Frogg – The Golden Path Review
Frogg is a prog metal band based in Milan. While its modern counterparts view music as a standalone art form, Frogg’s music takes its roots from art and literature. Their debut concept album “The Golden Path”, released on 19 June 2020, depicts Gustav Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze.” Like the frieze, the album represents our desire to be happy in a world full of suffering, and the external and internal struggles that one has to overcome to achieve this goal. As the name suggests, the 3 acts that comprise the album take us through the “golden” path to happiness, starting with an introduction to our protagonist, an artist, and ending with the artist meeting the art itself. It is interesting to hear the prog metal technicality – tribal-sounding back-and-forths between the rhythm section, and the classic odd-time prog metal riffs backed by a heavy atmosphere – blend with the mythological backstory narrated angelically by Letizia Merlo. While you are checking the album out, we suggest you look at the frieze and follow the story both visually and aurally. It is certain that you find a piece of yourself in this artistic and musical path.
Letizia Merlo – Vocals
Luca Bisio – Guitar
Davide Silva – Guitar
Federico Medana – Bass
Mattia Santobuono – Drums
1. Prelude (1:10)
The opening of “The Golden Path” welcomes the listener with indistinguishable ambient sounds that create an immersing atmosphere. With the addition of the guitar with a fully cranked reverb and delay, the atmospheric feeling can only increase. This calm but haunting riff loops while something grows in the background. Background noises grow in size to fill the entire song with its noise while reverb guitar becomes insignificant. While the main rift starts to get quieter, a more confident guitar takes its place, making the tension reach the peak only to release itself in the following song.
2. Ascension (4:58)
The hair rising feel of the opening carries on to the next track, but Frogg surprises the listener with a hard and loud guitar riff elevated with Mattia Santobuono’s drumming. Unlike the first track, they don’t hold back this time, showcasing the metal side of the band while grabbing your attention for what will come next.
But the real technical side of Frogg actually comes after the intro, with the combination of djent guitars and Letizia Merlo’s vocals. It is a rather unique kind of layering enriched by Merlo’s unmistakable tone and the steady groove laid out by Santobuono. The song is, according to the band, about ‘an artist seeking for a new idea of art that could complete himself’. From the first verse, we clearly understand the narrator’s struggle:
I am too blind to see But alive to feel There’s a burden in me
This struggle has reached an irrevocable point where he is literally begging someone to help him in this quest. That’s when the song changes direction, both musically and lyrically. What follows is a more acoustic section, with softer vocals and other instruments. The artist has encountered another being, described with considerable imagery. Taking into account that this all happened in the first minute of the song, it proves the versatility of the band.
In the chorus, we get to hear what the band calls ’The Muse’, personifying – judging from the song’s context – the creativity or the inspiration of artists. Unlike the artist, he is more confident in what he says (with the use of imperatives), yet his short passage seems much more veiled in imageries and metaphors by comparison. It’s also in here where we first hear the name of the album, perhaps to imply that what comes next is the artist’s journey on this golden path to reach this new idea of art.
The band is very open about the fact that the concept of the album was influenced by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s ‘Beethoven Frieze’. If you read the lyrics with this in mind, the artist’s pursuit becomes not only for art but also for happiness. This is reflected in the chorus: ‘Spread the sail of joy’.
There is a distinct contrast between the hard rock and soft sections, but this contrast could’ve been reflected more upon the vocals. The theme of gold, much like in the painting, is underlined very early on, which makes it that much fun to try to spot it throughout the album. Going from Klimt’s path, there is a lot of room for symbolism and we hope that the rest of the album is up for the challenge.
3. Hostile Forces I: Mortal Frame (8:48)
“Hostile Forces I: Mortal Frame” which is about the main character struggling with “hostile forces” that stand in front of him, opens with an incredibly sick prog descend, followed by heavy and grooving riff with solid drumming. The song starts to increase its pace with the new riff in an odd time signature. A bass, so heavy that you hear the strings tremble, accompanies the riff. Theni it reaches the bridge and they harmonize it beautifully with steps to create the build-up for the verse.
