- Vocal Perfection
Two years back, Syndone took the Progulator staffs’ ears by storm with La bella e la bestia, a superb release featuring smart and original melodic composition, insanely good production values, and a secret weapon of a vocalist whose flexibility is such to where he sneakily pulled off the role of three characters, one of which was female, in a way that had us all thinking that they were different singers. Needless to say, Odysseas has been a highly anticipated release for us this year. Did it meet my expectations? Yes it did. Quite frankly, it blew them away.
What impresses me so much about this band is that they were able to follow up their last album with something that sounds quite different, totally fresh, and pull it off so gracefully. Of course we see many similar elements before such as the jazz sections, but there is quite a bit here which makes this album sound like a unique and contained piece of music. First off, I would like to point out the Latin influences that seem to weave in and out of the record and the use of acoustic guitar such as on the quasi-flamenco inspired intro to Penelope, the classical guitar opening to “Il tempo che non ho,” and the dark intro to “Nemesis,” featuring loads of syncopated vibraphone, lever harp interjections, and an incredible chorus. “Nemesis” isn’t the only song to make great use of vibes. In fact, I would say that another piece of the puzzle that lends this album its own sound is the heavy use of vibraphone throughout record, featuring the playing of Francesco Pinetti and oftentimes showcasing the jazzier or more playful lines of the record. “Invocazione alla Musa” gives this to us right off the bat as well as do the instrumental sections of “Eros & Thanatos.” The former really shows that Syndone knows how to choose an album opener that’ll suck you in immediately. This bouncy piece in 7/8 starts us right off with loads of fun, combining catchy rhythmic vibraphone playing with basslines that seriously groove. “Eros & Thanatos,” though a short piece, certainly delivers the goods. The lead-in from the previous track, “La grande bouffe,” is so seamless that I didn’t even realize it was a new song except for the fact that I saw the numbers change on my CD player. The transition from dirty Hammond riffs and pulverizing bass to playful vibes and finally to an ominous vocal section over heavy and layered composition makes this piece a fantastic close to this quadra-song-cycle that started off with “Poseidon.” Add Marco Minneman’s perfect drumming to pieces like this and “Circe” (where his grooves are absolutely rockin, tasty, jazzy, and punch at all the right accents) and there’s literally nothing on this record I could even fathom complaining about.
With all that said, in the end what makes Odysseas really tick is that it has the feel of lyrical art songs, which is not something you find often in a prog record. Yes, it is a rock album, but so many of of the tracks, especially those with vocals seem to fit well with the art song tradition and even shy away from rock. While this might sound scary to some, this is actually what I consider to be key to the album. Riccardo Ruggeri’s vocal interpretations are to die for, and he seems to shine the most when doing highly melodic and passionate pieces where he is given lots of room to interpret the lyrics in a slew of ways. This is evident from the first vocal track of the album, “Il tempo che non ho” which capitalizes on on the combination of classical style guitar and vocals which later on develop into a piano piece before a big strings outro. Towards the end of the album when you get to “Vento avverso” it becomes clear that the melodies of this song serve as a kind of main theme for the album; the track opens up with a gorgeous strings rendition of the theme’s from “Il tempo” before moving into the same vocal line we heard as before. This time the arrangement is different with the song replacing the guitar part from the other piece in favor of a piano arrangement which gives this even more of an art song feel. The vocals are passionately stunning, undulating from brave to meek while the interplay of synth and piano deliver a meaningful close to the song. “Penelope” is another piece that is certainly worthy of mention, featuring an intro of wailing flamenco style vocals which quickly moves into a melodic and romantic piano solo that is breathes beautiful tension, phrasing, and dynamic. As the vocals come in the mood gets brighter and Ruggeri really shows his prowess as a singer through masterful use of full voice, head voice, and falsetto ranges in this classical influenced piece. And if you’re looking for something that ‘ll really blow your mind, you don’t need to go any futher than Ruggeri’s use of his high range between 1:50 and 2:12 of “Ade.” You’ll have to hear it to believe it, it’s that unreal.
Despite the release of Odysseas early on in 2014, Comoglio and Pinetti prove themselves to be among the best prog composers of the year and have absolutely nailed it when it comes to choosing the right musicians to deliver it, whether that’s Ruggeri (a full time member of the band) or Minneman, Marchesano and a slew of hired guns. If you know me and my reviews you’ll know that I consider the current Italian scene to be among the best of the prog world at the moment. Odysseas confirms Syndone as one of the leading bands in a scene that is already setting a high bar.