Lione/Conti - Lione/Conti - (8.5/10)
Published on June 18, 2019
Wherein a newly formed super group is born, appearances are often deceiving, though not necessarily in the same way from one project to the next. More often than not, a confederation of well known veteran musicians under a new banner will find high expectations to be its mortal enemy, and even a strong outing that would otherwise be considered a good debut will be regarded as underwhelming. Though the power metal scene has often been the most prolific sub-genre in producing such acts, it has become a particularly common thing since the more AOR-infused wave of bands that came in with the mid-2000s following the success of Masterplan’s debut album. Though not the only source of these seemingly cookie cutter acts, Frontiers Records has definitely been the most visible and arguably the most infamous, with an assembly line of similarly geared projects featuring the songwriting talents of either Magnus Karlsson or, more recently, Timo Tolkki respectively. It would thus stand to reason that a project featuring two prominent voices associated with Luca Turilli would find themselves either sticking to the same symphonic niche, or otherwise playing into Frontiers’ established cliche style as embodied in the Allen – Lande metal duet project.
However, as the first ingredient to any surprise is appearing to do what is expected, the eponymous debut of the Lione/Conti project is neither a symphonic venture in the Rhapsody vain, nor is it an AOR-dominated excursion after either the Karlsson or Tolkki mold. The key distinction lay in the songwriting approach of guitar technician and multi-instrumentalist Simone Mularoni, who brings more of an aggressive, prog-leaning power metal formula into the equation that bears a striking resemblance to his handiwork with DGM, though tempered by a bit more of a Masterplan-like approach to song structure that is a bit more befitting of a Frontiers release. When this dynamic and highly varied approach is combined with the virtuoso keyboard work of the relatively unknown Filippo Martignano (who is a tad reminiscent of Jordan Rudess when he’s trading leads with Mularoni), high-impact precision drumming of Marco Lanciotti (a newcomer who has made quite a racket with Elvenking the past couple years) and Fabio Lione’s show-stealing vocal display, the resulting musical picture isn’t too far removed from Lione’s early work with power/prog titans Laybrinth and his on again, off again stints with Vision Divine.
If there is any flaw to this arrangement, it is that Lione’s vocals often end up dwarfing Conti’s, and this is less so because of the latter being a slouch but more so because of the former’s piercing delivery and heavily theatrical vibrato. Nevertheless, the two voices play well off each other and offer a far more nuanced and wide-ranged contrast when compared to the similarly gravely and rock-oriented character of the Allen vs. Lande duet format. Likewise, it melds brilliantly with the highly dynamic and often fast-paced music that surrounds it, culminating in something that is far heavier on impact compared to most of Frontier’s output, and also much closer to the original speed-dominated character that the power metal style possessed at the turn of the millennium. Some offerings play off more of a moderate paced Stratovarius formula with hints of prog and thus play a bit more to the dynamic vocal capabilities on display, such as the opening anthem “Ascension”, the more chunky grooving nod to Masterplan “You’re Falling”, and the up beat rocker “Destruction Show. Then again, the raw intensity of Lione and Conti’s pipes find a far more intricate array of riff and lead work, to speak nothing from sheer raw intensity on such high octane offerings as “Misbeliever”, “Glories”, and the chaotic thrashing madness of “Gravity”.
When all is said and done, this is one of those cases where the hype surrounding a super group actually matches the final product. For what this album may lack in long-winded epic numbers and symphonic bluster, it more than makes up for with a highly proficient blend of passion and tasteful amounts of technical ornamentation. The difference, at least in comparison to similarly geared projects, is that Simone Mularoni’s ability to cut heads with Karlsson in the lead department and further bolstered by a riffing approach that is far more intricate and power metal based. None of the various moving parts in this whole are left solely in a support role, nor is anyone engaging in any outright showboating at the expense of the others. All the same, it does represent a fairly sizable break for Fabio Lione from his long and recently ended stint with Rhapsody Of Fire, almost to the same degree as his ongoing work with Angra and his more Gothic-tinged project Eternal Idol. Likewise, Conti finds himself working well within a musical context that, while being as melodic and hook-oriented as his ongoing work with Trick Or Treat, is quite different. Those seeking a fantastical symphonic romp with all the Hollywood bells and whistles may want to look elsewhere, but anybody in the mood for a faster and more ferocious answer to The Unity, Allen – Lande, and recent Masterplan will find a powerhouse of an album here.