Album review: GRAAL – Chapter 1V

Graal - Chapter IV

Code 7 – Jolly Roger [Release date 25.05.15]

It ten years since the Italian prog rock band Graal’s debuted with ‘Realm Of Fantasy’ and ‘Chapter 1v’ finds them honing their craft in a genre hopping mode while revelling in instrumental virtuosity.

At their best they rock hard and surprise us with a wide range of styles, played with total commitment and real passion, even if their ambitious musical horizons don’t always deliver a signature sound.

‘The 8 minute plus, ‘Goodbye’ for example, is an expansive melodic prog rock ballad with many possibilities. Francesco Zagarese’s fine guitar solo burns on a big resolution to a song with big pretentions that works hard to rise above standard prog rock fare.

It’s counterbalanced by the contemplative’ A Poetry For A Silent Man’, a solo piano piece that is topped and tailed by a sound collage to give the album some welcome breathing space.

You can’t question Graal’s musical excellence, but the difference between sundry prog bands and the big league is to be found in the band’s compositional DNA.

Graal sounds like a band that has discovered prog metal and hard rock a generation too late.  They are fiercely independent and refuse to compromise their musical principals to accommodate contemporary trends.

They open with the delicately played ‘Little Song’ an acoustic, flute driven folk-into-prog piece with electronic edges and a nuanced vocal. The understated opening leads us into an original, adventurous prog set that mirrors an old fashioned concept album, as it finishes with ‘Northern Cliff’, an exhilarating, sub waltz time instrumental end-piece, featuring a big synth solo over a vaguely Celtic feel.

They toughen things up on ‘Pick Up All The Faults’, as a Jethro Tull style staccato rhythm, layered keyboards and a repeated guitar riff sweeps us along with its sheer intensity.

The hard riffed, Purple influenced ‘Shadow Play’ (not to be confused with Rory Gallagher’s song) is full of is full of cymbal grabs, big keyboards and a Dougie White sound-alike vocalist Andrea Ciccomartino.

What makes Graal interesting is the instrumental colour and shifting time changes of their musical canvas. The fractured rhythms are counterweighted by Danilo Petrelli’s expansive keyboard parts and Francesco Zagarese’s heavy riffs and lighting shreds.

The band’s complex songs come with blistering solos, disguised melodies and sudden dynamic instrumental breaks that evoke the classic early 70’s prog rock period. It all comes together perfectly on ‘Revenge’ a track that acts as a template for their intense style.

They stretch out on the mighty instrumental ‘The Day That Never Ended’.  Despite the subtle sonic textures comprising prog metal, heavy duty guitar and dancing synths, it anchors them in the same 70’s era that spawned fellow Italian prog rockers PFM.

What makes Graaf different is the clever way they push their music into new directions without losing sight of the song. They cross over from folk to the riff driven hard rock and prog metal, while ‘Guardian Devil’ veers into early Pink Floyd (check out the Nick Mason drum pattern).

They lose their way a little on ‘Lesser Man’ which for all its layered intensity and John Lord style keyboards doesn’t add much to what’s gone before, while in spite of an interesting church organ intro and some rock hard riffs, ‘Last Hold’ is simply too cluttered and obscures its proggy development.

That said, ‘Chapter 1v’ has plenty of substance, real inspiration, consistently good playing and is well worth checking out. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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