At the end of 2021 the musical multi-talent Eric Bouillette is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The Frenchman, known to us as the guitarist, keyboardist and violinist of the prog band Nine Skies, doesn’t let that bring him down and he continues the Imaginaerium project he was working on with Clive Nolan and Laura Piazzai. Pancreatic cancer is the most severe form of cancer and Bouillette unfortunately passes away on August 21, 2022. It is a bitter note that the album’s release was planned just a few weeks later. Everyone had hoped he could have witnessed it. Aside from a limited edition of only 300 copies a large-scale release is delayed for months. This delay is not primarily due to emotional reasons; a new label is being sought since the initially intended Anaesthetize has ceased.
Musically it is all as theatrical as one would expect from Nolan. The comparison with Caamora can be made to some extent, but the added strength in the music provides a nice distinction. This strength mainly comes from Bouillette’s guitar, but the explosive drumming by Scott Higham and the powerful vocals of Piazzai also contribute their part. Furthermore in this project we see bassist Bernard Hery (Nine Skies), harpist Isabella Cambini and a number of male and female singers who portray the main characters on this album.
Let me first place the story in historical perspective. We travel back to the 15th century specifically to Florence. The powerful banking family Dei Medici has a lot of influence especially in the art world. Their power has been felt for centuries. “The Rise Of Medici” tells the story of Contessina and Cosimo sung by Laura Piazzai and Andy Sears respectively. It is an emotionally charged story because what starts with a beautiful marriage is overshadowed by Cosimo’s adulterous behavior. Cosimo also stands in opposition to his political arch-rival Rinaldo (Clive Nolan) who ultimately deceives him and leads to Cosimo’s exile from his beloved Florence. However, that doesn’t last too long and after a year Cosimo is allowed to return to Florence where he is received as a hero.
This piece of personal drama is presented on a coherent album of twelve songs where variation and richness go hand in hand. The somewhat mysterious Festina Lente pulls you into the album. Elena Vladyuk sings the motto of the family make haste slowly in the role of descendant Lucrezia. She does this against a backdrop of church bells, chants of monks, and harp playing.
In the subsequent Duty Of Love, Laura Piazzai makes herself heard, singing that is. The first half of the song presents a still somewhat restrained Contessina until a delightful drum break sounds and the atmosphere shifts towards Nightwish. I also often think of Kayak during the Cindy Oudshoorn era. Fortunately her contribution to the album is significant because you enjoy listening to her very much so. Her voice sounds clear and powerful at the same time and it combines beautifully with the numerous orchestral VST sounds. VST (Virtual Studio Technology, i.e. software-based sound banks) is in my opinion the invention of the century.
The stately House Of Dreams is a captivating duet by the couple. What is remarkable (and this applies to the entire album) is that a good balance between rock and opera has been found. They never slide into questionable territory not even in The Tide Will Change, sung by Clive Nolan, which is a quintessential character song. Nolan already has the voice of a wicked little man like Rinaldo. He didn’t have to twist himself into knots.
It is always astonishing how some bands can vary their style and still remain true to themselves. Bouillette and Nolan have really put their brains to work on “The Rise Of Medici”. Serene songs like Never Close Your Eyes and Fall From Grace are alternated with the dark Treachery and the wonderfully sung Will I Never Return by Andy Sears. These songs also feature some Bouillette solos on violin and guitar while the focus of the album predominantly lies on the vocals. It is also delightful to be carried away by the euphoria of the last few songs.
“The Rise Of Medici” is an extraordinarily enjoyable album full of bombast, metal, melodiousness, theatrical delights, orchestral depth and fantastic singing. All of this is supported by an imaginative story. Because the album is overshadowed by the passing of Eric Bouillette, I cheer twice as much for it.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023