1. Eclissi Pt. 1 – L’Occhio e la Maschera (8:23)
2. La Maschera della Visione (5:58)
3. Fantasia (8:58)
4. Nel Nulla Etereo Soggiogato dall’Ignoto la Mente Si Espande (7:01)
5. Purpurea (10:00)
6. Follia (19:12)
7. Eclissi Pt. 2 – La Genesi (9:36)
Gabriele Marroni – guitars
Filippo Menconi – bass
Andrea Valerio – piano, synth
Raffaele Crezzini – drums, percussion
Diego Samo – keyboards, synth
Paolo Carelli – narration
Michele Sanchini – cello
Matteo Canestri – bass
Lucio Pacchieri – drums
Giovanni Ferretti – piano, synth
A band name such as Labirinto Di Specchi (Maze of Mirrors) suggests purveyors of intricate, multilayered music, heavy on atmosphere and intensity rather than smoothly flowing melodies. Indeed, the young five-piece hailing from the beautiful Tuscan town of Montepulciano (a place well known to wine lovers) belong to the growing contingent of new Italian bands that have updated the blueprint for progressive rock set by the iconic bands of the Seventies, and produced an album packed full of the twists and turns implied by their name.
Labirinto Di Specchi have been together since 2005; their first recording effort, a demo titled La Maschera della Visione, attracted the attention of Lizard Records, an independent label with a proven record for modern prog releases of a consistently high standard. Hanblecheya (a word in the Native American Lakota language denoting a vision quest), the band’s full-length debut, contains reworked material from the demo, as well as new compositions .It also sees the participation of a number of guest artists – most remarkably, that of Paolo Carelli, former vocalist of Pholas Dactylus, a short-lived outfit that in 1973 released Concerto delle Menti, one of the cult albums of the original RPI movement.
Clocking in at almost 70 minutes, Hanblecheya is impressively ambitious, its seven lengthy compositions describing the experience of the titular vision quest through a very distinctive format. Though there is no actual singing involved, Paolo Carelli’s solemn, deep-voiced narration is like a thread connecting the seven tracks to each other. While synthesizers and assorted electronics are definitely at the core of the band’s musical vision, the fluid, melodic touch of the piano and full-throated rumble of the organ provide an organic foil, further balanced by the autumnal drone of the cello and the pervasive presence of both acoustic and electric guitars.
Any album tagged as “Porcupine Tree meets Pholas Dactylus” sounds like a rather interesting proposition, and Hanblecheya does not disappoint expectations. Though clearly not an easy listening experience, it is also surprisingly mature in its treatment of the inevitable influences. The psychedelic/space component, firmly rooted in the use of a wide range of electronics, gains a harder edge from occasional bursts of riffing that suggest a prog metal inspiration (particularly evident in “La Maschera della Visione”, the shortest track of the album and possibly the most accessible); while entrancing Mediterranean and Eastern suggestion lurk in the two compositions bookending the album , with the heady, raga-inspired section in opener “Eclissi Pt.1 – L’Occhio e la Maschera” reprised in the second half of “Eclissi Pt. 2 – La Genesi”.
Not all of the many ideas thrown into Hanblecheya’s melting pot of are successful: the classical-meets-electronic bent of the second half of “Fantasia” borders dangerously on the cheesiness of those classical “rock” adaptations that were quite popular in the Eighties, and clashes with the wistful, atmospheric mood of the first part of the song. On the other hand, the ominous post rock surge of “Purpurea” and the all-out experimentalism of “Nel Nulla Etereo Soggiogato dall’Ignoto la Mente Si Espande”, revolving around Carelli’s eerily effective narration (the most reminiscent of his Pholas Dactylus days), and wrapped up by a noisy industrial section (the whole bringing to mind label mates Runaway Totem at their most impenetrable) hold up to close scrutiny, in spite of their undeniably “difficult” nature. The album’s crowning achievement, however, comes with the 19-minute “Foll(i)a” (a title conflating the Italian words for “crowd” and “madness”), an intensely cinematic piece that, while paying homage to Steven Wilson’s signature style, manages to avoid blatant derivativeness. A fresh take on the old “epic” warhorse, the track hinges on a “duel” between a whole array of electronic effects and the gentle ripple of the piano, ending in an exhilarating cascade of cymbals, piano and majestic synth washes.
Although, as suggested in the previous paragraphs, Hanblecheya is not for everyone, it has all it takes to attract those prog fans who like the genre to look forward without completely turning its back to its glorious past. Firmly anchored to the Italian progressive tradition by its keen sense of melody and the rivetingly dramatic tone of Paolo Carelli’s narration, yet unafraid to experiment with more radical musical directions, and skilled in combining the acoustic, the electric and the electronic component (though at times the slashing, whistling presence of synths can become a tad overwhelming), Labirinto Di Specchi are a band that adventurous listeners would do well to check out.