DGM - The PassageItaly’s litany of exports are unmistakably intertwined with the country’s culture; one look at a Fiat or an Armani suit and my intuition immediately tips me off that it’s a product of pizza-pasta land, even if I can’t quite place what makes the item in question distinctly Italian. The same applies to DGM. Though well into their third decade, these power-progsters are still honing their sound with unprecedented diligence, pairing Symphony X levels of aggression with a distinctly Italian melodicism reminiscent of countrymen like Vision Divine and Secret Sphere. The Passage doesn’t change this formula much, but thanks to some minor tweaks, it may just be the band’s most solid release yet. Plus, it comes pre-loaded with their homeland’s hottest new export: RIFFS.

The Passage may not carry the year’s most devastatingly crushing or head-spinningly complex guitar work, but its riffs come by the aircraft carrier-load, and every single one of them hits home. Indeed, DGM owes much of its identity to sole guitarist Simone Mularoni; his hammer-on and pull-off heavy fretwork thrashes and grooves in equal measure, making blistering runs that feel as deeply rooted in blues as they are in metal. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as the guitar work would be naught but empty showmanship if the songwriting wasn’t up to snuff. In this area, too, DGM is at the height of their craft. Their prior album Momentum was a fantastic step forward for the band in terms of energy and experimentation, and while The Passage can’t quite match its adventurous nature, it’s a superior record thanks to a more consistent atmosphere that’s a touch darker while maintaining the band’s trademark levity.

The weakest element of the last few DGM albums has been the mastering, and unfortunately, The Passage continues the trend. Ironically, Mularoni is responsible for both my favorite and least favorite parts of the record, as he not only handles the guitars but also every aspect of the production. The whole thing has been crushed to fucking death, and bassist Andrea Arcangeli proves himself yet again to be as undetectable as bigfoot thanks to a mix where the guitars overpower. Loud mastering aside, I can’t help but crank my stereo’s volume every time I spin The Passage; singer Mark Basile has never sung with more conviction, Fabio Constantino’s blistering drumming proves more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the frantic riffing, and the guest performances from Tom Englund (Evergrey) and Michael Romeo (Symphony X) add more layers of talent to an already impressive field.

DGM 2016DGM’s melodies admittedly act as a cheese barrier to deter more sophisticated palettes, so despite the excellent talent on display, you might find yourself turned away if you’re an enemy of all things power metal. If you can appreciate the goofiness on offer, however, a warm welcome awaits you — namely, a dump truck of fantastic riffs being unloaded directly onto your goddamn face. It’s not exactly sophisticated, but I was hard-pressed to find a record in 2016 that had as much fun with itself as The Passage. Now quit doing that DGM, before y’all go blind!

Tracks to Check Out: “The Secret,” “Fallen,” and “Portrait”