Label: Underground Symphony Records
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
This tale that struts its hour (more, actually) upon the stage is definitely full of sound and fury, to make fast and loose with the famous quote from ‘Macbeth’. What EDRAN’s concept album ‘Clockwork: Overture’ signifies, though, isn’t nothing, but is certainly not readily apparent.
The endeavor from the Italian symphonic metal band is obviously a grand statement on something. There are tantalizing hints at what that something is, but it mostly passed me by. A concept album where the concept isn’t at least somewhat clear — or perhaps becomes clear as it goes on — impedes your ability to completely enjoy it.
EDRAN is composer/keyboardist/mastermind Lorenzo Masiero, his four (count ’em, four) singers Fabio Brunetti, Paolo Veluti, Clementine Nantista and Francesca Trevisan, guitarist Daniele Mandelli, bassist Luigi Riccio and drummer Gianluca Capelli.
Each singer plays a role — Fabio is Solitude, Paolo is Rage, Clementine is Hope and Francesca is Phedus; guest Luke Paterniti is Edran and guest Anna Gavardi is Julia. Lorenzo makes a single appearance as Young Edran. But if you don’t have lyrics and who’s singing what (and perhaps why), you’ll be adrift, because keeping track of these elements is critical.
We begin with the cinematic instrumental ‘Phantom Overture‘ and its eerie touches of keyboard and sound effects — the title is appropriate since it is rather, well, ghostly. A lovely violin/cello melody swells to gloriousness with the addition of the full orchestra.
‘Into The Core‘ has terse strings moving into equally terse drumming, then into a majestic orchestral melody, which all serve as the musical hearts of the track. Each singer brings something a little different to the mix. Francesca is rather like a Pat Benatar-type, slithery and sexy and rough with interesting, rounded diction. Luke is more bluesy and gritty with a nice low end. Paolo makes the perfect Rage, with his snarl and almost Broadway-esque delivery (think Tommy Karevik from Kamelot in a way). Fabio is reminiscent of Arnel Pineda (who replaced Steve Perry in Journey), with lots of vibrato and a glass-shattering high register. The pairings of singers are done well and they complement each other perfectly, especially Fabio and Paolo and Luke and Anna here — obviously this element was thoroughly thought-out. Francesca takes over Fabio’s lines in the first go-through of the second chorus, Clementine does it the second time and each gives the same lines a really different feel. Those lyrical trade-offs are a consistent hallmark of the album, but why it’s done, though, what it’s trying to achieve exactly, isn’t clear.
The roles of the emotion characters are never immediately clear either. Edran and Phedus are of course the main characters, and perhaps the emotions are theirs as they interact, but which emotion belongs to which person is also not clear. And what their relationship is to each other also isn’t clear — it has to be a close one, as Edran says, “You can take my dream away / But I’ll chase you everywhere” and Phedus responds, “I’m the first of all your tears… I’m so close to be like you”. And not that this necessarily matters, but whether Phedus is male or female, considering Francesca is the voice, is never clarified. It’s these vagaries that nag at you more and more as the album goes on.
‘Redemption‘’s lovely piano melody, punctuated by drumming and riffing, remains as the strong base even as things are layered atop it. This is all Phedus and the emotions kind of warring or conversing among themselves, it seems. Phedus asks “Will I fall today or not? / Will I be greater than the sea?” and muses “When you’re searching for redemption in a shell (not sure what that means) / You’ll also find hell”. Francesca again is super effective; her snarly, phlegmy, almost lazy purr is terrific. The emotions make some interesting observations. Hope says, “Blame me”, like blame hope for leading you astray. Solitude says “Nailed to all that’s real”, then Rage counters, “Nailed to all that’s weak” — each emotion has a different perspective on that. Joy and Solitude trade off on the lines, “Oh it’s still the same old story / Am I free? / Waiting on a desperate tear”, which spurs thought as to how each emotion would interpret those lines. Hope, Solitude, and Joy alternately sing, “I found a way to crash the mirror / Also find me / Cause I left a rose behind, it’s clearer / Oh you find me,” but what that means is murky and the rhythm in that section is so erratic that it’s hard to latch on to.
