|Musical Style: Progressive Metal||Produced By: Cristiano Bertocchi|
|Record Label: Underground Symphony||Country Of Origin: Italy|
|Year Released: 2016||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 52:40|
The Underground Symphony Records fall of 2016 third S91 album Behold The Mankind, released in follow up to the groups independent 2011 sophomore full length Volonta Legata, joins a foundation of progressive metal with leanings towards the power, symphonic and melodic metal side of things. With its name short for Psalm 91, S91 debuted in 2009 with the 5 song EP Sto Per Tornare (released on Morning Star Records) in playing what it refers to as ‘progressive metal with psychedelic influences’ (as taken from its press material). While the ‘psychedelic influences’ go over my head, I described Volonta Legata (75% Angelic Warlord review) as “(being) truly progressive- none of this hinting at the progressive but not always delivering as can occasionally happen in today’s hard music scene.” More specifically, “you will (also) encounter enough complex songwriting and maze like twists and turns to keep most progressive aficionados interested for time to come.”
Behold The Mankind takes a similar approach in proving progressive but also not to a fault. In other words, all the qualities are in place to meet expectations of progressive music fans in the form of unconventional song structuring, extensive instrumental proclivity and lengthy songwriting, but S91 does not overdue it in this capacity either and lends an accessible element that at times escapes the progressive genre. Consider, for instance, how the majority of the Behold The Mankind tracks are in the six to seven minute range with the exception of a customary (and very good) ten minute epic at the end. So for those concerned the album does not include any twenty-minute (or greater) Neal Morse like ‘mega epics’ or at the very least nothing to challenge eighteen-minute Volonta Legata piece “The Seal Of The Living God”. I cannot help but feel S91 has the right idea when it compares its sound to Shadow Gallery, Delain and Darkwater.
Where it diverges is in terms of line up in that S91 has done away with the three-way female vocal approach (to Volonta Legata) in that departed are Sefora Bonaccorsi and Tania Petrone with the lone holdover being Maria Londino, whom brings a melodic, light and soaring style that fits nicely with the music at hand. I commend S91 for otherwise maintaining the continuity of its line up in that returning is guitarist Francesco Romeggini, bassist Giacomo Manfredi and keyboardist Francesco Londino. Lone newcomer is drummer Giacomo Mezzetti.
Also unique is how the Montecarlo, Italy based group recorded all the Behold The Mankind lyrics in English, as opposed to Volonta Legata, which is a dual English and Italian release. Speaking of which, Behold The Mankind is conceptually based in detailing the history of mankind based upon Christian theology. The S91 press material offers further detail:
“In this album we talk about how since mankind's beginning, it has undergone rapid corruption by creating communities with strong social imbalances. This is because men and women carry an incurable evil within themselves that is only curable through the intervention of the Creator. Throughout history, we often see revolutionary movements that tend to open the door to even more ferocious regimes. God seeks to redeem humanity by calling an insignificant man to himself, from whose offspring will be born a man that will be God's incarnate and with him He will die and be resurrected. The story of the land of Israel and Christ is a metaphor of the story of humanity. Today individuals are called to die and resurrect as members of a group.”
Opener “The Cry Of Life” best manifests those S91 progressive sensibilities. The song moves its first two minutes instrumentally in transitioning from open-air guitar to melodic harmonies to heavy hitting thrash like riffs. Proceeding to decelerate upon procuring its first verse, it smoothly drifts forward to keyboards and bass until staunch rhythm guitars rebound to fortify the intricately woven refrain. The animated instrumental moments that ensue give way to the bridge at the end in which vocalist Christian Liljegren (Narnia) makes a guest appearance. With both male and female vocalists leading the way, “The Cry Of Life” presents with a fitting metal opera feel.
“Wandering Souls”, albums shortest at four and a half minutes, drifts calmly to piano and orchestration its first half only to pick up impetus as hard rocking guitars abruptly kick in. The song maintains the heavier stance pressing forward in presenting a slight ballad feel - piano periodically makes its presence felt - with the instrumental section reflecting a signature emotional feel. Front to back, this one gives Maria Londino good opportunity to exhibit the full range to her voice.
“Slaves And Kings” highlights a contrastingly up-tempo focus from the get go with its instrumental first two minutes slowly building to a crescendo of anthem like riffs. Forward bass that lends a portent effect holds sway over the subsequent two minutes, with momentum later picking up at once for an explosion of aggressive guitars and harsh male vocals (courtesy of Francesco Romeggini) that touch upon the extreme. Instrumentally, the song ends to airy keyboards over a backbone of staunch guitars. With its multitudinous time signatures, it does not get much more progressive than “Slaves And Kings”!
“The Calling” is another track in which Giacomo Manfredi asserts his abilities, establishing a bedrock of unwavering bass for the weighty as it gets verses only to underpin the emphatic refrain backed by added doses of shouted vocal melodies. The upshot is the overriding melody that helps make “The Calling” one of the albums more accessible. I appreciate the jazzy instrumental moments every bit much, as what sounds like clarinet interweaves with rhythm guitar before Francesco Romeggini’s brazen soloing closes things out.
