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Expansive, gothic and progressive metal from Italy - 75%

c_zar, January 5th, 2013

Italy’s underdogs of epic metal return with a very long, largely good album of progressively-minded epic metal. Symbols is collection of tunes that each offer a view of different historical tyrants and/or leaders…and is another fine display of the weird, emotive, soaring, garbled-English vocals of Gianni Nepi.

Perhaps because of his excellent difficulties with a thing called English, or perhaps because of the truly surprising melodies he sings throughout the great catalogue of this great band, he is not recognized as one of metal’s premier vocalists, but he should be. With a range comparable to Rob Halford’s, and far less obvious melodic choices (he ain’t giving you “Loch Ness” or “Livin’ After Midnight,” that’s for sure), Nepi’s singing is a bewildering, occasionally comical, often beautiful thing to witness: Check out his awkward-brilliant finishing notes in “Lady Scolopendra” or his soto voce laments in “A Prayer for Mother Teresa of Calcutta” (both on the very recommended album War Tears).

It is to Nepi’s credit that all of Dark Quarterer’s albums are worth owning, despite the ever-changing guitarists, which brings us to Dark Quarterer’s newest, Symbols. This is the most progressive release they’ve yet done, oftentimes recalling (though not ripping-off) Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull. Nectar and all (good) things Blackmore. The disk is comprised of six songs, the shortest of which is just shy of nine minutes, and three of which surpass the thirteen minute mark. The question is: Are they inspired or are they just being indulgent?

Fortunately, Symbols is evidence of inspiration: All of the songs have good ideas, numerous time changes, memorable hooks and solos; keyboards nicely drape much of the music as well. Parallels to Manilla Road’s recent triumphs Gates of Fire and Voyager should be drawn: like those albums, Symbols is an epic work of long-toothed metal sages.

This is not to say that some Symbols songs don’t overstay their welcome (the “Ides of March” solo section drags, “Pyramid of Skulls” has a silly coda {13:30- the end} & “The Blind Church” plods in its final four minutes), but this album is clearly the work of a band that has the creativity to enthrall, captivate or at least keep things moving for six really-big-ass songs.

The first track and the last two are the highlights, but- as is necessary with an album of all GIANT songs- the cuts are all worthwhile and are surprising journeys. Nepi’s soto voce at the beginning of “Ides of March” (and the chorus), the amazing intro and time switches in “Shadows of the Night,” the key switch at 5:00 in “The Blind Church,” the emotional crescendo that concludes “Crazy White Race” (the best Native American metal song since Manowar’s “Spirit Horse of the Cherokee”) show a band with true creativity and emotional connectivity. Bravo.

Those unfamiliar with Dark Quarterer are recommended to check out The Etruscan Prophecy first, which is half as long and likely their best, but Symbols is another recommended release from Nepi, Ninci & Co., one that might possibly win them a few progressive rock fans as well.