Cellar Noise - Legend Club, Milano
6th October 2019
When I first signed up to attend Fabio Zuffanti’s Z-Fest in 2017 I watched a couple of YouTube videos posted by Cellar Noise, the first act on the bill, who were in the process of releasing their debut album Alight. At the gig they performed most of the album and then presented Genesis’ The Knife as an encore and blown away by their set, I bought a copy of the CD from the merchandise stand. Alight is updated classic symphonic Italian progressive rock with a wide-ranging palette and thanks to expert production, bears pleasing if unsurprising comparisons to material by La Maschera di Cera or Zuffanti’s Höstsonaten.
Though they weren’t performing, I spoke to the band briefly at the 2018 Z-Fest and was told that they were working on a new album and that the sound had a harder edge. The making of that album, Nautilus, was also trailed on social media, with trips to Sweden for mastering at the metal-friendly Fascination Street Studios in Örebro, around 190km due west of Stockholm and along with videos of tracks marking the countdown to the release at the end of September 2019, detailed posts about the video shoots.
The concept behind Nautilus is an examination of the fears and constructions of the human mind, where the notion that a deep knowledge and understanding is the only way we can truly comprehend the experiences of individuals is explored over eight tracks. The free-entry launch gig was held on October 6th at Milan’s Legend Club, ably supported by Out of the Edge and Lumho. Album launch gigs are one-off events so I’d decided a trip to Milan was in order and having become far more adept at getting to and from the Legend Club without relying on taxis, the journey from and the return to the NH Milano Machiavelli, conveniently close to the M3 metro station at Repubblica, was a walk in the park – a short walk through a park between the Affori Centro metro station and the venue.
When it came to the performance, their set included material from both Alight and Nautilus which allowed an easy assessment of their change in style. Nautilus obviously represented a shift towards prog metal, predominantly occupying heavy prog territory although there were plenty of melodic passages and even some pop moments, most notably on the title track. I detected parallels with Steven Wilson; not just in the Porcupine Tree influences but in a similar way to Wilson’s retro-prog sound on The Raven that Refused to Sing had been dropped for a harder edge more representative of modern prog on the subsequent Hand.Cannot.Erase. It was also interesting that the band chose Carl Glover, a long-term associate of Steven Wilson, to provide the CD artwork, a stark black and white bio-mechanical image in contrast to the colourful image of its predecessor.
Francesco Lovari’s vocals seemed more assertive than in 2017 which fitted with the topical and political themes of Nautilus, while Alight was more fantasy. Even though the concepts of the two albums were poles apart, the new material retained enough of a fit with the old sound to make it recognisably Cellar Noise. Alessandro Palmisano, a talented and thoughtful guitarist whose principal role on Alight was to add colour (think of Steve Hackett’s role within Genesis), adopted a heavy riff-based guitar sound which gave him a more prominent role on the Nautilus songs, though he did include some tasteful soloing. With a single Nord Stage 3, Niccolò Gallani’s keyboard rig was far more compact than when I first saw them but he still exacted an impressive range of authentic tones for both old and new songs. The rhythm section, brothers Loris and Eric Bersan were given responsibility for driving the material from Nautilus – Eric’s fills showed what a good drummer he is and Loris, whose bass playing was almost as animated as frontman Lovari, calmed down somewhat when he performed on classical guitar. The pair kept everything really tight, no doubt aided by having previously road-tested the material – some of the songs had been performed at other, international gigs.
I bought the Nautilus CD at the gig and the band graciously signed the digipak. They may have been a little surprised that someone should travel from the UK to see them play but I’ve been a fan since the 2017 Z-Fest and their album launch provided the opportunity to spend more time around and explore more of Milan.
Dispensing with the classic symphonic prog sound shouldn’t prove too much of a risk – Cellar Noise is made up of exceptionally talented musicians and the self-produced Nautilus hints at great promise for the future.