if are a four piece progressive rock band hailing from Italy who released their third album ‘The Stairway’ towards the end of last year (2006). Their first two albums, ‘In the Cave’ and ‘If’ are both available as free downloads from the band’s website, but having listened to these I have to say ‘The Stairway’ is a far superior work with a smoother sound, better production and a much clearer sense of identity.
“The Stairway” is essentially a concept album where the protagonist makes a journey through his own dreams and nightmares in order to find The Stairway to Wonderland. In making this trip we find that every character is a different facet of the main character and that that which he seeks is within himself all along. Essentlaiiy this is a pscychological drama that seems to have much in common with Arena’s classic album ‘The Visitor’.
Musically the album draws on a number of very different influences. The band are clearly big Pink Floyd fans, a fact is quite apparent when listening to this work, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this is yet another clone band. The mix of styles throughout are equally capable of conveying hints of pop and rock as well as the expected progressive strands.
The opening piece, ‘Close Your Eyes’ is a real masterpiece. It opens with the sound of a clock ticking before the music proper starts up in a low key fashion. With it’s soft tones and gentle vocal line which is very reminiscent of OMD at their best, the track creates a very warm and relaxed mood. A harder hitting instrumental piece, ‘Uneasy Sleep’, follows and serves as a great bridge into the inspirational title track, ‘The Stairway’. I honestly find it hard to fault this number in any way. From the outset the keyboards provide a distinct retro 70’s sound, and the mix of vocals with guitars provide a positive uplifting mood to the piece – very reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult and none the worse for the fact!
‘Uneasy Sleep (part 2)’ provides a further instrumental break in what proves to be a very atmospheric piece. This track does not follow any main melody, but is rather a soundscape that certainly lives up to it’s title. The mood is dark and disturbing, and while initially I was not overly keen, I have to admit it was a number that grows on you in the context of the album.
‘Where Have You Been’ has a more comfortable laid back progressive sound with touches of psychedelia thrown in to the mix to good effect. The vocals here were not as strong as elsewhere on the album, but do fit the overall timbre of the track.
‘Like a Bird’ is to my mind another absolute gem of a track, and at over 8 minutes really forms the back bone of the whole work. The soft piano introduction and gentle vocal melody get things underway but it’s not long before the band kicks in. Once again the vocal style coupled with the stident guitar tones reminded me of Blue Oyster Cult. This song also makes great use of backing vocals which provide harmonies around the main melody that are strongly reminiscent of Queen. Marvellous stuff!
‘Missing’ is a slightly more quirky number with a vaguely jazzy sound after which we come to the final installment of the instrumental ‘Uneasy Sleep’ trilogy – a much more driven piece than the first two parts with a strong central theme which carries things along.
‘It’s Just Me’ is slow paced rock ballad. Initially things are very subdued and the main focus is on the lead vocal line. Acoustic guitar and piano provide a pleasant back drop with added texture added by synth sounds. As the song progresses there is a gradual build up of intensity with added layers building up the sound leading to a climactic, but not overly bombastic finale.
‘Find Your Way’ provides a mid paced rock finish to the album. Fluid keyboard sounds and solid guitar work run throughout this number which closes with a gradual fade out leading back into the sound of the ticking clock and bringing the listener full circle.
The CD packaging is as you might expect for a self produced work somewhat limited with just a simple 4 page insert providing the lyrics to the songs and a few pictures of the band, but even so the quality is top notch.
All things considered this is a very well balanced work, which while perhaps wearing it’s influences on it’s sleeve, still presents a style that is uniquely of it’s own making. Should be a hit for those who like a touch of 70’s retro in their music – well worth checking out.
© 2015 www.ifsounds.com – Melodic Revolution Records