The ethereal opening to “Blind Revolutions” leaves impression of a ballad as piano and keyboards lead the way. The song, however, picks up in melodic hard rocking fashion after a minute to layered backing vocals that lend an eighties effect only to decelerate tranquilly back to calmer territory as keyboards again take over. S91 makes a further progressive statement instrumentally as initiative quickly picks up to fusion based lead guitar (some of the albums best work from Romeggini’s) over a delicate layer of Hammond B3.
“The Son Of God” starts in a sweeping manner to piano until tempo picks up as metal edged guitars step forward after two minutes. Some of the albums heavier moments take place as the song maneuvers ahead, with Giacomo Mezzetti establishing the heavy-set backbone timekeeping wise and harshly done male backing vocals trading off with Maria Londino’s smoother flavorings. The upshot is a refined joining of the power and progressive.
The portent feel to the introduction of “Sacrificed” touches upon the doom like as profound guitars storm in and out of the mix. Calming to symphonic keyboards after a minute, the song proves light but ominous drifting forward until impetus rebounds with a storm of angst and merges with male vocals of a near extreme nature. Catchy riffs backed by piano lend to the haunting feel as “Sacrificed” descends into instrumental territory for the poignant ‘father forgive them they know not what they do’ verse at the end in which Maria Londino returns to a lead vocal role.
Album closes to nine and a half minute epic “The Bloody Revelation”. The solemn keyboard solo that opens things sets the dramatic tone, with emotion elevating as the song proceeds past three and a half minutes in reflecting an atmospheric mood. As guitars crash in at once, a more elevated tone establishes itself as choir like elements and silky lead guitar lead the way instrumentally until the procurement of the imposing refrain. “The Bloody Revelation” exudes even further poignant energy over its final half in reflecting upon the worshipful as melodic guitar harmonies lead the way until piano and lighter guitars conclude things. Theocracy (at its epic best) and Shadow Gallery could not do it any better.
Production shines in allowing all instrumentation to stand out: copious bass anchors the low end, drums play a presence-filled role, keyboards highlight without domination and guitars deliver more than adequate edge and bite. Despite vocals receiving a clean mix, lyrics can be a bit difficult to discern so purchasing a hard copy - released as a digi-pak with perhaps the best eye catching cover art I have seen this year - is a necessity in order to obtain the mini-booklet with lyrics.
Typically, I do not go into detail about lyrics to concept albums for fear of giving the storyline away; with Behold The Mankind, however, I am making an exception due to the concept being subject based as opposed to storyline based. Specifically, I am going to focus on the final five songs, which portray the life, crucifixion, death and ultimate resurrection of Christ.
“The Calling” and “Blind Revolutions” set the panoramic stage:
I see a shepherd from a simple tribe
From a small and poor country
Unimportant to others
Very precious to me
I will make you into a great nation
I will make your name great
I will bless those who bless you
There is a prophecy about a man
No armor, no sword, but an olive branch
No beauty that we should desire Him
Despised, rejected by men
“The Son Of God” provides more specific detail:
The veil of the temple had to be destroyed
Sick healed, blind see, dumb speak
Lame walking the streets
His power came down the earth
But His glory went beyond the miracles
He’s the Son of God!
“Sacrificed” focuses on the crucifixion -
Crushed and rejected by mankind
See the Son of Man is going to die
Beaten with no mercy in their eyes
See the King of Kings is going to die
The nails in His hands
On that rugged cross
On the wood He left cry, blood and pain
Cursed is everyone
Who is hung on a pole
So it was written, so let it be done
Forgive them, they don’t know what they do
- and “The Bloody Revelation” the resurrection:
The tombstone was moved, the tomb is empty
Now the veil of the temple has been broken, has been broken
Now the time of the Spirit came on us, came on us
Don’t be afraid, He is alive, death cannot hold Him
He isn’t here among the dead, He is risen
Blessed is He who has redeemed us, cause we cannot
And we’re celebrating our King and Servant
Behold The Mankind leaves impression of a top notch progressive based concept album, with S91 standing alongside other Italian Christian progressive bands in Timesword and Seven Horizons in this capacity. I appreciate how the S91 songwriting encompasses more than adequate self-contained progressive aspects but does not overdue it with a great deal of overly lengthy songwriting (I find one ten minute epic to work just fine). Musicianship shines as well with strong performances put in by all the groups’ members, with guitarist Francesco Romeggini and bassist Giacomo Manfredi deserving specific recognition. In the end, Behold The Mankind comes highly recommended to those whose tastes extend into progressive territory with occasional power and melodic metal influences.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “The Cry Of Life” (7:06), “Wandering Souls” (4:20), “Slaves And Kings” (5:52), “The Calling” (6:24), “Blind Revolutions” (5:52), “The Son Of God” (6:20), “Sacrificed” (7:06), “The Bloody Revelation” (9:39)
Maria Londino - Lead Vocals
Francesco Romeggini - Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals
Francesco Londino - Keyboards
Giacomo Manfredi - Bass
Giacomo Mezzetti - Drums & Percussions
Christian Liljegren - Lead Vocals