Its fades to delicate and calm acoustic guitar. It lacks the power that the listener experienced earlier, resembling the weakness of the protagonist. He is indecisive about what to do. The slow and calm acoustic guitar gets cut by a powerful and distorted riff. It creates contrast from the first part in terms of emotions the main character is facing. This distorted guitar resembles the pain he faces in the face of mortality and fading away. With the powerful delivery of the vocal, the listener can absorb how intense his suffering is.
Right after that, Frogg makes a heavy transition without losing any pace. The use another riff with an odd time signature which becomes Frogg’s strong sides in this song. They implement it with such ease and such care. The vocal delivers the main concerns he has:
I’ve been counting days I won’t fade away I am struggling with life This fear is like a wall to climb
A sick breakdown enters just after the vocals end. Full with explosive drumming, this head-banging riff slows down and matches with the high and gentle voice of the vocals. In this part, the listener understands that the protagonist’s desire to reach immortality isn’t material. Actually he is “willing to lose [his] mortal frame.” He is not afraid of the death, the Azrael, end of his mortal body; He is afraid of achieving nothing and losing the “halo” he has. He realizes and points out that the only way to reach immortality is to reach “the golden path.” The golden path lies not in the material world but in a spiritual one and only following the spiritual needs such as art can only defeat death.
After this realization of both the listener and the protagonist, the song starts to change a little bit. Energetic acoustic guitar sets the background. The use of percussion elements enriches this background. A guitar goes up and down and creates a loop. Then it goes one level above with the addition of bass and drum and starts gaining momentum. A thing that rarely happens in the music happens in this song. Yes, a bass solo, and it is enjoyable and you don’t talk over it and you actually care about it. Bass spills up incredible licks and spices things up.
After that, the character from the previous song, the Muse enters and whispers to our main character’s ear. The creativity of the artist supports the protagonist in his way to the golden path. Without losing any of the passion, the guitar starts on an energetic solo, echoing the ambition of the protagonist. Then it connects to a sexy sax solo. Fast passages and licks really match with the previous guitar. Even though saxophone uses mainly the low register of the instrument, it still shines with delicate and catchy licks it spits out. The sax connects looping and exciting guitar part. It gets bigger and bigger only to resolve with incredibly sick prog descend similar to the start of the song.
4. Hostile Forces II: The Chant of Sins (14:18)
The second chapter of the trinity about the struggle with inner demons that stands between the narrator and the spiritual immortality that he wants to achieve with art begins with a groovy-even funky bass riff that harbors the heavy mid-range tone of Chris Squire (of YES), most memorizable with the infamous bass riff from the song “Roundabout”.
As they panned the guitar strokes all around the listeners’ ears, you understand how the band was giving importance to even such small details and start to give attention to the high-quality prıoduction of the songs in general. After the mellow yet expressive acoustic guitar-saxophone duet end of the first part of the second chapter, the heavy contrast between the whole style of guitar riffs foreshadows that the two songs will be very different than each other — indicating that the self-empowering attitude of the narrator as the HOMO’s inner struggle seems to cease as he realizes the beauty of art again:
I’m feeling in my feet The fuel to start fleeing Facing the wind The gold has started to weep, I breathe again. I see you down the lane Feeding my heart Never seen such beauty before
The bass riff of the intro turns into a guitar riff, showing the signature groovy guitar riffing of the band. The rhythmical creativity of the guitarists evokes itself as they used this simple 4/4 riff and harmonized the riff at the second time that we heard of it and changed it to a 7/4 with the addition of different notes to it at the third time. In between these main verses of the first part of the song, the song completely changes direction to a mellow chorus, while the drums switch to the ride from the classic hi-hat action and the guitars lay out the chord with high reverb and distortion. Song-writing legend Thom Yorke once said that if one wants to write a distinct melody, one should take the melody where it doesn’t want to be. The unexpected chord progression and melody of this section follow this attitude. The romantic vocal feel of this part of the song heavily contrasts with the aggressive voice of the verse – since Letizia Merlo runs back and forth between ambient and distorted vocal tones (showing her versatility).
