Nice review by Jan Buddenberg on DPRP.net.
The last time Ifsounds featured on DPRP’s pages dates back to 2015 when they proudly presented the (dual-language) release of Reset. Their sixth album when taking into account the two albums they previously released under the If banner. A lot has happened since like for instance various line-up changes within the band, the release of their 2019 effort An Gorta Mór, and the global 2020 pandemic that changed our lives indefinitely.
With MMXX, the Roman numeral for 2020, Ifsounds have attempted to capture this confusing emotional time of loss and alienating isolation in words and music. Something which the band have brilliantly accomplished as the magnificent title track shows. The band, by the way, comprises main composer Dario Lastella (guitars, bass guitar, synth and vocals), Lino Giugliano (piano, organ, synth and keyboards), Lino Mesina (drums), Italo Miscione (bass), Runal (lead vocals) and Ilaria Carlucci (lead/backing vocals).
As a perfect example to Ifsounds’ objective to “create a sound that is able to express an emotion, to describe a state of mind, to recount a story, to make a journey into the realms of inner consciousness”, this epic suite flows through a multitude of moody atmospheres and complex arrangements that compels from start to finish. Most breathtakingly in the passages where divine layers of choir vocals are meticulously merged together with the darker melodies of the complex song.
My recent visit to the Montserrat Monastery during my holiday stay in Spain came in full impressive sight once more through MMXX’s choral opening. Church organ and a ghoulish psychedelic atmosphere strongly enhances this ecclesiastical feel of divinity. This darkly shaped secretive passage then opens up into compelling melodies and blistering raw guitar play that soars into a mesmerising praise of polyphonic choir vocals. Both male and female voices, through the aid of Claudio Lapenna, Nadezhda Chalykh, Mariano Gramegna and Giovanni Liberatore.
Passing through mood-shifting corridors, lit by driving musical impressions of Nuova Era, Banco, Limite Acque Sicure and a touch of Pink Floyd synth flows, the scenery shifts towards playful jazz with frivolous piano and fierce guitar parts. And then another exceptionally construed, intricately guided, polyphonic choral movement. This contemplative stage, with soothing isolation of guitar and a touching delivery from Runal, shimmers with reflections of RanestRane. The song dies in beauty, surrounded by hymning vocals and overwhelming guitar melodies.
Confusingly, this high level of songsmithery isn’t fully maintained by Ifsounds. Both The Collector and Stendhal Syndrome, the former incorporating a bluesy Cream / Mountain feel, and the latter featuring tasty organ parts, do offer a competent catchy pop-orientated contemporary prog-rock feel with lusciousness of Pink Floyd synths. This is enjoyable in itself, but even after many visits, these songs never really reach the intriguing intensity of the album’s opening suite. The same goes for Kandinsky’s Sky, which after a quiet acoustic section shows a splendid build-up with lovely melancholic guitar parts that bring The Flower Kings to mind.
The outstanding closing song MMXXII takes a fine attempt at reinstating MMXX’s fascinating compositional values. It is also dwelling in psychedelic darkness, illuminated by elements of jazz and masterful guitar play that delivers visions Daal. This instrumental track comfortably lounges in soothing swing-jazz surrounded by echoes of Pink Floyd. It lifts off into ethereal vocal expressions that recall Renaissance, and it captures a blissful spiritually resonating Yes, and presents a satisfying finale to the album.
Despite this song’s marvellously executed and well-composed result, its outcome still doesn’t fully live up to the high expectations build with the eponymous opening track though. Something which in the end is the main reason towards my rating not being an 8, which it surely would have achieved if all the songs following the impressive opener neared its rewarding calibre. These songs are however of lesser stunning memorable beauty and for me make Ifsounds’ effort overall a slight incoherent affair.
The sole conclusion remains though that if Italian styled prog that includes emotional depth, originality and skilful instrumentation is part of your DNA, MMXX is certainly an album to investigate and enjoy.