Unreal City -
Il Paese Del Tramonto

(CD 2014, 70:16, AMS Records)

The tracks:
  1- Ouverture: Obscurus Fio(5:01)
  2- Onironamznia (Il Paese Del Tramonto)(9:02)
  3- Caligari(10:05)
  4- La Meccanica Dell'Ombra(9:16)
  5- Il Nome Di Lei(8:25)
  6- Lo Schermo Di Pietra(7:54)
  7- Ex Tenebrae Lux(20:34)

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The leading roles in the music are, how could it be different, for the keyboards and the guitar, played by respectively Ema and Francesca Zanneta, the founding members of the band. They put down layers of synthesizer, keyboard and guitar, accompanied by the perfectly timed and often pulsating rhythms of Dario Pessina (bass) and Frederico Bedrosti (drums). The latter left the band after recording this album, leaving the challenge of performing this album life to his successor Andrea Gardani.

What happens on this album is hard to summarise in a review of decent length. All 7 tracks, from the five minute opening track to the twenty minute closing epic, consist of so many different parts that it's impossible to describe them fully in words, track by track. This has to be heard to be understood, so I'll settle for some highlights.

First of all, the instrumental opening track Overture: Obscurus Fio immediately reminded me of the aforementioned I Pennelli Di Vermeer. The pulsating bass and drums underneath a speedy keyboard mel ody makes this track rock in such way that you realise also keyboard can make you drive too fast. A short guitar solo by Francesca Zanneta makes the overture complete, but the closing word is for the keyboards.

Oniromanzia then starts with keyboards only, resembling a wasp or a fly coming into a quiet room, soon to be accompanied by the guitar to build up to a song - giving way to the drums and a little bit of keyboard when Emanuele starts singing - in a beautiful way. After this the music jumps up again, with an organ solo. Halfway the track, things quiet down for a little bit of flute over a marching beat on the snare drum, but soon after we are rocking again, and when the vocals come back this becomes a real rock track, with Emerson, Lake & Palmer like keyboard work. Not speaking Italian, and not having the lyrics makes me wonder what story is being told here ...

Halfway Caligari, and later on also on Ex Tenebrae Lux the guitar and keyboards play a nice question and answer game. On this track, the bass also joins in that game for a bit. The track as a whole takes us through a mysterious keyboard and guitar intro to a full blown rock piece (play loud, it seems to say). After the question and answer game half way, we're treated to a piano solo, a choir and again a full blown wall of rock sound.

Then the band changes direction somewhat, and treats us to eastern sounds and even (Greek?) folk piece with a violin on La Meccanica Dell'Ombra. Both the keyboards and the guitar (which Francesca uses to treat us to an other short, but very tasteful solo) take us to the east a few times, while the melodic and emotional vocal part is followed by another Emerson, Lake & Palmer- like explosion of keyboards.

In Il Nome De Lei, the keyboards give way for a bit, letting the gu itar take the lead on two beautiful, slow and almost melancholic solos, that almost seamlessly blend into two vocal parts, where the keyboards and piano lay down a soft melodic foundation.

Lo Schermo Di Pietra once again is a dangerous track to play while driving a car. It's a whirlwind of drums and keyboards, with very bombastic in the instrumental parts surrounding a short, piano accompanied vocal piece. At the end, the singing and the frantic keyboards interleave each other in a way that makes you wonder how it will be possible to play live for Emanuele. And although he really takes the lead here, without the tight rhythm section this would never work. My favourite track on this album.

To prove their composition skills, the band ends the album with a twenty minute epic Ex Tenebrae Lux. This is not an overly rocking piece, but a balanced piece that invites you to sit down and listen. Good vocals, question and answer play between guitar and keyboa rds, a more powerful part with a hint of Emerson, Lake & Palmer again, a piano piece. It's all there, and it all blends together somehow. And to prove that although they are a 21st century band, they have their roots in the 70s symphonic rock, the last word is to the Mellotron.

As I write this review, I know that Unreal City will be playing live in The Netherlands in 10 days, and I already regret not being able to attend that show. This band plays music that I may not play every day, but that is definitely well executed and more than enjoyable. Solid, Italian symphonic prog, in a 21st century jacket.

**** Angelo Hulshout (edited by Astrid de Ronde)

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