Friend, I was just as surprised as you when I learned that Turilli / Lione Rhapsody, the imaginatively named new group bringing together Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione, was trading in their bombastic, symphonic-leaning power metal in favor of an album of harmonium-led drone and burbling Krautrock.
But of course, I jest. Time is a flat circle, and the gelatinous hub and spoke model of the Rhapsody universe rotates ineluctably around power metal.
Whereas on older Rhapsody albums the symphonic / classical aspect leaned more on a sort of minstrel troupe model, on Zero Gravity, the non-metal extracurricular elements sound much more like the sort of big-budget, slick world pop you might hear in a PBS concert performance by someone like Yanni, Sarah Brightman, or Josh Groban. The title track is the best example, where about 3:30 in, the song breaks for some ethereal vocals, sitar, and other folk instrumentation not unlike what you might hear from Orphaned Land. Nearly the entirely of “Amata Immortelle,” not to mention, which is aimed rather directly at La Scala rather than La Wacken.
To listen to Turilli / Lione Rhapsody in the spirit it was likely intended is to allow oneself to be swept up in the sort of drama that feels bigger than music. Fabio Lione’s voice is as pure and acrobatic as ever, with each lyric lovingly fretted over with the dynamically overwrought intonation of a Shakespearean actor. And yet, although the players pursue virtuosity in their individual performances, as a whole, the work is meticulous, measured, and without visible seam.
The way we react to art nearly always says more about the audience than the author, and it is often counterproductive at best and disingenuous at worst to attempt to divine the motives of artists. Nevertheless, for all his otherwise stodginess, Immanuel Kant may have been on to something in his discussion of aesthetic judgment. He posited the notion that the proper way to render an aesthetic judgment was to propose the subjective universal validity of that judgment. Philosophically speaking, the notions of subjectivity and universality ought to be logical opposites: If something is subjective—based on the position and perspective of a specific subject—how can it be universal? And if something claims to be universally applicable, how can it be mediated through an individual-level subjectivity?
Much smarter nerds than me may like to parse ol’ Kant until the kows come home, but from this idea of his I take the following position: art proceeds from the hope (if not the expectation) that it can be universally appreciated. Even the ugliest, most ostensibly antisocial art you can imagine carries within it a kernel of presumed universality. If art did not retain the possibility of reaching everyone (even if it can never be certain to reach any particular one), I might hazard a claim that it wouldn’t be art. It might be self-reflection or self-indulgence or psychoanalysis or any other number of things, but art exists first as a calling out to the world. It cannot proceed but from an originary destruction of solipsism.
Brazen though it may be, this discussion is about Turilli / Lione. This is a big-hearted, democratic album. If you don’t like it, or if its exuberance sours you, or if it strikes you as somehow dishonest in comparison to all the supposedly brave truth-telling of the caustic sounds you prefer to saturate yourself with, then this is all well and good but I will repeat that the way we reach to art nearly always says more about the audience than the author. Whether you interpret that as indictment or opportunity does, too.
Another way to think about it is that power metal is very much like coal or sadness or an ostrich: it simply exists. Have you ever seen an ostrich? Do you suppose that titanically real thing gives two shits what you think about it? The ostrich exists outside of any of your attempts to explain or dispute it. There seems to be a tendency among some people who otherwise consider themselves open-minded listeners to write off power metal. Power metal, you will be pleased to note, does not care. And if you think I chose an ostrich as metaphor because of its head-burying behavior, then buddy, you are wrong. Power metal is constitutionally incapable of embarrassment or mortification. Power metal is rubber and you are glue: that is, two things that have absolutely no causal impact on each other.
On Zero Gravity, there be no dragons, either in the sense of fantastical lyrics or boundary points indicating beyond which, who can say. No thing is outside the purview of this music. “Decoding the Multiverse” pulls a snaky, modern crunch riff into the arena with a tumbling piano fantasia and a powerfully building chorus out of the Avantasia playbook. A classic two-thirds ratio brings in a brilliant little vocal section that pirouettes like Night at the Opera Queen before opening out onto one of Turilli’s most fiery guitar and keyboard spotlight passages of the album.
Zero Gravity pulls in layers of choristers and string players to make its case, but the core is always the bewitching interplay between the forthrightly romantic melodies of Lione’s vocals and Turilli’s melodic leads, and the hairpin-tight modernism of the drums and electronic enhancements. Just before four minutes in the title track, Turilli unleashes a keening solo section that quite clearly presents the score to an imaginary film score. Actually, ‘imaginary’ is a term that forecloses the possibilities here. Not only is it possible that the band has quite fully considered each song the telling of an intensely visual narrative, but it’s also quite likely that in listening, you cannot help but summon entire technicolor universes in your mind’s eye.
If you’re asking yourself, “So, is this good or bad?” kindly go suck an egg. Go outside. Read a book. Climb a hill. Learn a skill. Zero Gravity is exactly what it is. It is 100% itself. Can you say the same? The album’s only demerit is “Demons and Angels (D.N.A.),” an absolutely abysmal song that grafts the most neoclassically pompous chorus of the album awkwardly atop a highly polished core. It’s not quite like the song exists in a universe totally separate from the rest of the album, but that the jarring contrast between the song’s different elements—something that actually works in favor of several other songs—is amplified to such a degree that it is impossible to enjoy the song. Quite literally, you are a monster if you enjoy this song. It is the Platonic ideal of Bad.
Will you remember Zero Gravity in 5 years? Shut up. These are the inquiries of a ruined mind. Will you remember yourself in 5 years, as you are now? You, that exact version of you currently listening with head cocked for the door to the future to open and ask you in? There is no door. The future is now. If you take some of the letters from Luca Turilli and Fabio Lione you can spell I’uel Cant. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Beauty is all around you.