Whenever I listen to a concept album, I always want to dive deeply into the story, the meaning and the journey of the whole thing. By the time I write the review, I don't want to focus solely on the musicianship, but on the impact the album has on me through its telling. I also like to read other people's reviews; this helps me understand how the music reaches them. In the case of Alberto Rigoni's new retro-prog album, "Three Wise Monkeys", I'm (so far) noticing a lack of feedback from reviewers on how the story made them feel. What did they take away from the message? There's plenty of (well-deserved) praise to be found for the quality of the project as a musical endeavour, but I'd love to hear what others are feeling in their hearts and minds. After all, music should move us and take us places!
Anyway, though I DO have a take on the album as a musical accomplishment, I'd like to express a few thoughts up front about what the story means to me. First of all, a good prog album will usually tell a story from the vantage point of one (or all) of the three forms of conflict: man against the world, man against his brother, and man against himself.
Three Wise Monkeys makes me imagine a man, standing before the Toshogu Shrine in Japan. He looks at the panel which depicts the three monkeys: Mizaru, who covers his eyes, Kikazaru, who covers his ears, and Iwazaru, who covers his mouth. The man contemplates the meaning of the message. To see no evil, to hear no evil, and to speak no evil. What does it mean? To be a moral man? To stay away from evil things and walk in the footsteps of righteousness? This interpretation is a common one, and many who view the panel will adopt it as their own. To be decent and God-fearing.
The other interpretation is a little more sad and sinister, and it is here where we find that the man standing before the shrine is Alberto Rigoni. This interpretation says that Man sees a world of evil and cruelty, but intentionally covers his eyes, his ears, and his mouth, so that the evil will not penetrate his consciousness. The ostrich with its head in the sand, seeing injustice, but taking no stand. Man against the world, man against his brother, and man against himself.
With his musical stories, Rigoni will always ask the questions, and as long as he continues to do so, we, as listeners, will always have meaningful prog music over which to mull and consider the state of things.
An excerpt of the lyrics from the title track, Three Wise Monkeys, says...
Three wise monkeys' golden rule - looking the other way Pretending that you are a fool, 'cause you don’t wanna play Willfully turning a blind eye to all immorality
And from the angriest song on the album, Blackened Tornado...
I'm a victim of my own thoughts My mind is sick and I can't go on I can't see what's reality It's like a nightmare living in a dream
The album's powerful message about Man's refusal to see, hear, or speak when something terrible is happening leaves me with a chill when I look in the mirror. Where do I sit in the row of monkeys?
What's calming about a concept album is when it offers music of solution and change. The song, Between Space And Time, gives the listener a gentle reprieve and reminds us that the Universe always seems to know what's what, and will hopefully guide us to the right places. The opening number, Toshogu Shrine, where the man stands and sees the monkeys, also offers us a place of calm.
A good concept album should make us think, even if the events within aren't our own. For the duration of the music, they become our own, and that is the starting point for uncovering our eyes, ears, and mouths.
Alrighty then. Folklore and story aside, let's examine the music itself. In the first section, I referred to the genre as "retro-prog." I've seen this term used a couple of times on websites; it defines the type of music traditionally called "progressive" but which also feels very retro, like 70s music, mostly. Three Wise Monkeys feels exactly that way. I hear Supertramp doing "School." I hear Rush (no particular song, just the feel); I even pick up a little taste of Queen - something like, say, "Flick Of The Wrist." That's the kind of diversity you hear in this album. Heavy bass, angry, aggressive lyrics, always on the brink of Armageddon. Mixed in with the heavy metal flavour is a delicate, sweeping melodic element, Oriental in places. Every song fits in exactly where it should to tell the story, and every song is a true delight. Experimental and soaring.
The three songs of the monkeys, Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru, are my fave pieces in the concept theme, and come together as a trio of bass delights that will chill you to the bone. Put your headphones on and try NOT to be amazed! The most beautiful song in the collection is Between Space and Time. Gorgeous!
Rigoni's bass playing is magnificent. Subtle, grinding, thunderous, melodic; he knows every inch of the instrument and coaxes it into creating every sound a bass can make. He makes it sing like angels, growl like devils, bark like a dog, and howl at the moon! The rest of the band rounds out the project with feeling and artistic unity. As one, they surround Rigoni's bass playing with depth and meaning. Vocalists Göran Edman and Jonas Erixon, both tasked with giving voice to the story, are spot on in their angst-laden delivery of the concept's troubling questions. Add to this the driving drums, screaming guitars, and the gentle keyboard interjections, and we are treated to a truly intense musical odyssey!
Rigoni is right at home as both leader and follower. Though his bass playing is the featured star, he takes no spotlight away from the other musicians. You never say, "This is Alberto Rigoni with some guest musicians." It is a fully realised group effort, with every man holding his own and shining when the moment is right.
Göran Edman (vocals on track 3) Jonas Erixon (vocals on tracks 5, 7, 9 & 10) Kevin Moore (keyboards on track 2) Federico Solazzo (keyboards on tracks 5, 6 & 9) Mistheria (keyboards on tracks 8 & 10) Alessandro Bertoni (keyboards on track 3) Tommy Ermolli (guitars on tracks 2, 3, 5, 9 & 10) Simone Mularoni (guitars on tracks 7) Mark Cross (drums on track 7) Paolo Valli (drums on tracks 2 & 9) Paco Barillà (drums on track 3 & 10) Sebastian Persini (drums on tracks 5 & 6)
01 - Toshogu Shrine 02 - Mizaru 03 - Three Wise Monkeys 04 - Kikazaru 05 - Blackened Tornado 06 - Iwazaru 07 - Free Falling 08 - Between Space and Time 09 - Coming Home 10 - Believe
This latest album is (so far) the pinnacle of Rigoni's recordings. He has matured into a true bass tour de force. Three Wise Monkeys is retro, progressive, thoughtful, and oh so delicious to the ear of any bass lover! Molto meraviglioso!!
© 2012 - CL Seamus for Thunder Row
The album is officially releasing TODAY, 01 October, so get your download copy or order your CD, signed by Alberto!