Album review: Melting Clock - Destinazioni (2019)
Melting Clock guitarist Stefano Amadei explained the band’s moniker, commencing the tale in the Department of Physics at university in Genoa in 2001: the original objectives of a small group of friends was to have fun making music, describing the attempts of the fledgling group to play covers from the bands they loved as being ‘so bad that we were off beat on the various section of the songs’. This prompted bassist Alessandro Bosca to apply the Italian slang ‘ci sciogliamo il tempo’ (‘we are melting our time’), meaning ‘we are forgetting/loosing the rhythm/beat’ and sparking the connection with the melting clocks in Salvador Dali's 1931 masterpiece The Persistence of Memory that some have suggested was inspired by Einstein's theory of General Relativity. According to Stefano they adopted the band name Melting Clock as a private joke: a comment on their musical skills and a pretentious link to their academic background.
Four of the original line-up are still involved with the band: brothers Sandro and Stefano Amadei (keyboards and voice, and guitars respectively); Alessandro Bosca (bass); and Francesco Fiorito (drums), while the current sextet is completed by Simone Caffè (guitars) and Emanuela Vedana (vocals.). It surprised me that their coherent, largely symphonic style should result from a wide range of influences because Francesco and Stefano are metal-heads, Simone is a David Gilmour fan, and Sandro listens to Scandinavian jazz, though he has played with Daedalus, a Genoese prog-metal band alongside Fabio Gremo of Il Tempio delle Clessidre, and was a huge fan of Jordan Rudess, lending Rudess his Kurzweil K2600 when the Dream Theater keyboard player was on holiday in Italy and agreed to perform for the Italian Dreamers. The influence of contemporary acts like Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Opeth and Ayreon that the band say have shaped the direction of their sound is tempered by a critical understanding of the cultural significance of the music that came out of Italy in the 70s along with an appreciation of classic UK progressive rock; accompanying them to a gig reveals the depth of their knowledge of Italian prog, and each time they play live, they’ve included a classic prog cover in the set.
An indication that their music has the potential for broad appeal was the decision of Black Widow Records to allow the band to produce a limited 2LP edition of debut album DESTINAZIONI. Black Widow co-owner Massimo Gasperini may have thought long and hard about the vinyl release when the band had enough material for three sides of an LP but a cover medley of King Crimson tracks 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN, IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING and STARLESS, first aired to great response during a gig at Genoa’s L’Angelo Azzurro club in March 2019, would provide the material for side four, renamed ALLA CORTE DEL RE CRIMISI for the album, artfully segued together and enhanced by violin from Hanako Tsushima.
There’s a huge debate about the merits of singing in your own language or writing lyrics in English to broaden your appeal and though some might think it a brave choice for a band producing their first album, the band were adamant that the right choice for them was to sing in Italian. As a compromise they include English translations of the Italian lyrics on both CD and vinyl editions of DESTINAZIONI, provided by Emanuela and Stefano as an interpretation for non-Italian speakers. The singing is expressive, poetic and at times almost operatic; the translations reveal an impressionistic flair that reminds me of Peter Sinfield’s best work – much of it for PFM. There can’t be many better voices than Emanuela’s in any form of rock.
The album artwork was painted by their friend Matteo Anselmo, depicting a young woman at a bus stop waiting for a boat. This is a conceptual link to Genoa, especially the tracks ANTARES and title track DESTINAZIONI to Genoa. The compositions are thematically linked by the representation of different aspects of a journey. Though the music is largely credited to Simone and Sandro with a good proportion of the lyrics provided by Emanuela, the process of structuring each piece is dependent on rhythmic arrangement by Francesco and Alessandro and colour and mood supplied by Stefano. Having originally begun recording the album in November 2018, the time spent in Studio MAIA under the direction of Andrea Torretta was used wisely, settling on the most satisfying arrangements that capture the drama of each individual story. Stefano explains that he wasn’t interested in music that he found unchallenging, describing their style as being characterised by evocative and engaging sounds which belie the compositional complexity, drawing in the listener.
Album opener CALEIDOSCOPIO was an excellent choice as a first single because it’s archetypal, condensing Melting Clock into a shade less than eight and a half minutes. It’s incredibly well-structured, built up from short phrases emphasised with distorted guitar yet despite its intricacy, the multiple instrumental layers are all clear and distinct and floating above is Emanuela’s gorgeous vocal melody. There are tempo and metrical changes and a fast organ solo but generally the lyrics express reflection, representing an inner journey.
BANALMENTE is a political song, played in a recognisable Melting Clock idiom attacking those who don’t question, preferring not to know or hold any responsibility for any atrocity carried out on the orders of others, along the lines of John Stuart Mill’s ‘Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.’ The references to ‘sand covered in blood where corpses are lying in the sun’ followed by ‘digging our trench to defend the high season party’ bring to mind the fate of refugees who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean and landed on Italian territory, a journey of desperation and hope that sadly too often ends in tragedy. There’s poignancy in Sandro’s particularly effective baritone during this piece.
