Right out of the gate Mangala Vallis have my attention. First, I have a deep passion for Italian prog, and second, I see an inspired lyrical storyline for a captivating concept album, and that is a solid mainstay of great prog. More on the concept in a moment. I was primed and ready to hear some great new music, and there's no better time than right now.
Track one is Easy Empire. The first few notes immediately brought to mind Gentle Giant circa The Power And The Glory which is arguably one of GG's finest efforts. Normally, on first listen I prefer to hear the entire album before I repeat anything, but this song... well, it made me do it... four times! Maybe it's the Adrian Belew / King Crimson inspired chorus, maybe it's the bouncy time signature, oh who cares, it's a “HOMERUN” on the first pitch!
So, I went looking for more information while I listened to it repeatedly. And at least one of the reasons I was so immediately impressed became apparent when I saw who was now playing for the band. It seems they've had some line-up changes in the previous seven years since the release of Lycanthrope. Both the bassist and vocalist seats have been filled by the exceptionally gifted Roberto Tiranti who sports credits with New Trolls, Labyrinth, and Ian Paice & Glenn Hughes! I'm impressed to say the least... the line up is then completed by Gigi Cavalli Cocchi on drums & percussions, Mirco Consolini on guitars, Cristiano Roversi on keyboards, and Nicola Milazzo on guitars.
The transition between the first and second track Gods Of The XXI Century is so smooth that you hardly notice it has happened, but after a short time you start to notice a change in the overall style of the music, one more towards a formula approach. Tracks three and four Plastic Paradise and Welcome To The New World offer little change from that course, building further upon an almost indistinguishable sound from countless other neo-progressive acts, and I found myself a becoming disappointed. As was true for the first track I again found myself repeating these tracks before progressing, this time trying to gain and understanding of what happened after such a terrific beginning. Ultimately I decided the songs were significant for the story line and that they were present to offer something more easily attainable for those listeners who prefer their prog a little more commercially friendly. Perhaps that idea alone shows some true wisdom on the bands part as they will surely reach a broader audience in doing so. Time alone will confirm the validity of such a move for me, I think many listens will be in order for me to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks to these ears.
Much to my great pleasure tracks five Microsolco and six 21-12-12 are both very solid songs. In both tracks I hear the influences of post Remedy Lane Pain of Salvation, especially in the vocal styling. In my book it is nearly impossible to go wrong with vocals that rival Daniel Gildenlöw's most passionate moments. So, now all things being equal, we come to the final track, beautiful track seven. It begins with simple piano accompanying vocals, and maintains a sense of tranquility and peace throughout which is an appropriate theme to tie in the storyline.
Early on I chose to skip over the storyline so I could satisfy my own personal interest in this work, and now it's time to explore why I made a point of it in the first place. The story addresses the impending date of December 21, 2012, and unless you've been living under a rock you should recognize this as the much-theorized about date shown at the end of the Mayan calendar. With such a timely concept, can the story be any more tantalizing? Microsolco discusses an “end of the world” type scenario, this time taking place when a hacker creates a virus that will destroy the digital memory of the entire planet. Such a catastrophic event naturally forces mankind to consider a “back to the basics” approach to existence, bringing to the forefront some of the very issues we are wrestling with as a civilization currently. Mankind must embrace Mother Nature once again to ensure his very survival, both in this fantasy based prog storyline and in reality as we know it. Oops, I'm preaching. But, isn't that exactly what these kinds of stories are best for? To make us think, discuss, and ideally to improve upon ourselves and our moral and spiritual character. I think in this sense the album Microsolco represents one of prog's greatest achievements, proof that music can change our world.
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