Barock Project from Italy utterly blew me away with their previous album, the utterly outstanding Detachment, which was my favourite of 2017. They recently launched their latest album into the Seven Seas and have maintained their level of high-quality with a fine album of exemplary melodic progressive rock. They may not have captured my heart in quite the same way as last time, but then again ‘first kisses’ are impossible to replicate!
The opening four songs on this album are simply outstanding. Title track Seven Seas gently pulses in with some sensitive vocals and picks up tempo and power. An added string arrangement leads into a veritable musical storm with Luca Zabbini’s swirling keyboards, and then the song ebbs away. Standout track I Call Your Name is a glorious slice of high energy top class rock pop with infectious riffs from Marco Mazzuoccolo and Luca Zabbini. There’s even a subtle reference to The Beatles with a mischievous couple of bars from Sergeant Pepper‘s Within You, Without You sneaked in (but blink and you’ll miss it!). Fantastic harmony vocals ride along on a wave of guitars, bass and some great drumming from Eric Obelli. This effervescent track actually belies a sad theme as a heartbroken person yearns for someone who has left them, similar to the deceptively bitter Happy to See You from Detachment. I Call Your Name is a fabulously catchy pop song which in an alternate Universe would have been a massive hit. Rejection never sounded quite so sweet!
In contrast, Ashes is more restrained and introspective with strings and Zabbini’s fluid piano leading the way. Once again the lovely melodic music actually conveys a sad tale as the fading fires of love reduce to ashes. After the more placid first half, the piano suddenly accelerates us into a raging conflagration of drums and guitars, underpinned by Francesco Caliendo’s solid bass. Zabbini ignites the piece with a dazzling Hammond organ solo as the vocals proclaim, before the musical flames fade, one last hopeful plea:
“Take away our pain, blow away the ashes and, fire will be burning again.”
The very high quality of the opening quartet of songs continues with Cold Fog, with lyrics written by Peter Jones of Camel and Tiger Moth Tales fame. Jones worked on some songs and sang a couple on Detachment, and Cold Fog is a piece that was born during that previous collaboration. Writing the lyrics of Cold Fog is the limit of Jones’ involvement on this album, which is a bit of a pity as his vocal and lyrical ability certainly added to the overall excellence and infectious quality of Detachment. Cold Fog is simply one of the best pieces on Seven Seas and once again we are adrift in a sea of broken hearts. A soulfully sung and lilting piano-led intro is injected with a pulsating synth and deft drumming before the song erupts with passion. Strings and piano underpinned by the synth carry us on before the heartbreak bursts out vocally, followed by a wailing guitar break. It’s dramatic stuff. Acoustic guitars from the multi-instrumentalist and clearly multi-talented Luca Zabbini introduce some introspection with some lovely vocals, before an understated and tasteful guitar solo is sweetened by a fine piano conclusion. The emotional turmoil of Fog returns with a vengeance as a stirring string arrangement ascends to a full band crescendo. The passion of a lost love seems to permeate much of this album.
After such drama at the end of an outstanding opening quartet it seems apt for the gentle acoustic interlude of A Mirror Trick, which appears to be a short breather before the rather more epic Hamburg hoves into view with the sound of seagulls and waves. An orchestral arrangement with a maritime feel ensures we feel suitably at sea… but for me this piece seems rather water-logged and at sea itself. There are some skilfully played sections with some fine playing but overall it feels like we are treading water as some of the atmosphere and musical themes have been covered already. Hamburg may just be too drawn out and a little disjointed for my taste, although some will undoubtedly love the ambition and orchestration of such a relative epic.
If you have ever wondered what the ‘love child’ of early Genesis, Anthony Phillips and Porcupine Tree would be like then try Brain Damage (no, it’s not a Pink Floyd cover). Tinkling in with gently caressing acoustic guitars and diaphanous vocals, it really does feel like the ghost of Trespass has emerged. However, the tempo increases and the shadows lengthen as Brain Damage twists in a very different direction. The song spasms into Porcupine Tree territory, driven along powerfully with skill by Caliendo and Ombelli on bass and drums respectively. An extended end section rams home the point relentlessly as Zabbini’s synth sprays graffiti-like over the finale of this impressive fusion of styles.
That is probably where they should have left the album as it would have been a suitably dramatic conclusion to a fine set of songs… but in my view Seven Seas sinks at the end with a disappointing final quartet of songs, which is a pity after the strength of the opening. Chemnitz Girl is a pleasant enough piece, but after Brain Damage it feels rather lightweight and meanders on with little to excite or beguile. After the rich musicality and intensity of the rest of the album, I Should Have Learned To feels incongruous as a sub-standard Beatles pastiche – they should have learned to leave it off the album in my view. Moving On (the only song with music not written by Zabbini) crashes in with unconvincing heaviness and out of nowhere an incongruous saxophone comes in at the end. The disappointing end to the album finishes with the frankly rather cheesy almost cabaret-like The Ones which even the Pink Floyd-esque wailing of guest Durga McBroom cannot lift.
Like the cliché about many football matches, this album is ‘a game of two halves’ as it launched with a bang in a truly magnificent set of songs but from my perspective, it concludes with rather a whimper in a series of anonymous songs – Barock Project may have over-stretched themselves.
When they are good Barock Project can be absolutely bloody magnificent, as much of this album amply demonstrates. However, they may also need to understand that sometimes ‘less is more’. This is an album which outstayed its welcome for me as the quality drops off. Nevertheless, the majority of this album is excellent melodic progressive rock, and some will love it all. It certainly has not put me off Barock Project.
Music is like love in many ways – I fell in love with Detachment and still listen to it, but despite its undoubted overall quality Seven Seas simply did not capture my heart this time – Love is funny like that sometimes!
01. Seven Seas (5:27)
02. I Call Your Name (3:45)
03. Ashes (6:05)
04. Cold Fog (9:06)
05. A Mirror Trick (3:29)
06. Hamburg (11:25)
07. Brain Damage (9:05)
08. Chemnitz Girl (4:07)
09. I Should Have Learned To (3:46)
10. Moving On (4:25)
11. The Ones (4:58)
Total Time – 65:38
Luca Zabbini – Lead & Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, String Arrangements
Alex Mari – Lead & Backing Vocals
Marco Mazzuoccolo – Electric Guitars
Francesco Caliendo – Electric Bass
Eric Ombelli – Drums & Percussion, Mandolin, Sample Programming
Durga McBroom – Backing Vocals (track 11)
Francesco Cinti – Saxophones
Record Labels: Aerostella
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 27th September 2019