Many thanks to Marco Garau, the keyboardist in the Italian power metal band Derdian, for sending a copy of his debut solo project for review. As you can imagine from the project's name, this is his work through and through. He wrote the story behind this metal opera, orchestrated it and, even with two guitarists in the band, leads the way with his keyboards, which often don the masks of harpsichords.
To bring it to life, he elicited the aid of a couple of his Derdian bandmates—bassist Enrico Pistolese and drummer Salvatore Giordano—along with a trio of international names, all best known for power metal. The twin guitar assault comes courtesy of Gabriel Tuxen and Matt Krais, the former a Dane who plays for Seven Thorns and the latter an American who plays for ShadowStrike. That leaves lead vocals, which are delivered by Anton Darusso, obviously a graduate of the Michael Kiske school of power and melody, even though he hails from Costa Rica, where he sings for Wings of Destiny.
So, this is a power metal album through and through but it's rooted inherently and inexorably in the world of classical music, occasionally opera but even more often symphonic music from the masters. It seemed obvious from the moment the keyboards start their harpsichord impressions on the opening title track, but it gets more obvious still. Remember when Beethoven rocks up the San Dimas Mall in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure? This is that concept taken to its logical musical extreme. Yeah, I'm aware that was Extreme but this album fits that style much better than the rest of Play with Me did.
It was Keepers of the Night where I started to wonder how much of this is Garau's original music and how much is Garau borrowing from the masters. This one kicks off with a riff on Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and the next song, Never-Ending Pain, channels Bizet. Is that a sultry dance from Carmen or does it just sound like it's a sultry dance from Carmen? I'm sure I recognise the keyboard solo late in The Sacred Legacy and the solos early in Until the End of Time from classical music too, though I'm unable to place them. Other moments ring bells as well but I can't claim to be an expert in opera and I haven't listened to much classical in far too long.
I know enough to say that this feels more classical than operatic, which surprised me. This is dramatic music, but it doesn't feel like it's phrased as drama in the way an opera would be. There are no arias to be found, Darusso always singing in front of a band rather than solo. His is the only primary voice and the only other vocal texture to be found here is a harsh voice that shows up out of the blue in Never-Ending Pain and Until the End of Time, so there's little conversation here between characters, even with the story following a feud between two wizards. Darusso is excellent here but there's more variety in the music behind him than in what he's given to sing.
For all that it so often sounds like an homage to classical music and the project name suggests opera, it really does end up as a power metal album full of songs rather than dramatic stage movements. I'm going to leave it wondering which classical nods I failed to recognise—the melodic structure in Fight for the Victory and the intro to Until the End of Time for a start—but I'll also leave it entertained and energised. This is uplifting symphonic power metal with pace, vigour and emphasis that plays out over more than an hour but doesn't remotely drag, because it's so inherently engaging.
It also plays very consistently, enough that I'm struggling to pick a song I could call a favourite. Maybe I could go with Until the End of Time, which wraps up the album with neat dynamics, shifting from its bombastic beginning to the tinkling harpischord during its outro, via a sassy Spanish dance section I could see as much as hear, especially when the harsh voice joins in. I presume that's the evil wizard, Sir Dohron, aiming to stop his kind enemy, Lord Kama, from freeing a nation from his iron boot with the power of the Golden Pentacle, but it sounds like Satan teasing a beautiful young señorita dancing the night away in passionate red.
Now, I have a lot of homework to do. Derdian have released seven albums and, given that half of them are here, I should check them out. What's more, Wings of Destiny have five, all of which feature Anton Darusso on vocals, Seven Thorns have three and ShadowStrike one. I have a feeling this is going to be a project that doesn't just introduce me to the work of Marco Garau but a string of bands I should be listening to already. Thanks, Marco.