Like a number of rock progressivo bands celebrating their Mediterranean roots before them, Melting Clock employ Middle Eastern scales and rhythm patterns on a couple of sections of VETRO which enhance the feeling of imprisonment and suffocation spelled out by the lyrics inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian classic We. A song of different moods, the brief cinematic opening is followed by bright acoustic guitar which gives way to the eastern Mediterranean flavour and the start of the vocals. During the singing, which has a story-telling quality Emanuela holds the melody while the instrumental backing is largely rhythmical (guest percussion is provided by Fabrizio Salvini) though there’s quite a lot going on with guitar and keyboards adding splashes of colour in the background. Following the last verse there’s a bright synthesizer line before a reprise of the acoustic guitar and eastern theme which precedes a piano flourish ending. I was present when this was first aired at a gig – it was one of the last compositions written for the album - where Sandro said he had been concerned about both the technical requirements of performing the piece (the verse is in 19/16 time) and its reception. I can report that not only did the music flow well but that it was really appreciated by the audience.
STRADE AFFOLLATE was brought to the band by Simone. The acoustic guitar takes something of a lead but it’s obviously gone through the Melting Clock arranging machine. The understated piano that enters during the second verse and the Hammond-like organ arising during the middle eight enhance the melody as the layers build up, with restrained distorted guitar appearing in the third verse. This is a song of hope after the confinement of VETRO and partly because of its message and partly from the way it’s structured, it’s probably the most accessible track on the album, capable of bridging into more mainstream genres.
L’OCCHIO DELLO SCIACALLO is another political song written by Sandro. Lasting less than three minutes and translating as The Jackal’s Eye it’s a short exhortation decrying corporate culture. The abrasive guitar introduction actually gives away to a pleasant melody where Emanuela and Sandro sing call-and response vocals. The drudgery is represented by drumming on the lower kit (though Francesco does use a limited amount of cymbal) and there’s an excellently executed cello solo provided by Stefano Cabrera.
The band is particularly proud of ANTARES, the first song they wrote for Melting Clock. It also happens to be a personal favourite of mine because it’s structured like a classic early Camel song, with amazing melodies and contrapuntal keyboard and guitar lines. This is another track that links to Genoa and the sea, so it’s not surprising that it begins with sea sound effects. Another composition that relies on building upon short phrases (c.f. LUNAR SEA by Camel), it’s enhanced by Mellotron-like washes, synthesizer lines and some excellent twin lead guitar work, plus flute played by Fabrizio Salvini and cello played by Stefano Cabrera. Sandro shares some of the vocal duties but its Emanuela’s wordless vocals leading up to the dramatic denouement that steal the show, generating the pilomotor reflex and goose bumps in this listener.
SONO LUCE has a lengthy instrumental introduction, arranged differently from the first time I heard it though the bass work still catches my attention. Even though there’s a Gilmour inspired guitar solo (it was written by Simone) the overall sound is less classic prog and more neo-prog with a delicacy to the piano and brightness to the guitars, giving a feeling of hope. The title (Made of Light) and lyrics are suggestive of a journey towards enlightenment but they still reference the sea and the shore.
The title track is something of a departure from the other melodic-symphonic tracks and it’s cleverly presaged by the short late-Floydian or early Marillion instrumental QUELLO CHE RIMANE. It’s here that we get a better feel for individual influences in what is a notch or two up on the challenging stakes, both for the performers and the listener on the longest track on the album. DESTINAZIONI is substantially heavier than anything else the band has done and begins with a nod to King Crimson and Dream Theater prog-metal while managing to stay adventurous throughout. Less reliant on stand-out melodies, it involves a lot of changes of style without breaks or segues, from fast and heavy to stately, from reflective to angular and aggressive, providing a metaphor for the cyclical nature of time. It conforms more to a classic prog template with accurate patches of analogue keyboards sitting well with the updated sound, exemplified by another fast organ run from Sandro but perhaps best illustrated with a few bars of guitar and keyboards that sound like Gabriel-era Genesis which appear toward the conclusion of the song, the most obvious incorporation of a classic prog influence. The medley ALLA CORTE DEL RE CRIMISI utilises pretty faithful recreations of the original King Crimson material, down to the Wetton bass trills on STARLESS and with the role of David Cross covered brilliantly by Hanako on 21ST CENTURY SCHIZOID MAN.
Massimo Gasperini has overseen some of the brightest names in contemporary Italian prog and hints at great things for Melting Clock, saying that he enjoys seeing the band’s excitement about their own music. I also think they have a bright future, provided what is really a quite stunning debut gets attention beyond Genoa and Croydon.
I can’t imagine too many debuts are worth five stars – but DESTINAZIONI is one of them.