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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Guido's Hand

Ictus

Review by Julie Knispel

Guido’s Hand hails from Atlanta Georgia, though they were educated at Valdosta State University. With extensive musical schooling, one can be certain that the musicians (brothers Joe and Gabe Monicello and Kevin Williams) have the instrumental technique to play complex progressive rock and fusion. They fuse this skill with the energy of modern rock, and a dash of folk influence to top it all off. The final result of this musical melting pot is an energetic sound that isn’t afraid to rock out and flex some muscle while simultaneously peeling the paint off the walls in 13/8.

The band derived their name from Benedictine monk and music theorist Guido d'Arezzo, from the Italian city-state of Arezzo. He developed methods for teaching singers to learn chants in a short time, and quickly became famous. Among his contributions to modern music theory were staff notation and solfeggio (the "do-re-mi" scale, whose syllables are taken from the initial syllables of each of the first six musical phrases of the first stanza of the hymn, Ut queant laxis). He is also credited with the invention of the Guidonian hand, a widely used mnemonic system where note names are mapped to parts of the human hand. And now, several hundred years later, his name has been immortalized by this band.

Ictus is the band’s second release, following on from Gamecock Fever. Guido’s Hand have released a solid album in Ictus, unafraid to blow the cobwebs off the past while also reverently looking back on that same past. Listeners who have historically had issues with the singing in Gentle Giant (especially lead vocals) may well find similar issues here, yet I don’t feel that the vocals are particularly weak...just sung in a somewhat less traditional tone. If one can move past that (admittedly slight) impediment, they will find Ictus to be a rewarding listen indeed.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Round
Things explode right out of the gate with “Round,” slashing guitar chords and drum rolls leading into an instrumental bit reminiscent of Rush, with prominent bass and snakey, fuzzed guitar leads winding knots around each other. Lead vocals are sung in a clear tenor, and at times (especially in the bridges and choruses), phase and chorus effects are used to create a very trippy atmosphere. The fact that all three members of Guido’s Hand contribute vocals allows for slightly denser and more interesting arrangements, adding a distinctly 1970’s feel to the track. “Round” is an intense little slab of powerful psych rock with intricacy right out of mid-1970’s Rush - the influences are there, but not so blatant as to be a photocopy or mimic.
Il Tersco Di Luce
The intensity does not let up on the three part, 31-minute epic “Il Tersco Di Luce.” The opening movement, “Allegro,” shifts through a number of moods and styles, interspersing heavier instrumental sections with quieter vocal stretches featuring extensive harmony vocals, with the Monticellos and Williams harmonizing tightly. Some of the instrumental moments feature quick moments of syncopation and counterpoint, which help to keep the listener on their proverbial toes. “Andante,” the second movement in the epic, starts out with gentle electric guitar which, taken in the context of the band’s Rush influences, reminds one strongly of the “Discovery” section of 2112. The entire composition closes with “Rondo,” a nearly 6-minute stretch of energetic rock with chopped, faux-funk chords and harmony vocals flying out in all directions. Here the layered vocals take on a sound not unlike Gentle Giant; the lead here reminds me strongly of the Shulmans.
Nothing At All
“Nothing At All” eases the intensity down a notch, with a relaxed beat and chiming, chorused guitars eliciting a swaying, desert-like feel. Joe and Gabe Monticello go off on an interesting musical tangent in an extended instrumental section, with Gabe’s walking bass line providing the center for Joe’s syncopated, off the beat guitar lines, drenched in fuzz and dropping retro cool. Kevin Williams alternates between traditional drumming and refreshing percussion flourishes, adding tonal variety and colour to the rhythm section. Lest one thing the track would be entirely a relaxing listen, that is a shift into heavy rock mode around the 4:30 mark, rousting the listener from their reverie in a blast of machine gun drumming and distorted guitar.
Garmonbozia
Ictus continues with the 17 plus minute “Garmonbozia,” the second of two epics. Ambient effects create a bed for strained, nearly black metal vocals, which contrast nicely with the quiet musical backing the band has created. Predominantly instrumental, the track offers up plenty of opportunity for intense interplay and fireworks without turning into a blatant wankfest. While not broken into distinct movements like “Il Tercoso Di Luce,” there are obvious break points in the track, which serve well to relieve tension and relax intensity before things build to another musical crescendo. With loads of variety and musical change, “Garmonbozia” is a joy to listen to.
Surf Vampyre
“Surf Vampyre” closes out the album, and...if there’s a single song on this release that very nearly defies review, it is this one. It’s short, it’s rocky, and perhaps its intended purpose was to poke holes in any assumed pomposity the band may have felt they were displaying. If that’s the case, then it likely succeeds in that intended purpose. For this reviewer, it’s a throwaway, and nearly deflates the intensity of the rest of the album. Humour does belong in music, I’ve no doubts about that...but the track feels very much out of place when compared to the songs that precede it on the disc.
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