Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI) might be among the most important regional subgenres of prog. Like English, Polish, and American prog, it has a distinct flavor which immediately identifies itself as RPI, and its sheer amount of material is incredible. However, unfortunately, many largely consider it a part of prog-rock past, lacking in modern bands and, well, progress. I was one. But after listening to Il Velo Dei Riflessi, I understand that RPI is alive and well, and Quel Che Disse Il Tuono is among the foremost modern torchbearers of this rich subgenre. I have been quite inactive on The PROG Mind for some time, but I’ve known for a long time that this album had to be reviewed by me sooner or later. I hope, after listening to this record, you’ll understand why it was the album to break my school-imposed vow of silence.
Who are Quel Che Disse Il Tuono? Founded in Milan in 2019, the young band consists of lead guitarist and keyboardist Francesca Zanetta; bassist and lead singer Roberto “Berna” Bernasconi; keyboardist, flautist, and singer Niccolò Gallani; and drummer, keyboardist, and singer Alessio Del Ben. (You may recognize Zanetta from Unreal City and Gallani from Cellar Noise. This is truly an RPI supergroup!) The main adjective I would use to characterize their sound is dark. Mental of rainy streets, deep oceans, and dusty shelves pervade the sonic landscapes of Quel Che Disse Il Tuono. Zanetta’s bright lead guitar tears through the thick layers of organ, synthesizer, drums, and rhythm guitar, while Bernasconi’s splendid bass work sounds like what it would sound like if you submerged Chris Squire of Yes, Rickenbacker and all, into a swimming pool. The chord changes, too, are fantastic. (You better believe I love a nice chord change.) I highly recommend this album to anyone who likes Van Der Graaf Generator, Forneria Premiata Marconi, Jordsjø, early Porcupine Tree, Ring Van Möbius, and similar bands.
The first track, “Il Paradigma Dello Specchio,” is a more laid-back song running about nine minutes. It’s driven primarily by the melodic, yet very rhythmic, bass guitar. The organ, however, takes a prominent role in the song as well. The song has a slow intro and a gradual progression that doesn’t really kick into what I’d call “upbeat” until Gallani’s solo around three and a half minutes in. There’s a lot of the “jam band” in this one, not really an epic in the usual “prog” way but still following a definite progression. After a slower section near the end, majestic chords return the baton to the vocalists. The song closes with a great guitar solo.
“Figlio Dell’Uomo” is a heavier, more intense piece of music, spearheaded by a fantastic crunchy guitar riff. The verse, however, starts off mellow and atmospheric. It builds into a harder-rocking song with an ominous instrumental section in the middle. The form on this one reminds me a lot of “Xanadu” by Rush inasmuch as it’s very much a coherent song (rather than an epic), but builds on various motifs and changes mood and tempo over the course of its lengthy runtime. This one is also arguably Gallani’s best song from Il Velo Dei Riflessi, featuring every keyboard vibe from old-timey-horror-movie to 80s synthpop.
Next up is “Chi Ti Cammina Accanto?”, the shortest song on the track by far at a mere 5:43. (The mean length of a track from Il Velo Dei Riflessi is about 9:40 and the median is 9:23.) This is a considerably slower song in an unapologetically minor key. Zanetta gets to go full David Gilmour on us, playing emotional and subtle lead lines. We also hear Gallani on piano and flute. But it is the vocals that make this song. Bernasconi’s inspired performance is supplemented by excellent harmonies. It’s equally effective as an emotional analgesic and as a rainy-day relaxation song. The basic synthesizer riff reminds me a bit of Elmer Bernstein’s wonderful score for The Ten Commandments, in particular the parts intended to sound Egyptian. But maybe that’s just because I rewatched it recently!
“Il Bastone e Il Serpente” begins in the best way imaginable: a bass lick. Zanetta and Del Ben soon join in, crafting a groove that sounds at once alt-rock and jazz-fusion. The intro, about two minutes in length, is one of the most musically-impressive passages on the album. This one is the first of two “epics” on the album, consisting of at least three distinct sections fused together in a sensible manner and running at least eight minutes. Probably my favorite section is the bass-driven instrumental between the first section with vocals and the piano-and-flute section. Bernasconi’s fantastic tone and effective musical choices are on full display here, and he is definitely locked in with Del Ben. The whole epic takes far longer than it feels like it takes; I was rather surprised to learn that it was ten minutes long. Conciseness is often a forgotten virtue in progressive rock. Yes, it is possible to be simultaneously concise and epic, and Quel Che Disse Il Tuono prove it with “Il Bastone e Il Serpente.” I would say if I had to pick a favorite song from Il Velo Dei Riflessi, it would be this one.
“Loro Sono Me,” the longest song on the album by a three-minute margin, begins with big, complex chord hits and energetic drum fills (think “Sound Chaser” by Yes). Jazz fusion is definitely a big influence on the band, Alessio Del Ben in particular. Can we talk about his drumming for a second? He reminds me of Stewart Copeland and Carter Beauford. He has that subdued, professional-sounding touch on the drums. One wonders if he’s ever played in a formal jazz band—if not, I think he’d be great at it. His beats themselves, however, are a bit unconventional (again, think Copeland and Beauford). But they really work! He never overplays and always gives the song whatever it demands. Anyway, back to the song. It too is an epic, but it has a little more time to really explore the musical ideas it sets forth. It’s really a very rich piece, perhaps more akin to classical music than rock. There’s a bit at the nine-minute marker that I really love. It features some awesome tom grooves by Del Ben and a crazy, almost alien-sounding repeating guitar lick. It builds on this repetition in a very effective fashion—think Maurice Ravel’s Boléro. The final section is another stellar moment for Quel Che Disse Il Tuono: it gives a real sense of finality to the album and effectively tops off the buildup of the previous section. All in all, one of the best new prog epics I’ve heard in some time.
Il Velo Dei Riflessi is an extremely satisfying record. It can be repetitive but never in a boring way; I might compare it to minimalist compositions such as Philip Glass’ opera Akhnaten. The crunchy, piercing guitar tone; the landscapes of keyboard effects; and the rhythms throughout are highlights. The only thing I wasn’t terribly impressed with was the vocal melodies. I found the guitar riffs, bass lines, and keyboard counterpoints often more catchy than the vocals. I don’t really mind that, though, so long as there’s a good melody somewhere in the arrangement! In summation, I highly recommend this album to any prog fan, in particular RPI fans. If you don’t know much RPI, this could serve as a great introduction! It’s hard to believe that this is their first album. I’m really looking forward to hearing their next release!
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