There is always a danger when one has been anticipating a release for a long time, and it felt like a long time waiting for the debut release from Quel Che Disse Il Tuono. Actually, the album was put together in a very short space of time, as the band was founded only a year ago, however, the enormously talented Francesca Zanetta (a founder of Unreal City) was a founder of Quel Che Disse Il Tuono, and that alone had me impatient to hear what the band could muster. As she and the band teased their progress on a regular basis, it was hard not to be impatient to hear the end result and, at the same time, a little worrying. Would the end product live up to the hype?
The short answer, if you don’t wish to read the rest of the review, is yes. Go out and buy Il Velo Dei Riflessi. You won’t be disappointed. This is a truly magnificent album, taking all that was great about the classic years of Rock Progressivo Italiano, and propelling it forward into today. It has all the retro charm you could wish for, with the production values classic RPI usually lacked. Now, I’m biased because I’ve long been a lover of RPI, but for those less enthused, let me add that this album is also extremely reminiscent of vintage keyboard-led Scandinavian bands such as Anekdoten, Nordagust and Mater Thallium (to name but three).
I’m reminded of so many of the RPI bands of the ’70s that I love, but this sounds so much better. A lot of this is down to the production, which is just wonderful. But there’s no getting away from the talent the band displays, and the use of so many gorgeous vintage keyboards. Having three talented keyboard players surely helps, with Francesca Zanetta and Alessio Del Ben adding additional keyboard flourishes to main keys player, Niccolò Gallani. Gallani himself shows his multi-instrumental prowess too, with some absolutely beautiful flute playing. And the vocals! Oh, the vocals! Roberto Berna Bernasconi could not be more perfect, belting out the style of vocals (stereo)typical of RPI. Bold, highly emotional, almost operatic, and sung in Italian. Does that last matter? Well, personally I’d say yes. Whether it is Banco, PFM, Maxophone, or any other RPI band who released English language versions of their songs, these were always inferior to the Italian sung versions. The Italian language is one of the most musical in the world, and much of the magic in RPI is in the vocals. Bernasconi scores highly in this regard.
But let’s be honest, every member of Quel Che Disse Il Tuono scores highly. After listening through the album the first time, I wondered if this might be my most favourite RPI release ever. Such hyperbole is not uncommon when I first hear something new that I instantly am enamoured with, so I ignored this feeling. And yet? And yet, after having listened to the album dozens of times now, I can’t help but still feel this way. This is a simply magnificent album, which encapsulates all that I love from the classic years of RPI, and makes it greater!
The album begins with the thunder implied by the band’s name, before taking us through a metaphorical storm of the mind. A mind split, and viewed through four mirrors (the first four tracks), as the individual suffering this mental disorder works to accept that these deviations are who he is, this final catharsis worked out through the final track. Would I have known that if I did not have the electronic press kit that came with the album? Probably not, but nor does it really matter. I don’t understand the lyrics, but I could use Google to translate them if I felt the need – and I do not. I’ll be honest, I don’t pay a great attention to the lyrics when they are sung in English, so I’m not going to go out of my way when they’re not. For me, the voice is merely another instrument, and a wonderful one in this band. It is possible, however, to hear the resolution of the final song in the music, and equally, the conflict within the first four. (The heavy melancholy of second mirror, Figlio Dell’Uomo, for example, is palpable, and depressingly beautiful.)
A feature of RPI is that the music often sounds like classical music within a rock setting, rather than rock music utilising classical elements. From the first track forward, this is immediately the impression one gets, and it sweeps me away from the beginning. The interplay of the instruments, along with the textures and timbres the varying vintage keyboards provide, is more symphonic than most symphonic prog bands. And yet, Francesca Zanetta’s guitar adds an edge that was often lacking in classic RPI. If you loved her playing in Unreal City, you will here too. It doesn’t sound at all the same (although, as Zanetta herself proclaims, it is recognisably played by the same fingers), but it sounds just as good. While most classic symphonic RPI bands, especially given how keyboard-centric they were, tended to take after ELP, Quel Che Disse Il Tuono seem to take more from King Crimson – which is perhaps why I hear the resemblance to the aforementioned Scandinavian bands, who are also influenced by King Crimson.
But, as I’ve tried to stress, no matter their roots and influences, Quel Che Disse Il Tuono sound entirely modern. The band themselves have said, “We are fully aware of resting on the shoulders of giants, we know our background and we are aware of the great influences that derive from it. Nonetheless, it is our firm intention not to be a derivative group: we work constantly to outline a distinctive and modern character.” I certainly believe that the band have managed just that, and it is a harder won victory than you might think. There are many bands that become so entrenched in their attempts to recreate the sound and feel of the classic period of prog that they are plain boring. In fact, I dislike far more retro prog bands than I like. But this, I love.
And like that, the album ends as it began, with the sound of thunder. It’s been just under an hour, but it feels no longer than a quarter of that – the approximate length of the final song, in fact. There are some albums that feel far too long, but this one is over far too soon. The only thing to do is put it straight back on, and listen again. This could easily have been a disappointment, especially for someone like me who has such a love for classic RPI. Instead, it’s a contender for my favourite album of the year. And it’s only a debut! Let’s hope Quel Che Disse Il Tuono don’t go the way of so many great RPI bands of the ’70s and be one and done.
01. Il paradigma dello specchio [Primo specchio] (9:13)
02. Figlio dell’uomo [Secondo specchio] (9:23)
03. Chi ti cammina accanto? [Terzo specchio] (5:43)
04. Il bastone e il serpente [Quarto specchio] (10:36)
05. Loro sono me [Catarsi] (13:45)
Total Time – 48:39
Francesca Zanetta – Guitars, Keyboards
Niccolò Gallani – Keyboards, Flute, Backing Vocals
Roberto Berna Bernasconi – Bass, Lead Vocals
Alessio Del Ben – Drums, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Claudio Falcono – Vocal Harmonies
Claudia Mangano – Backing Vocals, Choir
Giulia Zanado – Flute
Record Label: AMS Records
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 20th March 2020