Monday, March 4, 2013

DGM - Momentum (2013)

If you were to go to a quiet space and close your eyes, you could probably hear the sounds of prog metal rolling through your head. We all know what it sounds like; wild guitars, flowing keyboards, and even more charismatic drum work played by virtuosos. So may of the bands that fill this genre are interchangeable, and lack anything that separates them from the rest of the pack. You either lead, follow, or get out of the way. Italy's DGM, for all their efforts, aren't exactly leading the pack, but they also aren't about to get out of the race entirely. Seven albums into their 19 years of existence, they find themselves on the cusp of that elite group of prog metal superstars, kept out only by their lack of global exposure. But the eighth time, as they say, is the charm. With their new album, "Momentum," being released by Italian label Scarlet Records, it may be time for this five piece to sprint to the head of the pack and lead the way for years to come.

Following the old adage of leading with strength, the band wastes no time in unveiling their collaboration with famed Symphony X frontman, Russell Allen. To say that "Reason" is packed to bursting is an understatement, but meant in the most impressive of ways. The detail of the instrumental is nearly unbeatable, while the mix does its job keeping all of the layers separate but balanced. In true prog fashion, you are treating to a set of wild solos, courtesy of guitarist Simone Mularoni and keyboardist Emanuele Casali. With so much high powered ammunition at their disposal, tracks like "Trust" seem to be second nature. While his counterparts fire on all cylinders, vocalists Mark Basile holds his own, providing the smooth element that would otherwise be lacking. And while the lyrics may not be the epitome of poetry, they add an extra wrinkle to the formula. So much of the perceived success or failure of tracks of this nature comes in how that single voice mingles with the virtuosic guitar work beneath it, something that works well here. With the speed turned up on "Universe," the bands finds themselves in their comfort zone, working at a fever pitch. With accuracy and timing as their biggest strong suits, it only makes sense that pacing would strengthen their attack. With Fabio Costantino providing enough double kicks to choke the proverbial horse, there is no chance for things to go stagnant.

With a more downtempo groove, or at least by this bands standards, "Numb" shows that they aren't a one speed pony. Basile is let off the chain here, exploring some of his range and delivery devices. It allows him to earn his keep, so to speak, and be more than just a second tier band member like many prog metal outfits. His work gives you something more to appreciate in addition to the surgically precise solos that find a home here. The wild gallop of "Pages" is sure to be a crowd pleaser, complete with gang vocals in the pre-chorus. But that chorus, with all of the airy elements coming together, solidifies the track as one of the best on the album. The effects of Costantino's booming kick drum could be felt long afterwards. It's worth noting that the solos here, both keyboard and guitar, remain cohesive, rather than just fast and furious. Even the obligatory ballad feels more in touch, albeit slightly to the more generic side. The lyrical content of "Repay" seems to hold some deep seeded sadness that is far too often absent from heavy music, and it is conveyed well through both Basile's voice, and Casali's delicate tickling of the ivories. Also in typical fashion, the more somber moment is followed immediately by "Chaos," both literally and figuratively. Including a contribution from acclaimed Pagan's Mind guitarist Viggo Lofstad is a maze of distortion guitar riffs, squealing harmonics and bone shaking percussion. This is progressive metal in a four and a half minute nutshell, showing off the framework that is both the past, present and future of the genre.

With roots more in the melodic side of the spectrum, "Remembrance" is another vessel for Basile to assert himself into the mix. Yes, the instrumental may feel a tad too stripped down at times, particularly around the halfway mark, but the mood it creates, thanks largely to the beautiful percussion work, is worth the change of pace. Prog is also one of the few genres that seems to put a touch of honesty in their track names, as is the case on "Overload." With guitars and keyboards winding up and down like a barber pole, there is enough dexterity on display to leave you feeling dizzy and sick to your stomach. Add in the thunderous kick drums, and you might think the world is being tore apart by a very angry God. The band never loses focus, however, and there is certainly a method to what seems like madness. Never is that more apparent than on the space age tinged "Void," where the keyboards you've enjoyed thus far are transformed at times into time travel engines. Once you get into the meat of the song, things settle down considerably, leaning more towards the formula you may have deduced thus far. Even after a raucous affair like this one, a light keyboard solo to end things is always welcome, especially when it folds directly into the album finale, "Blame." With everyone playing at their level best, it feels like a "full circle" kind of moment, without sounding stale and rehashed. It is a beautifully played tradeoff, with Basile taking the verse and chorus and his bandmates unleashing their unique talents in the bridge.

While it is true that all prog metal bands share many of the same basics characteristics, there are a select few that can stand on their own two feet. These are the bands that have us sitting in anticipation of new releases, or waiting in line to see them play live. And though DGM may not have accrued the hordes of followers that some of the other bands cut from their cloth have, they still find themselves in the upper echelon of their craft. There is a ferocity to their music that is undeniable which, in turn, makes it unbelievably intoxicating. With eight studio albums under their collected belts, I suppose you can't really invite people to jump on the bandwagon at this point. But with the release of "Momentum," they may have done themselves a huge favor. And as 2013 unfolds, with shows planned with Avantasia and the mighty Power Prog & Metal Festival, it looks as though this might be the year Italy's finest makes their biggest splash yet.


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