4 out of 5 Stars!
Italian band Mad Crayon released two albums in the ’90s, then another album ten years later, with Diamanti being the band’s sophomore effort. Unfamiliar with the 1994 debut album Ultimo Miraggio, however, or 2009’s final album Preda, I’m unsure how either compares to Diamanti, but if they are anywhere near the high quality of this splendid release, then Mad Crayon certainly has unquestionable talent.
Since the band at the time of this recording included two keyboardists and two guitarists (or three if you count the bassist, who is also credited with electric guitar), the balance seems near to perfect, with neither instrument dominating the proceedings. And as far as the music itself, the compositions range from upbeat and melodic Neo-Prog tunes with Symphonic touches, such as the ultra-catchy opening track, “La Ballatta Dell’uomo Nudo,” to pastoral, dreamier songs such as the closer, “Alchimia Di Un Leggenda,” where the band includes what sounds like flute and Mellotron, as well as spoken female vocals.
But most of the other tracks fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, with several of them having complex arrangements that trade off between light and heavy moments. “Deserti,” for example, includes a melody line in the initial verse and choruses that often brings to mind the Genesis track “Ripples,” only with acoustic guitar replacing the piano backdrop. Then a sax solo leads into the song’s mid-section, where electric guitars and Hammond take center stage, these heavier passages reminding me of groups such as The Flower Kings or Spock’s Beard, before the band returns to the mellower reprise of the verses and the song ends with beautiful violin accompaniment.
Other tunes such as the aforementioned opener, as well as the instrumental tracks “Glorioso Destino” and “Diamanti,” seem to have brief references toward the styles of Frank Zappa and Marillion, PFM or Credo, Doracor or Malibran, while the singer (on songs such as “L’allegra Brigata,” “Pioggia Di Fiori,” and “Principe Delle Marce”) periodically sounds like an Italian version of Phil Collins. Indeed, several of the compositions or various song arrangements on Diamanti have a distinct Genesis “post-Peter Gabriel” feel, so fans of the Trick of the Tail/Wind & Wuthering era of Genesis will certainly find much to savor.
Thankfully, I see that the band is still in existence, so hopefully Mad Crayon will be releasing new material in the near future. Meanwhile, I’m hoping to eventually hunt down the two albums I’m missing in the group’s catalogue. And to any Prog-Rock fans who, like myself, have a fondness for the generally exciting music that tends to come out of Italy on a regular basis, you may want to consider adding Diamanti to your collection.