After the verses and the choruses of the first section repeated several times, the chorus resolves to the Mixolydian guitar riff. This is the exact part where HOMO gets back on his feet again, accepts his struggles, and finds the motivation to carry on through the Golden Path. The upbeat and considerately happy section represents this mood change of the narrator. However, the mad 7/4 instrumental transition to a heavy 7/8 part with bluesy guitar solo warns as if it won’t be this easy for him to achieve his goal of pure Art. If we look at the general instrumentation and structural components of the album, they have many influences all over the prog scene; however, in this specific groove and accentuation of hi-hats sound no other than Tool, embarking Frogg on the ship of the great bands that were influenced by them.
Nearly halfway through the song, we are facing a mystical and meditative environment sound consistent with nature and bird noises — accompanied by a repetitive tom groove and bassline. The whole little section sounds as if they wanted to take us through a silent walk through the jungles of the Golden Path. With the addition of angelic yet horrifying (caused by the harmonic minor chord progression and melody) vocals, the listeners get the exact mythological feeling HOMO is facing — reminiscent of Genesis’s mythological concepts and soundscapes. Lyrically, this part is where the narrator gets falls back to despair as the metaphorical questioning of his own abilities to create art continues:
Nymphai / Running Illness / Madness Yelling at me / Yelling at me I don’t wanna live / Scared to be – Scared to bleed
As the tension rises again, the narrator falls to despair, leaving us with a Phrygian major (a.k.a. Hicaz scale) guitar riff, foreshadowed at the previous section which would be able to carry the tension for the song. It was highly possible to get reminded of Dream Theater’s “Home” while listening to the song since they are a big influence on the playing style of the guitarists and the two songs consist of very similar aspects structure-wise. However, since Home is one of the most popular prog songs that use this scale, we would be blind not to see the beautiful similarities.
It would be disrespectful to try to describe the instrumental section that comes after. A funky, dissonant, groovy madness of the band jamming and showing their ability to play their instruments. With beautiful tones and instrumentation, anyone would want to listen more of this part — or expect their own “Dance of Eternity”.
The ethereal finale of the longest track of the album does justice to previous parts of the song and the rest of the album, as it gradually builds up and resolves to the last part of the trinity and also the second chapter of the story: the battle with the monster Typhoeus.
5. Hostile Forces III: Typhoeus (6:46)
Typhoeus is a mythological creature mainly depicted in narratives as a hundred-headed giant with wings and serpent legs. In the frieze, it is represented with a creature similar to a gorilla. He is one of the sons of Earth. In a failed attempt to overthrow Zeus (or Jupiter), he was buried under Sicily and continued to wreak havoc by creating typhoons and volcanic eruptions from the Mount Etna. This part of Hostile Forces is about our protagonist’s encounter with him.
The song starts with the continuation of the previous song’s last riff. As the atmosphere settles into a mellow clean guitar chord progression, the vocals enter. The crunchy bass sound keeps the suspense going as the protagonist expresses doubts concerning what to do about the creature standing in front of him. He describes the Typhoeus with the lines “choking gaze, blinding stench, the cry of flesh”
Each verse in the song is a part of the dialogue between the protagonist and Typhoeus. Typhoeus’s lines are backed by harsher instrumentals, almost simulating the monster’s growl without an actual metal growl. The atmosphere changes reminded me of the comedy rock duo Tenacious D, especially their final showdown with the devil. In the protagonist’s second verse, the clean guitar is swapped with distortion guitar playing a muted rhythm. The rhythm sounds exactly like the riff backing Typhoeus’s verses, except it does not introduce any harmonic motion, which preserves the suspenseful atmosphere.
The meaning of the verses can not be understood without first reading about the mythological background. Typhoeus’s main arc, as I said in the beginning, is fighting Zeus and trying to gain control over the skies. In the first verse, the protagonist doubts whether to stand against or join Typhoeus. In the last verse, he asks for guidance from Muses, who are goddesses of science and art. The 9 Muses are daughters of Zeus, which reveals the symbolic meaning of Typhoeus: he is an opposer of art, inherently blocking our protagonist from his creative endeavor. The dilemma the protagonist faces is that of continuing to create art (facing Typhoeus off) or not (joining him). Typhoeus informs him that “the price [of joining him – which is losing connection with art] is no sight for those whom just need to exist.” Art is for those who seek a creative outlet, not for those who “just need to exist,” and our protagonist has to figure out if he is inherently an artist or not.