Choppy strings and assertive guitar settle into a sprightly groove on ‘Chase The Fire‘. Here as before, different characters sing the same sections of lines — here it’s the chorus (Phedus with Rage, Solitude and Hope). That chorus is optimistic, with precise drumming (although it does veer into typewriter territory), bordering on pop in its overall sound. There is some awkward wording (“Regret they all, I’m out of tears”) and some downright odd wording (“Drown down my sweet gasoline”). The first time, the chorus is sung by Solitude, and maybe it’s an urge to find just that (“Rest in me and I will know / Why the fairytales are wrong / Can you heal the way I see?”). Then it’s sung by Rage, and maybe it’s mocking, like saying that won’t help anything. Then it’s sung by Hope and she’s assertive in her delivery, like if you “rest in me”, I will comfort you. The last time, it’s sung by Phedus and the character is obviously gaining confidence. Hope makes an interesting commentary when she asks, “Why are you scared? / I have waited so long to breath (they likely meant “breathe”) and now I’m here”, as if to say maybe Phedus has decided to hear her, to believe in her.
The tracks get more concise sonically at this point in the album, but the thematic gaps continue.
‘All I Have‘ is a piano-based power ballad from Edran’s perspective, sung with the third character, Julia. It’s never made clear who this character is — a third party to the relationship between Edran and Phedus? Some inner aspect of Edran (she says, “Longing for freedom / I was lost inside of you” and “You won’t escape this lonely side of me / But if you close your eyes / You’ll see the other face that the mirror tries to hide”)? Anna’s voice is tender, regretful, resigned; Luke’s is bitter, ragged, weary (of all the male singers, I prefer his voice for this reason) and they blend well. He has fine introspective lines, like “Winter is not as cold as I can be” and “Falling from nowhere ain’t bad / Burn that page for me” — you get an idea of his bitterness and frustration. But there are lines that are a bit puzzling, like “But you seal with my blood, here, forever” (she sings that line too — is it echoing him or does she feel the same way?) and “I’m coming back to hell to stay forever / Stay forever, down your light”, which I think means put OUT that light, like I’m going to dwell in darkness. This is the most well-drawn song so far — if it might not be clear what it means exactly, it is constructed well.
‘Closer‘ is urgent and punchy, pointed and musically sound. This is again Phedus, with Hope, Rage, and Solitude, and again you attempt to place meaning on to which character sings what:
— Solitude (“Selling my whole emptiness, I’m with the man in tears”) is fairly clear.
— Rage (“Raising from the ashes of a battle in your head”) is as well, as is “God is never where you want / God has never come” — yes, one would be angry about that.
— Hope (“Once in life you can change / Once in life you can discover me”), which she sings with Phedus, also makes sense. When she sings that same couplet with Rage, it changes the meaning entirely. She also says, “I am what you’ve always seen, sneaking all around / I can make you rise above, or push you to the ground”, and indeed it’s true that hope can do those things. In the last chorus, she becomes the dominant emotion.
The chorus raises some thoughtful questions (“One night’s over again / Will you pretend you’re a man?” and “One night’s over again / Will you remain in the end?”) and it seems those questions are directed to Phedus. It’s always a treat to hear Francesca, but her diction frequently gets sloppy and slurred, almost like she’s trying too hard to be emotive. The end section where they each alternate a single very similar line (“I have left the wall behind / You have left the wall behind” and so on) seems to be an inner argument between the characters and that’s a clever touch.
‘The Distance‘, set to a waltz tempo led by synth and piano, has Phedus and Edran meeting again when Edran is young. Lorenzo and Francesca sound terrific together — she’s skilled at adding color with her harmony and her delivery is more clear, her rasp appealing. It’s a super track, powerful and reflective; the chorus is glorious, even if its exact sentiment isn’t totally clear (“And I’m lost in the river / And I will follow you home / Now I follow the river / Cause I am lost in my home and there ain’t you / Do you want me to go?”). The end, when Lorenzo sings the first two lines alone, is sad, lost-sounding, as it should be. Again, there are good lines sprinkled throughout, but again also, what the exact point is, and what relationship these two characters have with each other (father and son perhaps?), is vague — by this point, if we don’t know this, it’s almost too late.
