Album Title: The Persistence
Label: Sensory Records
Date Of Release: 7 September 2018
Once in a while, a band will come along and simply blow your mind. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you’re into, that feeling is indescribable. We all have our favourite bands or artists and we generally have higher hopes and expectations around each and every new release. It’s wonderful when the result matches or exceeds those expectations. It is even more spectacular when your mind is blown by a band that you’d not necessarily expected to have this effect.
I have liked Kingcrow for many years, since they released ‘Phlegethon’ back in 2010. But it wasn’t until I heard them perform the title track of that album at the end of their set at ProgPower Europe 2011 that everything started to click into place. I have grown to love the band, in particular their last two records, ‘In Crescendo’ (2013) and ‘Eidos’ (2015). Both albums received very favourable reviews from me as I sensed a band on the ascendency.
However, in spite of all this, did I genuinely think that they might release an album that is draped in a bullet-proof ‘album of the year’ cloak? No, probably not. They are a fabulous band, certainly in my top 20 of all-time, but until now, I’d not have considered them a contender for my inner circle. That’s about to change with ‘The Persistence’. Evergrey, Anathema, Haken, Shadow Gallery and Katatonia, make some room – we have a new member to welcome into the fold.
Ok, so with that out of the way, I need to consider where on earth I start with describing and reviewing ‘The Persistence’. You can be assured that I’ll tackle each song in turn throughout this review, but first, I think it is important to lay some foundations and context.
Kingcrow are a little bit different. Some may refer to them as progressive metal, others might suggest that they are more of a progressive rock band. What everyone can agree on is the fact the Kingcrow are a genuinely progressive band. However, what’s so wonderful about these Italians is that the song always comes first, much like many of the bands that have inspired them, most notably Pink Floyd. The emotion, the feelings, the textures – they are all at the top of the agenda when Diego Cafolla and his band of merry men create new music. So much so, that you can sometimes forget or at least overlook the fact that what we have in front of us is a band that can write and perform some extremely complex music. The technicality is often very subtle, but it is most definitely there.
A challenging time signature, a clever transition, a piece of breath-taking technique, an unusual note, an unexpected chord, or even a mixture of all of these and more within certain songs. They are there, but Kingcrow are not about impressing the listener with overt and ostentatious shows of ability. And therein lies their genius. For, as I sit here and listen to ‘The Persistence’, that is the word that pops into my head at some point within each of the ten tracks. Some might call it unnecessary and provocative hyperbole. I call it an accurate description of a flawless record, one that delivers everything I want in my music, some of it I didn’t even know I wanted. I call that genius. Alongside ‘In Search of Truth’, ‘Weather Systems’ and ‘Visions’, I can add ‘The Persistence’. Yup, it’s really that good.
The opening song, ‘Drenched’ begins with a swathe of beautifully bitter-sweet ethereal keys courtesy of Cristian Della Polla, upon which a couple of more pronounced piano notes are eventually overlaid. The song then explodes into a flurry of activity. Those pronounced piano notes remain at the heart of the music but surrounding them is an urgent riff in an intriguing time signature, courtesy of guitarists Diego Cafolla and Ivan Nastasi, as well as a driving rhythm thanks to the drumming of Thundra Cafolla and bassist Riccardo Nifosi. A change in approach is joined with epic-sounding orchestral choir sounds. And then, the intensity subsides momentarily, to be replaced by a passage of minimalism, the perfect way to introduce vocalist Diego Marchesi to the proceedings. Diego has to be one of the most underrated vocalists in rock/metal, as he has such a rich and vibrant delivery, whilst able to inject passion and emotion into his every word. Furthermore, his impressive range is demonstrated to great effect as the song reaches its chorus, which is simply stunning – an eruption of melody, energy, awash with depth and genuine feeling. The whole song, which also features a smattering of delicious acoustic guitars, peaks and troughs, passages of intensity and delicate calm, is an intelligently-constructed, warm and compelling beginning to ‘The Persistence’, an opening that promises much and ratchets up my expectations hugely for what is to follow.
It also must be said that keyboardist Cristian Della Polla plays an absolute blinder throughout ‘The Persistence’. Rarely have I enjoyed the sound of keys and synths so much, as they lace each song with a richness and a sense of atmosphere that is wondrous.
