The Forty Days - Beyond The Air

The Forty Days – Beyond The Air

Italian progressive rock has a rich heritage dating right back to the perennial favourites P.F.M. and up to the modern-day excellence of the Barock Project. Therefore, it sparked some interest for me when a track from Beyond the Air, the second album from The Forty Days, was recently played on The Prog Mill show on Progzilla Radio. When the album from this Pisa and Livorno based band became available to review, I gladly volunteered, and I have to say this was a very good decision. This is a remarkably mature release from a band which only formed in 2014 and has had only one previous album, The Colour of Change in 2017, and yet they have already played the famous 2 days+1 Prog festival in Veruno and have had the balls to cover Blue Öyster Cult’s iconic Don’t Fear the Reaper on an Italian tribute album with aplomb.

So what do we get with Beyond the Air?

Guitarist Dario Vignale states that this is a concept album about a man’s journey through life from childhood in which he increasingly clashes with human indifference. As he is a sensitive man, this suffering experience almost drives him crazy. However, eventually he learns to adapt to the situation, and as Dario concludes, “he’ll be able to live well holding tightly to his nearest and dearest”.

This is not a rigid concept and individually the songs stand well on their own merits, and the theme of the lyrics have a universal appeal which we can all recognise at times in our own lives. Monday begins the story appropriately with a tale of birth (Dario sharing that his own daughter was born on a Monday). Gianluca Padula opens proceedings with a chiming piano riff and drums which develops into a fluid synth solo over a lush melodic backing. Padula’s soft vocals describe the sunny optimism of new-born life over a delightful tune. A chopping guitar riff from Dario Vignale signals a different feel as the father warns his child about the behaviour of other people, and then Vignale rolls out a short but sweet guitar solo. This is an impressive opening which grabs the attention.

The impressive Under the Trees carries the story on, expansively evoking the carefree happiness of childhood, but hinting at the shadows ahead:

“Under the trees, I’m standing and screaming your name
and after a while you open the door with your bike and a ball in the hands
so now, help me to find, something to stop the time to 1995, don’t be afraid, ’cause nothing ends.”

This is a varied piece ranging from confident keyboard fanfares to more contemplative, softer passages and back into more expansive, rocking sections. What is immediately evident about The Forty Days is the skilful interweaving of keyboards and guitars, alongside the quality vocals of Giancarlo Padula. Underpinning is a rock-solid rhythm section with deft but powerful drumming from Giorgio Morreale, complemented by great bass from Massimo Valloni. Vignale shakes the leaves from this piece with a rippling guitar solo finale.

The story and the music takes a decidedly darker turn with The Fog as our main character feels confined and isolated at home with ‘friends’ who do not seem to care about him. The Forty Days have named Porcupine Tree as one of their influences and this shines out on this piece, Padula displaying his vocal dexterity with a much more impassioned and desperate vocal:

“I’m feeling lost in this field, lost in this grass of indifference so hard to beat
I’m losing the sense of time lost in this garden of stones and lies.”

Alongside his great voice, he embroiders this song with a glorious, almost funky electric piano solo, supported so well by Valloni and Morreale on bass and drums. This is a band who really understand the ‘rock’ in the progressive rock genre. Vignale cuts through the fog at the end with a great guitar solo which morphs brilliantly into a final synth line… I love bands like IQ which effortlessly blend keyboards and guitars, and whilst The Forty Days are not really in the vein of the legendary IQ, they do share their ability to meld these two crucial melodic instruments to create more than the sum of their parts.

Dario Vignale has shared that the band name was simply inspired by the 40 days between their first rehearsal and their first concert, in the summer of 2014. They played ’60/’70s rock covers of bands such as Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix and Deep Purple, and you can definitely hear hints of those influences in their more rocking sections, particularly on what is the zenith of the album for me, the outstanding Broken Bars. This great song sums up all that is good about The Forty Days. Our main protagonist now fully realises that everybody else just focuses on themselves, indifferent to him, and he starts to feel imprisoned by his situation. The dreamy opening section echoes back to Padula and Vignale’s former days with a Pink Floyd tribute band. However, the tempo and power gradually increase, along with some powerful vocals. This is the sound of an excellent rock band totally in sync as they spiral into a great instrumental sequence. A chugging guitar line builds into echoing splashes of guitar before the whole band plunges in and Padula takes up the melody with a flowing, sinuous synth line… and the power continues to grow. Vignale returns for a crescendo guitar solo before the main vocal theme and melody are triumphantly reprised as our hero screams his realisation. This is a turning point and a highlight of the album.

Vignale takes over the lead vocals for the short acoustic interlude B4 the Storm. Dream-like and reflective, it is needed after the fury of the previous song. Then Beyond the Air takes a very unexpected change in direction as The Forty Days embark on the jazz filled funk of Bi!, reminiscent of ’70s funk band Spyrogyra (remember them?!). Apparently, ‘Bi!’ is a typical exclamation of surprise and resignation by the drummer Giorgio Morreale, and the song represents a sort of madness. Fun and funky as it is, ‘madness’ was not really the state of mind evoked for this listener, but it certainly indicates that things have changed for the main protagonist.

Having reached his revelation, the album’s main character reflects on his situation in the penultimate title track Beyond the Air, which opens with a pensive piano and vocal. The power and tempo build again as the character and music rise in unison, and Vignale takes off with a suitably soaring guitar solo. The finale In Glide is a moment of release as the main protagonist fully realises what is the most important thing in his life:

“Glide down to the things you care, And keep the best feelings close, But the rest outside your home, Glide over the things you hate, Remember the shape of that smile, and those pretty eyes.”

This final piece evokes an appropriately optimistic and airy atmosphere, aside from one darker, heavier interlude, and Padula’s vocals are heartfelt and touching. His command of singing in a second language is remarkable and very assured – sure, there is a slight Italian accent, similar to new Big Big Train vocalist Alberto Bravin, but it sounds great, and you can tell he really feels these songs. In Glide finishes with Padula chanting poetically into the distance, “Every time I stay, every time I wait, every time I search you in glide… never want to say goodbye”, and Vignale displays yet more stellar Gilmour-esque guitar over a stirring rock backing, with the whole band rolling on magnificently. It’s a great ending to this excellent album.

Beyond the Air is a truly impressive second release from The Forty Days – if they continue with this sort of quality and power their star will hopefully rise above any indifference. The Forty Days have the potential to deservedly glide away to a higher plain in modern progressive rock – definitely a band to keep a watch on.

01. Monday (5:32)
02. Under the Trees (7:19)
03. The Fog (5:14)
04. Broken Bars (6:30)
05. B4 the Storm (2:18)
06. Bi! (4:47)
07. Beyond the Air (5:13)
08. In Glide (8:29)

Total Time – 44:26

Giancarlo Padula – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Dario Vignale – Guitars, Backing Vocals, Lead Vocals (track 5)
Massimo Valloni – Bass
Giorgio Morreale – Drums
~ with:
Edoardo Magoni – Backing Vocals, Keyboards, 8-string Guitar, Co-Production, Recording & Mixing

Record Label: Lizard Records
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 9th June 2023

– The Colour of Change (2017)
– Beyond the Air (2023)

The Forty Days – Website | Facebook | YouTube Music