The city of Rome is not only the base of the talented band Kingcrow, but it's also the hometown of Utopia, another promising prog metal band. They released their debut album Ice And Knives in 2010. Special guest on that album was Marco Sfogli, known from the solo albums of James LaBrie and from the band Creation's End. Now six years later Utopia have returned with a successor called Mood Changes and with the new drummer David Cannata, who replaced Valerio Lucantoni. The other members of the current line-up are vocalist Riccardo Fenarolli, guitarist Lorenzo Venza, keyboardist Lorenzo Antonelli and bass player Enrico Sandri.
Mood Changes appears to be a very tasteful album blending technical high-quality progressive metal with strong elements of fusion thus creating something special. Like most progressive rock albums all songs have a playing time of more than five minutes except Dust. The album's opener The Trickster immediately sets the atmosphere: haunting drums go together with subtle keyboard arrangements and strong guitar play. Riccardo Fenarolli has an amazing voice that perfectly suits this melodic and powerful music. Next is Corpus Caeleste, a fine and furious composition wherein stunning guitar riffs attract all the attention. Technically this song is played in the vein of Dream Theater with a dark guitar sound that reminds me of Leprous in contrast to the light, but impressive keyboard sounds. The instrumental middle-section just blew me away! Wow, what a guitar sound!
Vocal-wise the music on I Want To Know reminds me of the German band Subsignal; their singer Arno Menses is not a bad singer to be compared with, I think. I would call I'll Be A Fool a 'middle of the road' track; it's accessible and offers definitely a chance to get airplay on a regular rock radio station. Strange, but Ritchie Kotzen comes to mind while listening to this nice, slow AOR referring song. Next we are treated to fantastic bass sounds and an oriental sounding start of Back Drop. This is again a powerful up-tempo song wherein the drums take the lead at a robust pace followed by nice and delicate guitar playing. The beautiful vocals are the icing on the cake of this wonderful song.
On Fight I have the feeling that the top string of Venza's guitar has not been tuned properly, so a strong, fierce sound is the result, making this song the heaviest on the album. Toward the end the fusion elements take over, which makes this piece my favourite composition of Mood Changes. Another very special song is I Will Try. It seems as if Utopia have taken the heavy progressive fusion of Planet X to blend it with super melodic vocals. It reminds me a bit of the live music of Steve Lukather, when he's in a good mood. The title track closes the album; it's percussive, again melodious and strongly referring to Subsignal. It's a worthy end of a fine album.
I must admit that I never listened to Utopia's debut album, but after the many spins of Mood Changes in my cd-player, I intend to listen to that album as well. Mood Changes is a very strong, powerful progressive metal album with brilliant fusion elements and a great vocalist.
****+ Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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