Minstrel's debut album, “Faust”, in my opinion is a very interesting work but for the band it was very difficult to perform it on stage on account of the many characters and voices. So, after its release, the band started to work on a new opera but this time they decided to conceive it as a kind of monologue with the voice of the protagonist backed only by a choir. The new album, “Ahab”, was inspired by Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick and was released in 2009 with a line up featuring Mauro Ghilardini (lead and backing vocals, piano, keyboards), Michele Savoldelli (electric and acoustic guitars), Gianpaolo Pasini (drums) and Alberto Bigoni (bass). The overall sound here is sharper than on the previous album but the final result perfectly fits the storyline and Mauro Ghilardini’s operatic vocals are magnificent.
The opener “Vendetta” (Revenge) is full of dark energy. You can imagine the protagonist, Captain Ahab, pursuing his white obsession crossing a ghastly sea. He looks for revenge, he wants to kill the white whale that injured and humiliated him. He can’t give up his crazy dream... “Oh, My God, you know”! / I feel in my limbs blood, sweat, and tears / They devour my bones bent by memories...”.
The short instrumental “Presagio” (Omen) lead us to the departure of a wild, cursed hunt across the sea... On “Partenza” (Departure) we can hear the captain shouting his orders... “Hey! Raise the anchor! / The wind will see us off! / Starbuck at the helm!/ Ishmael on the pontoon! You, on the lookout! And you, up there... And you, to the topmast! Go! Forward! Hey! Raise the anchor!”. Wind and sunlight now swell the sails and the land rapidly vanishes behind the ship while the call of the see resounds in the air. The adventure begins with a frenzied rhythm and a dark feeling...
“Oceano” (Ocean) is a long, complex instrumental track that describes the ship sailing across the sea. It begins calmly and the mood is dreamy, then the dream turns into a nightmare and aggressive electric guitar riffs announce a storm and a troubled night.
“Alba” (Dawn) is dreamy and melodic. As dawn breaks and the light shines through the clouds the voice of Mauro Ghilardini delicately soars from a calm piano pattern drawing hopes and doubts. Memories flows inside the protagonist as a river that looks for the sun. Then he makes a vow... “I will sail forever pursuing this dream / As long as I have strength and breath / I won’t forget this promise / And I’ll win this wager / And I’ll seek the knowledge / Until I’ll understand the true meaning of life...”.
On “Caccia” (Hunt) the rhythm rises again. It’s a piece full of energy that describes the ups and downs of an endless, cursed ride across the ocean looking for the white whale... “Go on, never stop! Go on and on, you’ll never lose your prey...Vile is the harpooner and vile is the captain if the blood of his prey doesn’t stain his hand!... My hand, you can’t fail / Take hold of the gleaming steel and strike... / Fury of the seas, listen to me / The time of revenge has come... Cruel fate, you turn us away from our course! But who seeks justice finds glory and renown...”.
“Rampone” (Harpoon) describes the inner conflict that is raging in the heart of the captain. The music is evocative and dark. Melodic passages alternates with fiery guitar riffs and “deep reed” colours. You can hear an infernal smith forging a magic, evil harpoon... “Forge the point in pagan blood / I want a harpoon in mortal temper / Baptismal blood, save the baleful iron that marks every inch of me... Wind, renew my thoughts of violence! Rain, refresh my warrior instinct!... Following my mind, my fatal vow / I shall die, but I’ll be free...”.
“Tempesta” (Storm) is an evocative instrumental track featuring a sparkling electric guitar work that leads to “Delirio” (Madness), a monologue with narrative vocals and an orchestral background that describes the madness of the captain and the horror feelings he experiences when he looks at himself in a mirror. Eventually he comes back to consciousness for the tragic grand finale.
The last track “Morte” (Death) is a long, complex epic. It begins with a heartfelt recitative part where the voice of Mauro Ghilardini is backed and counter-pointed by the powerful rhythm section. Wave after wave, memory after memory the captain realizes that his hunt for knowledge is useless and that the unknown is still an enigma for him, “a past overflowing with mystery that returns like a wave on the shores of the present, thence surrounded like valiant, naive men by the dark sky of hope that wraps bodies like a clean shroud...”. Ahab begins to feel guilty and his words sound like a lay prayer to Mother-Nature but it’s too late!
Now the music describes the fighting between the men and the white monster... Then the struggle gives way to a calmer part and melodic, operatic vocals soar... This time there’s nothing more to say, there’s nothing but the sea, no harbour on the horizon, no time left to regret, no goal to reach... “It’s an everlasting trial... / An inner battle to discover / A doubt to abandon / A new faith to set off towards oceans of light / Immense but fragile expectations...”. The captain’s obsession leads him and his crew to perdition and death. When the sounds of the battle fade away we can hear a child playing and singing as a final message of hope. A dreamy, instrumental coda concludes this excellent work. On the whole a really good album featuring a beautiful packaging and a booklet full of drawing and images related to the plot. Do not miss it!
Minstrel: Ahab (2009). Other opinions:
Thomas Szirmay: Minstrel waited for 10 years before releasing their sophomore follow-up to the fabulous "Faust", an absolute shiny icon in my prog collection. That can be a ridiculous interval but so many prog musicians have day jobs and family obligations that one can only patiently wait, even though I must admit I was fearful of another one-shot wonder. Their lusty combination of operatic vocals, driving rhythm section and scorching guitar is a formula to die for, and it is maintained on Ahab in spades (and clubs and diamonds and hearts!)... (read the complete review HERE)
Read the interview with the band at progarchives. Click HERE