And what follows is equally as good, if not better. A pulsing guitar note overlays layers of synths to create an atmospheric opening to ‘Closer’, which soon develops into a heavier affair, albeit in a typically measured manner. The guitars swirl and eddy, wrapping the listener up in a swirling vortex of strong riffs, bold rhythms and some really nice layered vocals in the background to support Marchesi. But delicate soundscapes and textures are never far away as demonstrated by the closing few moments that are stripped back to feature just an acoustic guitar and vocals.
The bass that dominates the second chorus acts like a deep heartbeat at the core of very real, human emotions, something that looms very large across this intensely emotional and deeply moving album, the very first to feature lyrics written 100% by Marchesi. And he has grasped the chance with both hands, furnishing ‘The Persistence’ with some deeply personal themes, delivering most with real poetic skill. ‘Shuffling our bare feet at night, into the unknown…’ – this could be the metaphor that perfectly describes his endeavours on this album, but the results are well worth the effort throughout.
‘Everything Goes’ has to be one of many favourite tracks on the record. The piano and synth intro is deeply engrossing, enhanced by the gentle touch of an electronic beat. It is definitely a slow-burner that takes its time to build. In no hurry, it just increases the sense of anticipation, gradually layering new textures and tones upon each other. ‘We know nothing in the end’, sings Marchesi, although in terms of songwriting, nothing could be further from the truth as some really beautiful melodies intertwine with the steadily increasing power of the track. There’s a great stop-start riff that ushers in an instrumental segment that sees the song cleverly to an unexpected climax, one that catches me off-guard every time.
The sophisticated yet understated drumming of Thundra Cafolla is an early highlight of ‘Folding Paper Dreams’, one of three songs on the record that flirts with a length of seven minutes. And yet, every second is accounted for, nothing is wasted. The tone is once again very melancholy, quite dark and sombre but the wonderfully subtle introspective melodies and completely engaging performance from Marchesi makes it a total joy to listen to time and time again. The manner in which the almost cinematic synth-drenched opening is ultimately blown apart midway through underlines just why some of us consider Kingcrow to be a metal band. The guitars are full of bruising and incessant energy, the drums pound with a certain commanding elegance and its like facing an aural tidal wave from which there is no escape. And yet, I don’t want to escape – I am captivated by the Sirens and I’m going nowhere…except deeper into ‘The Persistence’.
And, just before ending, there’s time for a delightful bluesy guitar solo from Cafolla, a nuanced and unexpected conclusion to a rather epic composition that pulls me further under the Kingcrow spell.
No sooner has one epic track concluded, another one begins in the form of the formidable title track. Immediately it displays a heavier tone than much of their previous material and it is an observation that remains true after spending several weeks in its company. As the apt title suggests, there is a persistent core to the song that drives it along at a very nice pace, rarely letting go of the intensity. That said, there are brief moments of respite where the foot is taken off the gas and something subtler emerges. The dynamics that this creates are incredible and the song has a greater sense of power as a result. Della Polla’s waves of keys are ever-present, creating some superb atmospheres just below the surface and there’s even space within the relative tumult to lace Diego Marchesi’s vocals with an effect or two, to add yet further colour to an already first-rate song. The ending synths are just beautiful and so elegant, bringing out the majesty of the melodies that were camouflaged somewhat within this track throughout.
Another favourite, ‘Every Broken Piece of Me’ is a stellar composition. In fact, it was the first song that I heard in the early days in embryonic form and the impact that the bombastic chorus has on me is exactly the same as now – I’m overwhelmed, covered in goose bumps and the chills ripple up and down my spine. The sheer power and dark overtones are intoxicating and also a little disconcerting, especially when the song starts in such a quiet, unassuming manner, complete with serene acoustic guitars. The heavy intensity acts like a slap to the face but for all its overt muscularity, the finesse is not lost and so the choral vocals, cool time signature and subtle embellishments retain their importance.
There’s also a dystopian, sci-fi vibe that’s only enhanced by the effects deployed within the track, particularly with Diego Marchesi’s anguished singing when the song reaches its lofty peak. The pulsating and eerie mid-section clearly displays one of Kingcrow’s best traits – the ‘build up’ – it is something that most songs on this album harness expertly, but I cannot state how engrossing it is when Kingcrow take us on a journey of increasing force, where the layers increase and the song becomes richer and more full-bodied in the process.
