It's no secret that the heyday of progressive rock existed between 1970 and 1977, when bands like Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson were all the rage worldwide. So to fans of the genre it comes to no surprise that many of the contemporary prog bands of today pay homage to many of the classic groups of the golden era. Mangala Vallis is no exception, as they take the styles of Genesis and a bit of Gentle Giant, mix them in a blender, and modernize everything with their own identity.
While Genesis was a profound British band, Mangala Vallis hails from Italy, home of greats such as PFM, Banco, and Le Orme, but you would be hard pressed to tell if you didn't read the booklet notes. The sound is purely a mix of British and American prog styles, and the three singers used all show virtually accent free English. The bouncy opener "Is the End the Beginning" begins things in almost Spock's Beard fashion, with driving keyboards courtesy of Enzo Cattini and wild guitar work from Mirco Consolini. The vocals on this track are very much in the style of Neil Morse, which gives the song a very contemporary feel amongst all the Mellotron and Hammond organ. A neat reference to the closing section of the Genesis classic "Supper's Ready" appears mid-way through the track, one of the many homages to Genesis on the CD. The title track is a keyboard lovers delight, featuring haunting Mellotron, raging synths, and powerful organ. Again, here there are a few Genesis references, this time to "I Know What I Like", especially the melody line, and the familiar use of the Mellotron. A surprising Gentle Giant inspired vocal fugue appears out of nowhere along the way, as well as a killer synth solo from Cattini.
Singer Vic Fraja appears on the excellent "The Journey", "Days of Light" and the poignant "Asha." Vic has a voice that is very remininscent to Peter Gabriel, and obviously fits these songs rather well. "The Journey" is loaded with lovely 12 string guitars, emotional vocals, and mountainous waves of Mellotron. To say this song is a throwback to the days of Trespass or Nursey Cryme is an understatement. "Days of Light" has a more meloncholy feel to it, harkening to the Genesis era of Wind and Wuthering, or even Marillion's Clutching at Straws. There is even a passionate sax solo from guest Stefano Menato included on this track. The emotional closer "A New Century" has a very rustic feel to it, helped along by the vocals of Bernardo Lanzetti, who sounds similar to Dave Cousins from the Strawbs. Lots of great drum work, powerful guitars, and vintage Mellotron on this one folks.
The CD is dedicated to the memory of writer Jules Verne, and each track has lyrics based on one of his classic books, be it Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days, or A Journey to the Center of the Earth. It makes for fascinating reading to go along with the vintage sounds. For my money, Cattini, Consolini, and drummer Gigi Cavalli would be best off luring Vic Fraja on board as full-time vocalist. Yes, he helps the band sound frighteningly close to classic Genesis, but as retro as it sounds, the end result is quite breathtaking. The other singers are quite fine as well, but if Mangala Vallis wants to separate themselves from bands like Spock's Beard and the Flower Kings, and go full blown into the Genesis realm more successfully than bands such as the Watch or Asgard, Fraja would be my pick. The Book of Dreams is an awesome debut, and is highly recommended!