's mastermind, the songs are very much keyboard-driven and filled with lush and spacious orchestral arrangements, but they do not lack bite and the music can rock too, when necessary. This gives the album an overall musical-like flavour, which I find suitable for this type of productions. However, differently from many Broadway musicals, the music here is much more complex, both in terms of songwriting and arrangements. Gardner often chooses the untrodden path when it comes to deciding how his compositions should progress, although at times he can also let the music open up into beautiful melodies, like on the chorus of "Reins of Tuscan", on the soulful ballad "Mona Lisa", on the grandiose "First Commission" and "This Time, This Way", and the initial part of the piano-driven ballad "Shaping the Invisible".

Sometimes, however, there is a sense of over-indulgence in the sheer amount of technical complexity and cleverly-constructed arrangements that permeate the 18 songs of the album. I have the impression that, by trying to showcase his progressive chops, Gardner at time completely lost sight of the song itself, leading to overly difficult episodes such as "Apprentice", "Inventions" or - perhaps the most notable example - the second-half of "Shaping the Invisible", a song that starts beautifully with a soulful performance by LaBrie accompanied by the piano, before progressing to a dreadful, messy crescendo that approaches cacophony, completely ruining the atmosphere of the song.

I was also mildly disappointed by the vocal parts. It is not about the singers' performances per se, which are all good (special praise goes to LaBrie, Walsh and the two female singers Michelle Young and Lisa Bouchelle). Rather, my issue is about the way the vocal parts integrate with the music. There are two problems, in my view. First, as with the musical background (and perhaps because of it), I sometimes felt that the vocal melodies were overly difficult, sacrificing immediacy and euphony in favour of technicality ("Heart of France", "Apprentice"). Second, many of the singers involved in the project have a rather similar timbre and it is really hard to tell them apart. This is a major shortcoming, in my opinion, as one of the things I appreciate the most in this type of multi-singer projects is the variety of the vocal performances. This is almost completely lost here, with only Steve Walsh possessing a distinctive timbre that sets him apart from the rest of the male vocalists. In truth, Leonardo feels a lot like a LaBrie-dominated project, with many other singers that sound a lot like LaBrie extras.

Overall, although there are a few moments of brilliance (above all, the two male-female duets "First Commission" and "This Time, This Way"), Leonardo was a mildly disappointing release for me, with too many dull moments and shortcomings. If you, like me, are a fan of multi-singer rock/metal operas, it may still be worth to give this album a try, as the objective quality of the musicians involved is high and there are a few standout episodes here and there throughout the 60+ minutes of the record. However, anyone else would do better by trying some of the other rock/metal operas that exist out there, like anything by Ayreon or, if you want something less metal, the awesome Nostradamus record by Nikolo Kotzev.

lukretio | 2/5 |


As a registered member (register here if not), you can post rating/reviews (& edit later), comments reviews and submit new albums.

You are not logged, please complete authentication before continuing (use forum credentials).

Forum user
Forum password


Social review comments () BETA

Review related links

Copyright Prog Archives, All rights reserved. | Legal Notice | Privacy Policy | Advertise | RSS + syndications

Other sites in the MAC network: — jazz music reviews and archives | — metal music reviews and archives

Donate monthly and keep PA fast-loading and ad-free forever.