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TRACK LIST: 1. Dark Rising 4:44 2. Red Oak Wood 4:13 3. Sandcake 4:38 4. The Big Wave 5:03 5. Memory Song 3:40 6. Family Man 4:02 7. Still Looking Out 5:45 8. The Normal Thing 2:51 9. Kick My Mind 6:48 10. King of Dreamers 3:51 11. Endless Circle 4:09 12. Crocodiles 5:08 13. After the War 3:46 All tracks: by Mantra. LINE-UP: Jacopo Mielle - lead & backing vocals Gianluca Galli - guitars; keyboards Senio Firmati - drums & percussion Andrea Castelli - basses Produced by Mantra & A. Guasconi. Engineered by A. Guasconi & Galli.
Prolusion. MANTRA is a relatively young Italian band, and "Hard Times" is their second output. Their debut album, quite properly titled >"Roots", was released in 2001. One of the band's main men, guitarist Gianluca Galli, might be known to many Prog-Metal fans for being part of the popular outfit Time Machine. Also, he has a >solo album to his credits.
Synopsis. On "Hard Times", the band does not always follow the style they've laid on their first album, which becomes obvious already upon first listening to the material. Overall, the music is much heavier and denser than "Roots", which is partly due to the fact that no guest musicians were invited to participate here. The absence of a free keyboardist is especially striking, but this is not the case when I should regret about that. A classic Cathedral Metal, and this is the principal musical direction of the album (whatever one may say), is hardly less impressive than Classic Hard Rock, at least that, which Mantra presented on their former album. The structure of guitar riffs on "Hard Times" has much in common with that, which was invented by Black Sabbath in general and is especially typical for their late creation, beginning with the "Headless Cross" album, in particular. The excellent chameleon-singer Jacopo Meille 'does' Robert Plant only in places here, and although there also are some shades of Dio in the album's vocal palette, it contains much more fresh and original colors than that of "Roots". Well, Classic Cathedral Metal with and without features of Hard Rock is presented on ten of the thirteen tracks, only one of which, Still Looking Out (7), is, in addition, notable for elements of Symphonic Progressive and those of Indian music. The remaining three songs: Memory Song, The Normal Thing, and After the War (5, 8, & 13) are also uniform in stylistics. All of them are excellent symphonic compositions consisting of interplay between passages of acoustic guitar and strings going along with vocal lines and independently as well. The latter is a completely original song, while the former two are the variations on The Battle of Evermore by Led Zeppelin.
Conclusion. In all, this album is another good example of Mantra's ability to use the legacy of classics of the genre without loosing their own identity. Besides, while the band still hasn't shed their influences, "Hard Times" is richer in their original ideas than its predecessor. In any case, though, the rating I've given both of the Mantra albums is valid only within the framework of proto-progressive music.
VM: June 8, 2004
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