Released By: Sleaszy Rider Records
Release Date: June 30th, 2017
Genre: Progressive Power Metal
Simone Mala – Vocals
Gianmarco Bambini – Guitars
Albert Marshall – Guitars
Luca Scalabrin – Bass, Vocals
Enrico Datta – Keyboards
Simone Caparrucci – Drums
2. Path of Worms
6. Seed of Violence
7. Flame of Knowledge
8. Frozen Graves
9. A Lesson Before Ascending
Sometimes I’ll hear an album from an up and coming band and think to myself that I’d better take note of them now and keep them in mind for if and when they release future albums, to make sure I’m constantly up to date with their music. One such band is Italian power metal band Altair, who released a pretty solid debut in 2013, titled Lost Eden. That album was a case where it was clear the band still had some work to do when it comes to distinguishing themselves from other bands in their field, but otherwise it was a very strong album in all areas, with solid vocals, catchy songs, great instrumental work and it had a nice variety, mixing in symphonic and prog elements to go with their main sound. After hearing that album, while I wasn’t blown away, I enjoyed it enough that I was curious to hear anything the band would do in the future, and so when I unexpectedly saw I had access to a promo for their sophomore effort, Descending: A Devilish Comedy, I was excited and immediately jumped at the opportunity to review it. Suffice to say, the band has delivered in a big way, with an album that builds on everything they had going on their debut and expands on it greatly while presenting a more clear direction for their music that helps them stand out a bit more
On Lost Eden, the band played a more traditional brand of power metal, very much focused on the melodies, and while it did have some progressive sections and some heavier parts, it never strayed too far from what fans of the genre would expect. This is not so much the case with Descending. Not much has changed with their lineup in between albums, with the only change being guitarist Gianluca Ferioli departing and being replaced by Albert Marshall, while another guitarist Gianmarco Bambini remains, to keep the dual guitar attack in place. I’m not sure whether this one change is responsible or not, but either way this is definitely a much heavier, more guitar-driven album, and while there are moments where the keyboards stand out, such as on the chorus of “Flame of Knowledge”, it’s definitely the guitars that lead the way most of the time. While the power metal elements from their debut are fully intact and there’s certainly plenty of speedy sections throughout, this time around the band has gone for a much more progressive sound, in the vein of a band like Symphony X, especially with how some of the lead riffs and solos sound. Make no mistake about it, this album features some excellent guitar work, with everything from the leads to the solos all being very impressive and there’s a ton of great extended instrumental sections. At the same time, the band has remained very good at writing songs, and there’s a nice variety here, as well as a good balance between more challenging songs like “Seven” and closer “A Lesson Before Ascending”, which requires multiple listens to fully open up, and more accessible, catchier songs like opener “Path of Worms” and lead single “Seed of Violence”, which are more immediately engaging.
While the album has some fantastic musicianship, vocals are still very important, and thankfully Simone Mala can definitely hold his own along with his bandmates and does a great job throughout the album. He has a very deep and powerful voice and can be very animated at times, adding some extra power and emotion to the songs. He also has a very impressive range, sometimes able to go much lower than a typical power metal vocalist, while at the same time also being able to hit some very high notes, and many of the songs are well written to fully take advantage of his capabilities.
The album begins with the title track, which is a fairly typical intro, using a mix of orchestral sounds, guitars, and drums. It does a nice job of building up the tension until opening song “Path of Worms” kicks in, and immediately we get some very heavy guitars, which carry on throughout the song. The track moves at a fairly fast pace throughout, and is a great introduction to the band’s new sound, as it has a mix of great riffs, powerful vocals, and an excellent chorus, as well as having some nice keyboard effects, symphonic elements and a very impressive solo section where the musicians really get to shine. On the whole, it’s a fairly straightforward track, but it does show signs of the more progressive direction the band has taken on this album. The next track “Limbo” is a bit more complicated, using some interesting keyboard sounds that help establish the theme of the track and fit in well with the dark tone of the album, and while it’s still a fast-paced track, it’s definitely a bit more complex than the opener, and it has some great instrumental work once again, as well as some more progressive arrangements.
Things get really interesting with “Seven”, easily the most complicated track on the album. Simply put, there’s a whole lot going on here, as the track starts off with a fast paced riff, before slowing down for a section where it feels like a ballad, with Simone going very low with his voice for a nice atmospheric section, and this carries on for a while before the guitars kick in and the tracks get heavier for a mid-paced section which leads into the closest thing the song has to a chorus. As the song continues on, there are several tempo changes throughout as well some great instrumental passages, with the highlight being a brief speedy section in the middle. This track does an excellent job of showing the band moving into more of a prog direction, while still maintaining some of the band’s power metal elements, and it’s definitely a highlight, though one that may take listeners a few listens to fully appreciate, due to how much is going on. After that is “Godless”, more of a mid paced track, which is full of some very heavy guitar work and is again a very progressive track, with some of Simone’s most powerful vocals on the album, and it has a very nice chorus.
Next, we have a group of more straight-forward tracks, starting with “Seed of Violence”, which is probably my favorite on the album. It starts off with a complex instrumental section, which gives way to a very heavy, super speedy first verse, and on the whole, this is a very accessible, super fast track with great lead riffs and a great chorus. This track feels like a more straight-forward power metal track, while still having some of the heaviness and prog elements of the rest of the album and it’s definitely a great pick for the first single. Similarly, “Frozen Graves” might be the heaviest on the album, with some pretty thrashy riffs, and it’s another super fast paced, fairly accessible track with an excellent chorus and some great instrumental work. In between those is “Flame of Knowledge”, a slightly calmer, more mid-paced track that still moves at a pretty good pace throughout, and is certainly the most keyboard driven track on the album. It still has some great guitar riffs though and still has a slight Symphony X feel at points during its instrumental sections, while the chorus has Simone singing some of the highest notes he sings on the entire album, and he does an excellent job as always. All three of these songs are very catchy and I think placing together like this in the middle of the album is a smart move, as it gives listeners a bit of a break in between the two complex tracks that come before them, as well as the more progressive closing track, “A Lesson Before Ascending”.
Speaking of which, that track is the most symphonic track on the album, using some orchestral elements throughout to help give it an epic feel, and it begins with an epic instrumental section, before giving way to another softer section that sounds a bit like a ballad, though this time Simone’s vocals aren’t nearly low as they are on “Seven”. It’s a mostly mid-paced track throughout, with more great instrumental passages and some excellent arrangements as always, and it has an excellent chorus as well as an excellent instrumental section near the end, which leads to a calm closing section where the orchestral elements become the main focus. It’s an excellent track overall and a great way to end the album, for sure.
Overall, Descending: A Devilish Comedy is an excellent album which takes the melodic power metal sound Altair had established on their debut and adds in some extra heaviness and a more progressive direction, to help set itself apart more from the competition. It’s a big improvement over the band’s solid debut, and has a great mix of more accessible songs and complicated songs, and is sure to please fans of prog and power metal looking for something a bit heavier and more guitar driven than the norm. I’m definitely excited to hear anything else the band does in the future.
Reviewer: Travis Green