Nuova Idea – Clowns (1973)

NuovaIdea_Clowns4 out of 5 Stars!

How this classic Italian Prog-Rock band eluded me all these decades until just recently, I’ll never know, but I’m just glad I finally discovered them and tracked down a copy of Clowns, their third and final album, originally issued way back in 1973.

Generally, when it comes to the music on offer here, I am quite pleased, giddy even, especially since I’m a big fan of the band Gentle Giant. Please note, since Nuova Idea released this particular album during the midst of Gentle Giant’s “creative peak” years, it’s impossible to know exactly who might have “borrowed” from whom, but I suspect Nuovo Idea was more the “borrower” than the “borrowee.”

On the song “Clessidra,” for example, the main riff instantly brings to mind “Prologue” from Gentle Giant’s Three Friends album, whereas part of the song “Un’Isola” somehow seemed heavily influenced by “Wreck,” a classic track off Gentle Giant’s Acquiring the Taste album. The long and complex title track “Clowns” also contains numerous riffs that could have easily found a home on Gentle Giant’s In a Glass House album…similar keyboard sounds, similar rhythm patterns, similar guitar tones, etc. Overall, there’s nothing that’s a direct Gentle Giant rip-off, mind you, but enough traits of Gentle Giant to put a wide smile on my face.

In addition to the heavy hand of Gentle Giant appearing on this album, I can also detect the occasional nods to fellow countrymen PFM and Jumbo throughout. On “Clowns,” especially, these additional influences come through when the classical and jazzy moments slip onto the picture. The rhythm changes, as well as the keyboard and guitar arrangements on this track, are generally quirky, and even the inclusion of some trumpet adds an extra dimension to the often-strange, yet enjoyable slice of Italian Prog-Rock. Again, the band Jumbo springs to mind most prominently, and I love it.

One important caveat I must mention—the singer of this band, Ricky Belloni, takes some getting used to, and in truth, may not appeal to some less-forgiving listeners. At times, although he does sing on key, his vocal quality is more than a tad grating, especially when he’s reaching for the high notes on a track such as “Un’Isola.” The overuse of vibrato, such as on “Il Giardino dei Sogni” and segments of “Clowns,” along with the gruffness of his voice, as well as his overly dramatic approach, could be a turn-off for some people. But when he’s singing in a mellow voice and doesn’t use his vibrato, he’s perfectly fine. The same goes for when he’s singing as part of a team with other band members, such as on “Clessidra,” his voice blends in quite well and the irritation factor is reduced to almost nil. Nevertheless, listeners should beware of this one “negative” when it comes to this album.

Despite that single criticism, I found this album quite silly and fun, often engaging. You could tell the musicians had a great time putting this album together, and their overall instrumentation is quite superb. Despite the lack of originality regarding their style, Nuova Idea were indeed a talented lot that, sadly, disappeared off the landscape after only a few short years.

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End of the Dream – All I Am (2015)

EndDream_AllIAm4 out of 5 Stars!

End of the Dream is a new band from the Netherlands that features a terrific female vocalist named Micky Huijsmans. The material is a combination of Progressive Metal, Gothic Metal, and Symphonic Metal, with the band covering similar territory as After Forever, Within Temptation, and Nightwish, and more. Despite those comparisons, however, Huijsmans doesn’t employ the same operatic vocal gymnastics so common with bands of this nature, but has more of a clean Metal style throughout most of the nine tracks.

Yes, there is grandeur, wonderfully overblown symphonic orchestrations along with some bombastic metal, rich and layered “choirs” in the background on some of the tracks, but the melodies are also quite appealing. Everything I’ve mentioned is immediately evident on the opening track, “Follow the Angels,” which features a lavish introduction that sounds as if it could have come directly off a Nightwish album. Also, Huijsmans displays her full vocal range here, soaring to the heights on the choruses and briefly during the ending section, but never using the operatic vibrato normally associated with female singers in similar bands.

End of the Dream also successfully balances both softer segments with the harder, slamming ones. The song “Away” is a good example of this, where the verses are mellow and beautifully orchestrated with keys behind Huijsmans’s vocals, whereas the choruses are full and dense with guitars galore, while the entire band appropriately pounds away during the middle guitar solo.

One of my favorites, “Shadows Embrace,” is another track that showcases the band’s range of skills, with luxurious keyboard orchestrations acting as the perfect backdrop for the main and chunky guitar riff. The rhythm section adds its thumping drive, while Huijsmans’s vocals shine over the top. Some complex instrumentation in the song’s middle section (including an outrageously good guitar solo) brings to mind several Prog-Metal bands in the style of Symphony X. Good stuff!

Several tracks, “All I Am,” along with “Collide” and “Gone,” the latter two being luscious ballads, further parade Huijsmans’s extraordinary talent to the listener, and are probably the tracks, given their more straightforward approach and lofty melodies, that could easily appeal to the widest audience possible.

But “Dark Reflection” is undoubtedly my favorite. Here, End of the Dream presents its full range of capabilities, again embracing the style of complex Prog-Metal regularly delivered by acts such as Kamelot or Symphony X and merging it with the melodic sensibilities of female-led bands such as Within Temptation or Nightwish. At more than nine minutes in length, with shifts in moods and rhythms and diverse instrumentation throughout, this in an epic track to be certain.

Is there anything new here in the world of Prog-Metal or Symphonic Metal? Definitely not, but who cares since the talented band does what it does so damned well. All I Am is a generally impressive debut album, and fans of all the aforementioned bands will probably appreciate this addition to the ranks of female-led Symphonic-Metal acts as much as I do. I eagerly await more material, and I pray that for End of the Dream, it’s actually only just the beginning of a long and successful dream instead.

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