This is the halfway mark of the song. As our protagonist is trying to figure his destiny out, the song enters a tribal drum-bass back-and-forth, reminiscent of Tool. A Latin verse enters, a quote from Ovid’s Metamorphoses V. The quote is the description of Typhoeus’s conditions during his imprisonment under Sicily.
He struggles it’s true and often tries to rise, but his right hand is held by the promontory of Ausonian Pelorus, and his left hand by you, Pachynus. Lilybaeum presses on his legs, Etna weighs down his head, supine beneath it, Typhoeus throws ash from his mouth, and spits out flame.
The symbolic flame and ash he spits out – his words of enticement – has taken over our protagonist. He is trying to rise by enticing others to continue his pilgrimage. But what is that? A thunderous breakdown enters, and we immediately know, the protagonist decided to fight and continue the “golden path.”
6. Aurora (2:01)
After ending the head-banging medley of Hostile Forces, Frogg decides to give the listener some relaxing time with the sound of ambient noises of a rainy day. The clean chords create a contrast to the rest of the album. A beeping noise loops in the background. It is all calm and cozy. Then the rain starts to increase. Some little thunders can be heard. The ambient noises start to deviate from calmness. A storm is coming and this was just the silence before the storm.
7. Melting Souls (10:31)
In many ways, the closure of the album is very much a parallel of the opening. The short instrumentals before each one signal that something to pay attention is coming. And starting both songs with a guitar riff divided as 7/16 + 9/16 (an easy way to make 4/4 feel more syncopated) really draws on their similarities. Again, the interconnected rhythms that bind the guitars and the drums together shine from the first few seconds to prepare the listener, this time for the end of this journey.
Though I said that it was similar to the opening, there are also differences. Realizing the similarities of the intros pushed me to subconsciously compare the verses too, for which I found the ‘Melting Souls’ to be executed with the lesser aim. From a lyrical standpoint, the narrator “is ready to meet the fulfillment of his own idea that had become pure Art”. He doesn’t feel the insecurities and the fears that seemed to infest his soul at the beginning, talking more confidently than before:
Sorrows never hit me again I’ve never felt so alive before
The lyrics for the song follow Klimt’s own ideas very closely, with floating voices and golden draperies as direct images from the frieze. There are also references to the influence of the frieze itself: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (with “ode to joy” which was used in the fourth movement of the symphony).
The song gets musically more interesting after the first verse with a 7/8 buildup leading to another vocal section. The guitar solo that follows Is kind of a surprise but a welcome one indeed. The band seems to pay a lot of effort in order to keep the song as upbeat and alive as possible, like a musical depiction of what the narrator is feeling in the lyrics.
Of course, this is until we encounter the Muse again. As we explained at the beginning of the review, it symbolizes the inspiration of the artist, and his arrival is foreshadowed with a softer and calmer section: this time, a 6/8 section for Letizia Merlo to show a more gentle side of his voice. The subtle piano backing the vocals is a great touch from the band to create a more acoustic feel. The Muse’s words are still highlighted with the use of imperatives and connect to the frieze while still preserving the unique approach of the band. The “melting two souls” described are directly from the frieze (two lovers kissing), and looking at the band’s website makes it impossible not to see. This kiss is the fulfillment of the artist’s idea of pure Art, with Muse’s words signaling a universal unity between the art and the artist.
This time a longer buildup leads us to the final chorus of the album, which is actually also the first chorus. This not only creates a musical connection throughout the album but also a lyrical one that emphasizes the concept of the songs. The final words “Dive into the Styx / Your laurel will live forever” is, like the frieze, a reference to Greek mythology, where Styx is the name of a miraculous river that could make anyone invulnerable. Our explanation for why the band chose to end the concept album with this reference is to draw attention to the eternal side of art, that even though the flesh can disappear, pure Art (and through his art, the artist) will never cease to exist.