Many see this band as the offshoot of pioneering Italian Power/Progressive revival band LABYRINTH, but the truth is that it is the continuation of that project under a different name. The game of musical chairs that has gone on between said band, this one, and RHAPSODY OF FIRE is something of a side issue, but the continued influence of Carlo Magnani (aka Olaf Thorsen) upon this particular project is what makes all the difference. There is something unique about his riffs, his half Timo Tolkki and half John Petrucci oriented brand of lead playing, and his songwriting that was lost on LABYRINTH’S work after “Sons Of Thunder” that endures on this album, and all of the albums that has preceded it. It manifests itself not so much in a direct contradiction to the original LABYRINTH sound, nor with that of the failed attempt at emulation in that band’s self-titled release after he left, but in a purer, higher quality version of that characteristic sound. It is thus free of any and all influences outside of the Power/Progressive paradigm, such as the decrepit Nu-Metal seepage that tainted LABYRINTH’s last two albums.
The Michele Luppi trilogy, of which “The 25th Hour” is the third and final installment, is characterized by a smoother and much more Progressive character than the two Fabio Lione albums that preceded it. For all of the accusations that Lione has one of the most flowery sounding voices in Power Metal, he does make time for rougher edged vocalizations at regular intervals, and sounds almost like a Thrash Metal singer when compared with Luppi’s squeaky clean work. The music is likewise a few steps closer to the DREAM THEATER character of more complex riffing, less of a Symphonic element, and a smoother mix of guitars that point a little closer to an early 90s FATES WARNING character than heavier edged sound of “Send Me An Angel”. Of the three albums in this trilogy, this album is sort of a middle ground between the ultra smooth character of “Stream Of Consciousness” and the rougher one of “The Perfect Machine”, having a mellow rhythm guitar sound but a dry drum production and a toned down keyboard presence in terms of atmosphere as well as those Techno-like devices that were also occasionally employed before.
There’s no shortage of catchy moments on here to keep the Power Metal side of the equation constant, despite all the changes that have been going on in the genre in recent years. Faster songs such as the title track and “Eyes Of A Child” have choruses in line with the memorable melodic character established on “Return To Heaven Denied”. Time is made for heavier moments on “Alpha & Omega” and “A Perfect Suicide”, both of which exert some strong Thrash tendencies; although the choruses still remain in that consonant, sing along mode. All the while, clichés in this genre are made new again with a fresh and adaptive interpretation where the drums are not locked into a dogmatic formula of double bass sections with occasional breaks for a groove to develop during a bridge section, the guitars find ways to keep themselves busy beyond the obligatory lead exchange with the keyboards, and Luppi’s vocals go between powerful solo sections to dense, Freddie Mercury sounding harmonies that seem to come out of nowhere, yet always fit what accompanies them.
This basically outclasses “A Perfect Machine” and just falls a tiny bit behind “Send Me An Angel” and “Stream Of Consciousness”. All in all a solid release from a band that has been written off as the side project of one guy from a band that got out of Power Metal a few years ago. It’s a fitting end to a brilliant collaboration between a seasoned guitar shredder and his band of competent players, and one of the more unique voices in this style. After this Fabio Lione rejoined the fold and another album has recently come out challenging the previous 4 and this one, but this is definitely something to look into if you followed LABYRINTH to any extent before their self-titled album, and if you have a taste for the clean cut, Italian version of Power Metal with a bit of an American Progressive Metal edge to it.
(Online September 1, 2009)