It doesn’t happen quite often to me for an album to make such an impression that, barely halfway through my first listening, I felt inclined to claim that it was one of the best I had hear in a long time. Listening to the apparently endless series of releases filed under the ever-growing “progressive” umbrella tends to make one a bit jaded, so that even albums received enthusiastically rarely make it to the status of regular presences in a reviewer’s CD player. However, my first exposure to Syndone’s latest effort “Odysseas” was one of those moments in which the sheer beauty of the sounds coming out of the speakers caught me by surprise, and elicited superlatives that I normally use very sparingly.
Founded in 1989 by composer and keyboardist Nik Comoglio, it was his idea to form an ELP-style power trio. After the release of the first two studio albums “Spleen” (1991) and “Inca” (1993), the band split up. But then after 17 years, Syndone reformed with a new line-up comprised of Riccardo Ruggeri (vocals, acoustic guitar), Martino Malacrida (drums), Maurino Dellacqua (bass), Marta Caldara (vibraphone), Gigi Rivet (piano, moog), and Nik Comoglio (Hammond, piano, keyboards). They put out two more albums, “Melapesante” (2010) and “La Bella e la Bestia” (2012), and finally this year Syndone return with their fifth studio album entitled “Odysseas,” which was released on Fading Records.
“Odysseas” features guest appearances by drummer Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani, Mike Keneally, Steven Wilson) and flutist John Hackett, brother of legendary Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. As the title suggests, “Odysseas” is a tribute to Homer’s epic “The Odyssey,” where “the concept of travel is seen as the goal of the man being, always tended to look to the future.”
While there is progressiveness aplenty on display on “Odysseas,” the music is also surprisingly accessible, multilayered and eclectic, yet consistently melodic in the way of the band’s fellow RPI predecessors and contemporaries. The influence of the seminal movement is openly acknowledged throughout the album, but that is not where Syndone stops. They explore far beyond the term “progressive,” employing elements from jazz, Canterbury-styled progressive rock, classical and oriental music, and even funk.
While featuring all the traditional progressive rock staples, the rich instrumentation emphasizes the violin, vibraphone, acoustic guitars, lever harp, accompanied with orchestration and vocals of Riccardo Ruggeri who sings in his native language. “Odysseas” is no stranger to theatrical – “Il Tempo Che Non Ho” (what translates to “the time I do not have”) is an example of that. Stylistic diversity rolls all over the album. “Focus,” with its funky attitude mixed with Deep Purplesque approach supports it.
“Penelope” starts with a mid-eastern, oriental theme and with vocal harmonies reminiscent of one Jeff Buckley, but it’s not so long until a classical piano comes in. Ruggeri keeps showing his inarguably big talent and potential throughout the end of the piece, with voice that proudly makes parallel with one and only Fred Mercury of Queen fame. The band pays tribute to Canterbury’s progressive rock in the mind-blowingly intricate but appealingly fluid “Circe.”
Besides the effortless complexity of the instrumental parts, much of the album’s unique charm resides in Ruggeri’s vocals. The singer’s sublime pipes will cause jaws to drop throughout the whole album – his voice glides smoothly and caresses the ear like warm honey, crystal-clear but with a haunting note of sensuality, with a hint of the stilted theatrics. Never domineering, though not submissive, Riccardo’s vocals blend with the instrumentation and set the mood: whimsical yet somewhat pensive in the multifaceted “Nemesis”; sober and wistful in the stately “La Grande Bouffe”; and oddly cinematic, closing “Daimones.”
“Odysseas” is a joy from start to finish, and one of the most rewarding listening experiences I have had in 2014. Moreover, it’s one of those rare albums that, in spite of its complexity and sky-high technical quotient, can be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in great music – regardless of labels.
For more info on Syndone visit the band’s official website.