Blacksmith Tales — The Dark Presence
Blacksmith Tales is another hidden gem not getting the attention it deserves, so let me try to help with that because these Italian guys have released a great album full of prog rock, folk and some metal.
David Del Fabro is the man behind this musical project and apparently he started writing this material back in the 90s. It is not easy to find information on the web unless you visit their Facebook page. I don't use that so I had to trust other information sources to discover that David spent the following years playing in cover bands playing Rush, Kansas, Pink Floyd and similar, until he contacted some musicians to develop his conceptual ideas and started recording this album.
So Blacksmith Tales has Michel Guaitoli and Beatrice Demori on vocals, Stefano Debase on drums, Denis Canciani on bass, Marco Falanga on electric and acoustic guitars, Luca Zanon on keyboards and flute and the aforementioned David Del Fabro on backing vocals, piano, keyboards and duduk. I have to say that all of them have done an excellent job because the instrumentation here is brilliant, focusing on the songs and the development of the album instead of showing complex arrangements and difficult solos. That's how I like my albums.
The Dark Presence is not an easy album to be listened to though. With a running time of 76 minutes and being a concept album, you will have to find your time during the day to give it a proper listen because it has to be enjoyed in one go. The Dark Presence is a concept describing a narrated journey through symbols and images from ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages; it's a journey of a soul in search of the inner light facing its darkest part.
The album contains 13 tracks where long compositions are separated by short ones acting as interludes. The listener will find influences of the 70s and 80s prog as well as a folky vibe across all the songs. This is blended with symphonic prog. I'm not going to try to list all the musical influences here but I must confess what I thought after my first listening: "Is this a hidden album from Ayreon recorded 40 years ago?"
This is a highly recommended album in which you will find soft, mellow parts alternating with sumptuous melodies blended with vintage keyboards and superb guitar playing. Blacksmith Tales has released a stunning debut album that will only leave the listener wanting more. They know how to balance big compositions with more direct songs in a very dynamic way. This makes the music flow really well across the album. And on top of that they succeed in reaching high levels of emotion thanks to great vocal pats and strong melodies. So, reserve some time for yourself and enjoy this beautiful album because The Dark Presence is really worth it.
Bernardo Lanzetti — Horizontal Rain
Bernardo Lanzetti is a well-known Italian progressive rock vocalist mostly known for his work with Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and Acqua Fragile. He joined PFM in 1975 on their first completely English album Chocolate Kings. His second was the mostly English Jet Lag and the last album of PFM with Lanzetti was Passpartù in 1978. Bernardo has released over a handful of solo albums and has done many music projects on the side.
On Horizontal Rain there are many guest appearances by a variety of well-known musicians including Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Sons Of Apollo, Alice Cooper), Tony Franklin (The Firm, Lana Lane, Blue Murder), Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel), David Jackson (Van der Graaf Generator) and Jonathan Mover (GTR, Marillion).
The vocals of Bernardo Lanzetti are filled with passion and full of drama. For some listeners this might be the deciding factor; you either like it or hate it. I prefer my Italian prog to be in Italian, but the English vocals of Lanzetti I can handle. The music is crafted very professionally. On the opener Walk Away there is a variety of melodies melded together and all the different instruments seemed to be glued together, especially the transition between David Cross on violin and Derek Sherinian on keyboard; Everything is nicely supported by bass player Tony Franklin.
Heck Jack is a funny and strange kind of rock song. On the first spin it did not grab me at all but after a while it really sticks in your head. Caution when listing this song on the bus with headphones; beware of not shouting: "What the heck Jack" in public while listening to it! it also has a nice bass by Tony Levin, so check out the video for this song below.
Lanzhaiku is another strange song where the use of violin and saxophone makes it unique. Lanzetti is pushing some more boundaries here.
On Time Is King the song is driven by a floating guitar tune. It is a nice song although the Italian accent is very prominent.
Genial starts with acoustic Spanish guitar. This song is also all over the place, with a heavy guitar and then quiet and then freaky bass slapping. With Lanzetti's strange singing, at times it sounds a bit like Primus.
Most songs need a few spins to sink in but I do not know how many spins it takes to like Conventional. I just cannot like this song, and stopped trying after a couple of spins. This one is just not for me.
The only Italian song on the album is Ero un num Ero. It is a good dramatic song that shows that Italian music is not only for the people who understand Italian. Maybe that is why they won Eurovision this year?
Horizontal Rain is a frantic song that is again all over the place. Fast solos by different instruments and a heavy chorus part with freaky vocals. Again Bernardo is pushing the boundaries but still manages to paste the musical fluently together.
And for something completely Different, we have no lyrics, just chanting vocals on the closing song of the album. A gospel choir is nicely blended into a song that does fit on this progressive rock album.
Bernardo Lanzetti has probably been making music for his entire life and that is shown on Horizontal Rain. The songs are crafted very nicely and I am sometimes amazed by how the instruments and the melodies flow seamlessly into each other. Bernardi is also pleasantly weird and that also drips out of his music. His singing is passionate and theatrical, although an Italian singing in English is not always to everybody's liking.
So this release is probably not for everyone. The only way to know if you will like it is to give it a try. Horizontal Rain is a grower. The album becomes better with more spins but I can understand if some people just cannot grab this album. If you are open for something different, then this might grow to be a very likeable album.