Friday, March 22, 2013

Derdian - Limbo (2013)

Many documentaries have explored the relationship between modern symphonic metal and the classical music of the 18th century and beyond. While the correlation is certainly there, it remains to be in varying degrees. While some bands have adopted only the lighter side of their classical roots, through charming violins and flutes, others have taken on the entire scope of the genre. In Milano, Derdian have built a name off of infusing classical compositions into their guitar and drum heavy metal mix. And while they do, obviously, rely on synthesized orchestrations and instrumentations, they do it in a way that not only gives credit to the past, but gives rise to the future. With a career spanning nearly 15 years, there has been time to perfect a combination and contrast of styles. With the release of "Limbo," their fourth studio album, they have found a balance that few can claim, and even fewer can prove.

Unlike many other symphonic intro tracks, "Carpe Diem" is not the subtle, flowing instrumental; it is a thunderous icebreaker that sets the tone for an entire album. Packed into a minute and a half is a plethora of percussion, vocal chants, and guitar wizardry, all leading directly into "Dragon's Life." It is here that the pulsing gallop of drummer Salvatore Giordano is felt in full force. Not only does he set the pace for the track as a whole, but his robot-like precision is the stick for all to be measured. As a result, the rest of the band follows suit, from the whimsical keyboards of Marco Garau to the pitch perfect bass work of Luciano Severgnini. the band flirts with perfection, from verse to chorus and back again, walking the fine line between thrashing riffs and delicately balanced orchestration. Following in the same footsteps, "Forever In The Dark" is a second straight powerhouse, this time taking the operatic tone that can transform a metal track into some much more inviting. The duel guitar melodies, constructed by Henry Pistolese and Dario Radaelli are dizzying in their speed and accuracy. Together they form a victorious tone that permeates the entire song. Hidden within this seven minute frame is a bevy of subtext, delivered to your ears by the entire cast of characters. And to somehow make it this far without mentioning the name of Ivan Giannini, vocalist extraordinaire, seems like a major oversight. His range alone could turn a mediocre work into a masterpiece, though that isn't necessary here.

The starring role on "Heal My Soul" goes to Garau, whose keyboard work in both the lead and background capacity is key to making the machine work. But it only begins there; having a stable foundation melody allows the mix to grow in both sound and strength. By the time you reach the top layer, Giannini's soaring vocal, you have a structure of the utmost beauty. And just when the length of the track, just shy of seven minutes, seems to be a con, a light piano outro ties it all together. And while the guitar acrobatics of "Light Of Hate" might seem cliche on first listen, they are anything but. From those whirling riffs builds something far more involved and intricate, almost the Cirque du Soleil of symphonic metal. Whether it is the break neck speed or the daring combination of vocal melodies, there is a staggering amount to digest here, punctuated with an incredible final minute. Subsequently, the almost out of control solos of "Terror" start a fire that few bands could harness and contain. But here, that is a welcomed result. It would seem that Giannini is at his best when the heat rises around him, something that his bandmates do time and time again. Unlike so many other symphonic acts, the bass lines have a chance to shine through it all, thanks in part to the skills fingers of Severgnini and his ability to do more than just pluck an open string. It is the title track, however, that best displays a band at the top of their collective game. From a jazzy piano intro, one which repeats sporadically throughout, to booming thrash metal, this is high octane execution done to perfection. Even an appearance by some heavier vocals is a wonder to behold, taking things down a much darker path.

The much sobering opening of "Kingdom Of Your Heart" is a soulful twist on the much belittled metal ballad formula, adopting a more classically inspired sound to make it all work. But that sweet, baby faced intro doesn't last long, erupting into a full blown crescendo of rapid fire drums and guitars. Giannini shines brightly here, his voice matching the guitars in strength and style. This becomes key, as the music cuts back and forth between sullen and rumbling, and he must do the same. This may not be the only time that skill is necessary, but it shines brightest here, as well as on "Strange Journey." The pairing of these tracks seems odd at first, but works astonishingly well. While the latter may seem to be a more stripped down effort, it is a nice change of pace. The buildup seems to be for "Hymn Of Liberty," which begins as a soft crooner. Two minutes in, however, the entire outlook changes, and you are handed a gift of symphonic metal glory. Tempo shifts, mood changes, and blazing instrumentals of all shapes and sizes are here to greet you. That they are used isn't the only victory; the fact that they come together in a harmony of sounds and structures outweighs anything else. To say that the closing track, "Silent Hope," is the most melodically charged song on the album isn't an exaggeration. Giannini is the conductor here, leading every step of the way with his far reaching vocal prowess. But it is the guitar and keyboard melodies scattered throughout this seven minutes that will tickle you long afterwards. The result? A memorable summation of all things accomplished on an album.

Somewhere along the way, people in and around music forgot that classical music in all of its forms isn't just about soothing orchestrations and fluttering harmony. There is a richness to it that makes it versatile; a veritable sponge. So, it would only seem fitting that the symphonic metal movement has lost a lot of the punch that made it so easy to love. Luckily, Derdian are going against the flow of the mainstream and deliver unto all of us an album that is derived from the beauty of classical movie, while keeping the heavy, distorted tenets of thrash metal fully in tact. It's as if they are jogging our memories of a lost time in our lives when heavy handed musicians played thunderous concertos full of low end sounds and stunning songwriting. Whether that description reminds you of 2009, or 1709 is completely up to you. But I would venture to say "Limbo" could fit perfectly into either. 


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