It seems to be the trend lately in the progpower scene to get a release where the musical direction is on point but the vocals find themselves lost and sorely lacking in one respect or other. Italian five piece Walls Of Babylon fall into this pothole on their sophomore effort, the in so many aspects beautiful A Portrait Of Memories. From the chill inducing album cover to the plentiful presence of richly woven instrumental parts with a very tangible emotional pull to the way the lead guitars intermingle themselves with slightly more gritty tones of driving riff parts, lead guitarist Francesco Pellegrini accentuating Fabiano Pietrini’s rhythm guitars with mighty fervor and solos divine with an airy presence to lift the compositions. Add to that a great bass presence from Matteo Caravana, whose intricate bass lines, simple yet effective, makes a world of difference to give the whole thing the depth it aims for.
And then there’s Valerio Gaoni. Let’s start by pointing out that this is not another case of Tales Of Gaia, and that there is actually great promise in the guy. The voice itself isn’t bad, but how it’s used and mixed with the music somehow feels off. Then there is that too thick presence and the feeling of misplacement. The music would benefit from better control of Gaoni’s highs, and more dynamics to his middle range, as well as working on pronunciation (well duh, they’re Italian - only Fabio Lione gets a free pass). There’s a big amount of lofty cheesiness to his intonation that could work better on a straight up power metal album, or at least an album that wasn’t so deeply emotionally tinged, because even though they work quite well at parts, at others the vocals just seem misplaced and it’s hard to get away from, especially in tracks like Burden or Let Me Try that go heavy on the vocal presence instead of showcasing the musical talent. All that said, A Portrait Of Memories is still enjoyable, and there are some songs where the vocals work better.
The songwriting is on point as well, with nine fine tracks that keep the feel concise and the style remains true to itself through the album. Some darker tracks are found at the beginning and the end, and the lighter, more airy ones in the middle. The aforementioned Let Me Try feels kind of cliché at times in the vocal melodies and the general theme, but the melodic guitars set it apart, whereas opener Starving Soul is big sounding and drenched in a black cloak with its dark intonation and weighty guitars. The speedy parts of Forgotten Desires furthermore, get the best out of Gaoni while Pellegrini blisters away to great effect. To reconnect to my opening remark, there have been quite a few releases lately that have fallen short of the promise of greatness they at times give, and while that’s still somewhat true of A Portrait Of Memories, it’s still a pretty darn fine album and it shouldn’t be skipped because of the sometimes lacking vocals. It’s just something to bear in mind, because it could have been better.
Standout tracks: Starving Soul, Forgotten Desires