There’s a hopeful, up-beat tone to ‘Devil’s Got A Picture’, generated by the breezy pace, the light guitar notes and the almost bouncy drumming from the outset. The chorus is expansive, again featuring pronounced keys and multi-layered vocals, alongside a great lead guitar line that provides the bulk of the melody. As the track develops, the progressive nature of Kingcrow’s writing comes more to the fore with stop-start, lurching riffs and fascinating bass lines that deviate nicely from the path trodden by the guitars when the song dictates. There is even a scream of frustration and pent-up aggression that’s a clever touch to a song that takes a turn for the morose and miserable in the latter stages after such a positive opening. The following gives you an idea of the eventual tone of this song, as it swirls and writhes before ending in a minimalist and hugely introspective manner: ‘I’m in the line of fire, a lost and blindfolded man, like I’m falling behind in someone else’s plan.’
I don’t know whose idea it was to invite Pain Of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw to sing on this track, but it is an absolute masterstroke and the icing on the cake of an already sensational composition. Diego Cafolla mentioned to me that he is ‘very attached to this song for personal reasons’ and you can tell, right from the start, that this is a hugely emotional track. The delicacy of the instrumentation allows Gildenlöw to take centre stage as he sings with great passion and sincerity, markedly different from his usual in-your-face Pain of Salvation style. I’m surprised just how good Gildenlöw and Marchesi are together, their markedly different styles working in tandem to great effect. Again, the song is a masterclass in building up the anticipation but it features plenty of changes of pace to toy brilliantly with our emotions.
And then the guitar solo that rips the song apart just as Gildenlöw finishes a tormented vocal line is simply jaw-dropping. Cafolla makes no secret of his love of bands like Pink Floyd and this is a solo that David Gilmour would be proud of. The instrument sings effortlessly and smoothly, soaring above some punchy, flamboyant drumming with a narrative that perfectly fits the song. From there, we are treated to another cycle or two of the chorus, the kind of epic melodic affair that could melt the hearts of even the most cold-hearted of humans.
‘Father looking straight at me, from a silver frame…father you were just like me, cut from the same cloth, never really learned to cry or laugh a lot. Talk to me, please for real, cos I’m so tired of living through my memories, wondering what you’d think of me…
The title to this track provides us with a clear indication of the direction that ‘Father’ will take lyrically. And so it proves, as the preceding quote demonstrates. It is unclear whether the content is autobiographical, but when Diego Marchesi sings, you feel a tangible pain and sad resignation to suggest that it might just be.
The heavy, almost djent-like riff that emerges is the heaviest I’ve ever heard from Kingcrow but it isn’t long-lived and, layered with plaintive synths, it fits perfectly, echoing the tone of what feels like one of the most intensely personal songs that these Italians have penned.
If ever there was a perfect way to conclude an album of this quality and magnitude, it is this. I often listen to the gorgeous ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ late at night on my headphones, in the dark with a glass of wine in hand because this is usually where the magic happens. It is also where the tears emerge with alarming frequency.
The piano melody is simple but hugely effective, under which I hear a quiet, electronic sound that reminds me of when I first heard my unborn children’s heartbeats. That’s just for starters because then Marchesi enters, singing softly and so soothingly: ‘Won’t let you down, in this silence, won’t let you blame, only yourself again’. The power in these simple words is like a hammer blow, affecting me deeply.
Again, the song builds slowly and totally deliberately. The guitars come more to the fore including some simple but effective lead notes. And then, when the song blooms into full flower, I can barely control my emotions. Not only is the melody unbelievably beautiful and rich, but Diego Marchesi’s voice is incredible. It sounds like his heart is literally breaking as he sings. He sounds anguished, as he metaphorically pleads with the heavens, delivering what is easily the most incredibly magical moment on the entire record. And that’s saying a lot. The final minute or two is given over to a gentle unravelling of the song. Initially, there are more layered choral-type vocals before the song slowly deconstructs around the central melody, embellished by some arresting and flamboyant drumming from Thundra Cafolla. And then the song starts to fade out, taking the entire record with it, to slumber peacefully, exhausted by its not-inconsiderable exertions throughout.
And with that, I feel bereft, like something is immediately missing in my life. But I also feel enriched and all aglow. That’s the ultimate power of this disc.
What is there left to say? Not much really, except to say that with ‘The Persistence’, Kingcrow have delivered a bona-fide masterpiece, their tour-de-force and the benchmark by which all progressive music must be judged throughout 2018 and beyond. This kind of record happens very rarely, when the stars align and when everyone within a band is on top of their game. I feel privileged to have heard this record and even more privileged to know that it will stay with me for the rest of my days. Because it will, both physically and emotionally. Absolute, unequivocal genius.
The Score Of Much Metal: 10
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse