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Mad Fellaz - Mad Fellaz II CD (album) cover

MAD FELLAZ II

Mad Fellaz

 

Eclectic Prog

3.87 | 78 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Italian group Mad Fellaz began life as an all-instrumental group six years ago, releasing a superb self-titled debut in 2014 with `Mad Fellaz', an eclectic mix of vocal-free rock suites that incorporated everything from fiery jazz-fusion meanderings, playful grooves, ambient dreamy atmospheres, ethnic flavours and sophisticated RPI inclusions. But while they were always a stretch to consider ever being a true RPI-sounding group, two years on sees a rather surprising change in the set-up of Mad Fellaz with the addition of female vocalist Anna Farronato (controversially singing in English) that takes the group in something of a Rock-in-Opposition/Avant-Garde direction with a healthy dose of the Canterbury sound, but still maintaining all the instrumental flair present in the band from the beginning.

While those above mentioned styles are all present here again, the band citing Area and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso as original influences still holds in many respects, with a schizophrenic anything-goes variety of changing musical directions constantly in place, but always remaining melodic and avoiding the more shrill, jagged and loopy outbursts of many avant/R.I.O groups (we're not quite talking full-blown Henry Cow here!). Everything from Zappa, 80's King Crimson, Hatfield and the North and the Ozrics are worked in with a constant grooving finesse here, and you have one of the most punchy, fun and colourful discs of the year.

Opener `Hollow Shell' sets a template for much of the disc - diverse and frantic instrumental bursts wrapped around Anna's purring, menacing and whooping girly squeal. You get everything from electric piano trickles and spiralling synth soloing, trumpeting funky sax blasts, and brief twirling flute still holding traces of the proper RPI tradition that occasionally revealed itself on the debut. Constantly fluid murmuring bass grumbles and turns with power and aggression in an instant, slow-burn guitar embers smoulder with bluesy heaviness and grooving saunters, a gleaming Adrian Belew-era King Crimson-like ambience pervades, and there's no skimping on exotic, busy and constantly ballistic drumming - just listen to the 11:00 minute mark!

The two-part `Blood Pressure' suite fuses ethereal sighing harmonies and weeping guitar reaches with muscular grooving heavy riffs and vacuum-like rising/falling electronic distortion over a deranged spoken-word explanation of the medical symptoms of blood pressure - yes really! A soaring extended guitar solo is a highlight in a funky poppier stretch, topped off with a chiming dreamy solo spotlight for Anna, and her frequently spat dangerous catch-cry of `Your f*cking heart's exploding' throughout is sure to impress and annoy in equal measure! Also pay close attention to the gorgeous jazzy piano intro to `OVO', another lengthy workout of stop-start diversions and twisting time-changes that delivers classical sophistication, ethereal crystalline voices, drifting spacey passages, middle east mystery and symphonic power in a piece that sometimes reminds of Canterbury band National Health in little moments.

There's still wholly instrumental pieces - `Me Gusta' sounds like the Ozric Tentacles jamming with the Soft Machine's bursting noisy walls of sax and clarinet in the middle of a dusty desert whilst adding in a few polka, Latin and middle-eastern textures - phew, got that?! `Moslem Sabbath' crushes all in its path with punishing heavy-grooving riffing and monstrous pounding drums before culminating in mysterious drifting ambience and dark jazz blaring sax ruminations with lashings of dirty Hammond organ. Closer `Meet the Gooroo' has traces of Post Rock chiming guitars building in intensity for a victorious and confident finish.

The addition of vocals (and English ones at that) to much of what was a thrilling instrumental act is going to be a difficult thing to accept for some earlier listeners of Mad Fellaz, particularly when the group was doing so well already with the kind of music they were offering on their debut. However, if you pay proper attention, all the same instrumental skill and flair of the first album is always present here, just that it's sometimes in the background behind the vocals, or taking prominence in and out around the voice. Perhaps the group might have considered releasing a two-CD version of the album that included a purely instrumental mix of the main album, or even adopting a different name for this vocal-driven project?

But `Mad Fellaz II' is only disappointing when compared to the all-instrumental debut, and lovers of quirky vocal-focused R.I.O/eclectic rock with endless lashings of instrumental colour, technical skill, a sly sense of humour and unpredictable changes will be completely thrilled by what they find here, and there's no denying this talented group have released another winning progressive-music work. Play it loud, and you just may end up convinced you've discovered one of the best albums of 2016!

Four and a half stars - and bonus points for THE prog album cover art of the year!

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |

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