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not too bad... - 60%

krozza, October 6th, 2004

In the wake of the recent Ayreon release, it is a rather difficult task to approach any other ‘rock opera’ of 2004 in a solely subjective light. As far as conceptual progressive metal albums go, for me AAL’s ‘Human Equation’ remains the untouchable benchmark. As much as I wanted to judge the new ‘Genius’ disc on its own merit, the shadow of Ayreon looms large. Having said that, for fans of conceptual prog rock albums there is certainly nothing wrong with ‘Genius’. All I am saying is that don’t expect anything like the vision acquired by Arjen Anthony Lucassen.

I must admit that I am not a big fan of the ‘Rock Opera’ tag. From Savatage’s ‘Streets’ to Tobias Sammett’s ‘Avantasia’ - it never really fills me with a sense of excitement. Rather, I dread having to sit through what is usually some overblown, pompous fairytale, busting my brain to work out obscure cryptic lyrics in the hope that I can actually understand the storyline. Furthermore ‘Rock Opera’s usually have to be listened to from start to finish – it’s rare that you can drop a needle (or laser beam) anywhere on the disc and enjoy each track as a singularity. This is what makes ‘The Human Equation’ and ‘Operation Mindcrime’ the brilliant pieces of music that they are.

Genius is the brainchild of Daniele Liverani. Who? Also a member of Empty Tremor (no, I’ve never heard of them either), this disc, as its title suggests is Episode 2 of a trilogy of Rock Opera’s – it follows up ‘A Human Into Dreams’ World’ that was released in 2002. Like AAL, Liverani is musically responsible for everything you hear on Episode 2 expect for the drums and vocals. Also like AAL, Liverani has scoured the prog/power metal world for vocalists to sing various parts and characters of his rather ambitious storyline. If not for anything else, the vocal line up is THE main reason why you might be interested in investigating this project a little further.

For the record, it must be stated that Liverani has mustered a fairly impressive crew over the past two Genius discs – names such as Lana Lane, Chris Boltendahl, Joe Vana, John Wetton, Steve Walsh and Midnight (ex Crimson Glory!!), who all played a part in the first episode are gone now and replaced by new players, namely Mark Boals (Ex Malmsteen), Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Edu Falaschi (Angra), Jeff Martin (Racer X), Rob Tyrant (Labÿrinth), Eric Martin, Johnny Gioeli (Axel Rudi Pell) and Liv Kristine (ex-Theatre Of Tragedy). The Storyteller is still Philip Bynoe (Steve Vai, Ring Of Fire), while Oliver Hartmann (Empty Tremor’s new vocalist) took care of all choirs. It’s a great line up – for me, securing Russell Allen (IMO probably one of the Top 5 vocalists around) is the big draw card here.

As far as the music is concerned, Genius doesn’t quite live up to the heights created by such an impressive vocal line up. A great vocalist can actually turn ordinary songs into something more than they should be - however as good as Sir Russ is, as good as Boals, Gildenlow and Martin are, they don’t have the song quality or song writing nous available to them to enable anything on Episode 2 to sound any better than ‘solid’. Wrapped up in a rather standard fare symphonic power metal aesthetic (with touches of hard rock and prog elements), Episode 2 has more than enough going for it musically, but it never actually reaches any great heights. It lacks a certain dynamic and captivating quality – that essential ‘wow’ factor that makes you want to return to it time and again.

Having not heard Episode 1, I am really at a loss to give you any details about the actual ‘lyrical’ concept conveyed here. The Storyteller (played by Philip Bynoe) role was created for this very reason, however it sounded all a bit complicated - it didn’t help me too much. Either that or I just failed pay adequate attention. Or maybe because I thought it was all utter bollocks too!!

If you just have to have every Rock Opera known to man in your collection, then most likely you will find something of interest in Daniele Liverani’s Genius. I’d like to think you’re a bit bonkers too, but then again there is no accounting for taste. At almost 80 minutes, Episode 2 is a solid, if unspectacular power/prog metal album – the production and the musicianship are major strengths. However, the songs are not quite there and they belie the quality and talent of what is a most notable list of contributing vocalists. Maybe Episode 3 will be a case of third time lucky…