‘Revenge‘ pairs Solitude and Hope, an interesting combination. Is it directed to Edran, perhaps (Solitude says, “Betrayed by your embracing father / You’ve stayed alone”)? The two together say “Wait and believe me / I won’t exist if you accept all the truth” — are they saying to believe us, or just Hope? There’s a puzzling line “Cause the crown will be mine / As the king will die” — is that metaphorical or literal? All of these are left dangling. The two characters at the end, a capella, on the line “Wait and believe me” is lovely, like one last bit of, well, hope. There’s a definite musical optimism in this, like things are looking up, but that’s almost impossible to tell thematically.
As is the case throughout, the music in ‘Clockwork‘ is just fine — a potent melody, an urgent chorus, a solid arrangement and balance between the orchestra and the electric instruments. Rage, Solitude, and Hope merge again with Phedus. Rage drops in an odd line “Cut the rope, make Phedus pay” a reference to that character that is never clarified and comes out of nowhere. Each sings the couplet “I’m waiting for my place and for my time / But desperation’s laughing from behind” and you can kind of grasp there how your emotions war within you, one after another, trying to find dominance. Phedus sings this, too, as if trying to maintain control over all of them; Hope sings it last, which is kind of fitting, like that’s the last emotion you feel.
The actual meaning of the chorus, sung by each character, again isn’t immediately apparent (“I want to break away / We can’t find out the reason to entwine our fate / Want to break away /We can find out that reason cause we’re night and day”) — are the emotions trying to break away from each other? From Phedus? A duet with Phedus and Hope has some interesting parallel lyrics (“Keeping me from dying, is it worth the pain?” and “Giving up on trying, I follow pain” and “An ancient perfect melody is staring just in front of me”, sung together, and “The ancient perfect melody/ Is nothing but your faulty dreams” sung only by Hope).
Flourishes of strings add urgency to ‘The Warden‘, which features Phedus and Rage. There are intriguing ideas and lines, like when Rage says “I woke up in the middle of my childhood / The one I tried so hard to sacrifice”. They both say “I forgive you anyway, so goodbye”, but who is being forgiven? Edran? Each other? Another puzzling line is “Edran never thought this way / He’s a puppet in your hands / So let him live his life away” — this is the second time one main character refers to the other, but why and what this context means isn’t clear (and in whose hands? Rage’s? Phedus’?). The chorus is impassioned but again unclear, both in terms of whom it’s directed toward and what the term “warden of rage” means (in the lyrics, it’s in quotes, so it’s obviously supposed to be sarcastic or biting, but again, why and to whom?).
The finale, ‘Endless Journey‘, has a decidedly hopeful, positive tone musically — it feels like we’ve come to a resolution of some sort, but what is it? Phedus, Hope, Rage and briefly Solitude are present; Phedus asks several times “Can’t you see the other me? / I am what you have asked me to be”, but who is being spoken to and “what you have asked me to be” is unexplained. Solitude says, “You’re the other side of me”, but who is is unknown. Rage, Phedus, and Hope all sing the line, “I don’t care if I’m dying / I am strong and I don’t need lies”, but why and who is actually dying is a mystery. Edran doesn’t make a final appearance, nor does Joy or Julia, so there are ends left loose. And the line the track repeats and ultimately ends with “Want to kill me, boy?” is utterly baffling — is it Oedipal in some way?
‘Clockwork: Overture‘ is a lot of work for not enough reward, filled with a lot of questions being posed and not enough answers being provided. It’s hard to choose a pivotal track in the action, because I’m not sure what the action actually is. You can’t fault EDRAN musically, or fault their intent or ambition, but their execution leaves a bit to be desired.
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