I was listening to some Ayreon over the weekend, and couldn’t stop thinking about the amazing vocal talent on all of his albums. That got me to thinking about reviewing an individual on his latest album that I believe shined amongst a stacked lineup of vocal extraordinaires. Fronting a smaller band with a devout fan base, Sara Squadrani provides some of the greatest moments in her own project in the progressive metal band Ancient Bards.
Residing across the globe in Italy, Ancient Bards consists of Sara Squadrani on lead vocals, Daniele Mazza on keyboard, Claudio Pietronik on guitar, Martino Garattoni on bass guitar, and Federico Gatti on drums, and included Fabio Balducci on guitar in the album to be mentioned. Easily defined as a metal band, Ancient Bards further expands into the symphonic, progressive, and power metal categories. With their deep riffs, soaring vocals and harmonies, rapid drum beats, and ridiculous solos from all instruments, this metal band completely impressed me when I found them. Having released three albums, I can easily say that their second album “Soulless Child” is my favorite, an album that struck me with awe upon its first listen.
The entire discography for Ancient Bards follows a concept created by Mazza. To explain all that happens in the story would take another post in itself, but Squadrani has been posting individual interpretations of songs on her blog. To shorten things, a villain seeks the power of a mystical sword, and the leaders of each region of the world go out to stop him. By the second album “Soulless Child” the characters are on the last part of their journey, and then confront the villain by the album’s end. This medieval fantasy is very addicting! Not really being a fan of the genre, I cannot help listening to the lyrics and finding out what happens next to the characters. It has even led me to read some of the Game of Thrones books (again, a series I never thought I’d read). Even if fantasy isn’t your thing, I guarantee this album will suck you in with the powerful and dynamic lyrics.
Being a power/symphonic metal band, one can expect “Soulless Child” to be very over-the-top, campy, and gaudy. Despite those notions, one cannot deny that these musicians are extremely gifted, and what I consider some of the best musicians in their respective instruments. Each member of the band shines equally, since almost every song on this album provides a chance for each to show off their musical ability with wailing vocals and guitar/bass/key solos. The perfect example is the album’s second song “To The Master of Darkness.” Following a symphonic introduction, this song is a beast, filled with swift and dominating solos. Dueling with one another, Pietronik, Mazza, and Garattoni spend several minutes of the song soloing, that ridiculously fast-paced type of work reminiscent of Dream Theater, Dragonforce, and Haken. “Soulless Child” even closes with a fourteen and a half minute epic “Hope Dies Last,” again a song overflowing with powerful solos and rhythms. Call this album flamboyant all you want; For an album that lasts over an hour, it feels like the listener is getting their money’s worth of instrumentation in this album. No complaints here.
Besides the barrage of solos on this album, Ancient Bards are also great song composers as well. My favorite song off of “Soulless Child” is surprisingly one of the softest songs on the record, the ballad-like “All That Is True.” At this point in the story, forbidden love is revealed, and with it comes an absolutely beautiful love song. The song is an impressive all around display from the band, and proves that Ancient Bards can do more than just play really fast. The song starts with a soft piano introduction from Mazza and soft vocals from Squadrani as she tells the story of this forbidden love. The drums and guitars come in at the song’s chorus, but much softer than any song on this album. Even the signature double bass pedal on the drums plays half as fast as usual. The vocals are by far at its best performance on this song, especially during the song’s chorus:
“To my heart you’re all that is true (I feel you) / And I won’t give up on you / Loving you is all I can do (I know) / You’re all that’s worth living for.” (source)
Just because the song is softer doesn’t mean it is completely devoid of any instrumentation. Another perfect display from Balducci is in the song’s bridge, and also an all around solid performance from Mazza on the keys. It is the perfect love song, with a chorus that perfectly sums up my own love for my wife.
Mentioned for a second time on this blog, my favorite thing about this album is Squadrani’s vocals. I won’t go too in-depth again, since I have already touched on this on a previous post. I will say, though, that her voice on this album is one of the greatest rock music female vocal performance I’ve ever heard, competing alongside Amy Lee of Evanescence and Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil.
I recommend this album to lovers of metal, especially those bands that fall into the progressive/symphonic metal category like Kamelot, Nightwish, Epica, Symphony X, and even older bands like Black Sabbath and Dio. If you enjoyed “Soulless Child,” I’d recommend checking out their latest album “A New Dawn Ending,” which concludes the first part of the story. Please support Ancient Bards by checking out their website, and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.
And to Ancient Bards: Please come to the United States, preferably southern California area!