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2013 : VOLUME 22
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:

ITALIAN SPECIAL

Italian Special


Le Orme - Felona e Sorona
Le Orme - Felona e Sorona
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:2CD
Record Label:Universal Music Italia
Catalogue #:0602527628363
Year of Release:1973/2011
Time:CD 1 - 33:31
CD 2 - 33:29
Info:n/a
Samples:n/a

Tracklist:
CD 1 - Felona and Sorona: In Between (8:41), Felona (1:58), The Maker (5:44), Web Of Time (2:28), Sorona (3:26), The Plan (3:29), The Balance (4:09), Return To Naught (3:36)
CD 2 - Felona e Sorona: Sospesi nell'incredibile (8:41), Felona (1:58), La solitudine di chi protegge il mondo (1:58), L'equilbrio (3:46), Sorona (2:28), Attesa inerte (3:25), Ritratto di un mattino (3:29), All'infuori del tempo (4:08), Ritorno al nulla (3:35)

I have to say, this is a real treat for me. I dislike wasting my breath moaning about some two-bit group who will always be eluded by fame and fortune, and much prefer to discuss the classics, the gems of our beloved genre. Le Orme's 1973 album, Felona e Sorona, is certainly one of the gems; at the time of writing, it sits at #70 on ProgArchives' Top Prog Albums of All Time, and is regarded as the band's magnum opus, as well as a classic of Italian progressive rock.

The story of how this album fell into my hands may be of some interest to the reader. In the summer of 2011, I happened to pass through Rome, and could not help picking up a few Italian albums from a local department store. At the time I was completely uninitiated in the ways of Italian progressive rock, so I chose a few albums that I knew had good ratings. I picked up PFM's Per un Amico (#12 on the above list), Banco del Mutuo Soccorso's self-titled debut (#68) and Darwin! (#26) and, lastly, Le Orme's Uomo di Pezza (#92). Satisfied that I had bought albums from the so-called 'Big Three' of RPI (Rock Progressivo Italiano), I was blown away by what I heard, especially in the first two albums I mentioned. While I don't agree with ProgArchives' list exactly - Banco... is way more consistent than Darwin! - I will concede that Uomo di Pezza was the runt of my tiny litter. While the album had interesting themes, dextrous musicianship and an astounding range of keyboard sounds, the band simply didn't have that 'Wow!' factor that pushed PFM and Banco ahead. A decent album by any standards, but when compared to my other purchases, Le Orme seemed to lack the ambition of the other groups. For this reason, I kept buying PFM and Banco records and largely forgot about Le Orme.

That is, until quite recently. One of my fellow reviewers, having noticed my tendency to review reissues (how ironic this seems now), urged me to try one of the new albums in the DPRP pipeline. Upon scouring the list, I discovered an album by La Maschera di Cera that was purported to be a 'sequel' to Le Orme's Felona e Sorona. I decided it was worth a go, and asked for the album, simultaneously purchasing Felona e Sorona to enhance my background knowledge. To my surprise, Gert had got ahead of me, and it is his review of this 'sequel' album that you will read below. Nevertheless, when the Orme album arrived, I felt compelled to write a review anyway, and so we arrive at the present. However, to study this album, we need to travel back to 1972.

Like many similar bands at the time, Le Orme had realised that their classical take on progressive music would be perfectly suited to doing a concept album, and they had already done this to some extent on Uomo di Pezza. Nevertheless, the trio - consisting of Toni Pagliuca (keyboards), Aldo Tagliapietra (vocals, bass, guitar) and Michi Dei Rossi (drums & percussion) - felt they could go one step beyond, and create a seamless piece of music to suit their concept. Some ideas were put on the table, and were first performed live in December '72, on a tour with Peter Hammill as support act. The Van der Graaf Generator man was impressed by their music and approached the trio, asking about their music. They explained to him the concept of two contrasting planets, one to be called Felona, from the word 'felice' meaning happy. It was Hammill's idea to call the other Sorona from the word sorrow. Armed with a strong concept, and some scorching compositions, the band entered the studio to record perhaps the highlight of their career.

The album itself isn't long; at just over half an hour, it fits the trend of 'short' studio albums that Le Orme produced at the time. However, what it lacks in length, it makes up for in depth and beauty. The conceptual contrast between light and dark is captured perfectly in the music, with both ends of the spectrum visited and exploited multiple times in a relatively short space of time. At times bombastic, at other times reserved, this is by no means a one-trick pony. Personally, I find the best tracks are on the first side of the album. The eight-minute Sospesi nell'incredibile begins with a fiery keyboard-dominated symphonic intro that gives way to a few melancholic verses. However, the instrumental ending is where the real meat lies, with Rossi's drums at their most impressive as he flurries in all directions. A breathtaking introduction to the album.

Suddenly, things take a turn with the cheery and folky Felona. The listener is reminded greatly of Gioco di bimba on the previous album. La solitudine di chi protegge il mondo follows, creating an atmospheric break before the climactic L'equilibrio. The latter of these tracks has become my personal favourite on the album, as it manages to tie together a surprising number of excellent themes in under four minutes, all in a bombastic symphonic style that flows perfectly. The result is an intense wall of breakneck progressive rock, and is not a track to be missed.

With Sospesi... and L'equilibrio on the first side, it's no wonder that I'm not as impressed by Side Two. The tracks Sorona and Attese inerte help the mood slide from melancholy to aggressive, but oddly enough, there is no technical flair from the band. Ritratto di un mattino is something of an atmospheric break for the group, and ends with a heart-wrenching guitar solo in a very romantic style. All'infuori del tempo is a more straightforward, upbeat song, with several verses that may leave non-Italian listeners a little confused. The album closes with the intense, climactic Ritorno al nulla, with furious drumming and virtuoso keyboards. A fitting close to this excellent album.

A popular move in Italy at the time was to get your music re-recorded in English. To this end, both Banco and PFM were picked up by ELP's Manticore label, but it was Charisma's Tony Stratton-Smith who was introduced to our trio and gave them the option of putting their album out in lucrative English. Who would write the lyrics? Why, Le Orme's new friend and Charisma housemate Peter Hammill, of course. He was given freedom to tell the story differently; for example the Italian track Sorona is not the same as the English track of the same name. Further still, the VDGG saxophonist David Jackson was invited to play sax and flute on the album, but while these parts were recorded, they were never released as the record company felt that it simply didn't fit. Tagliapietra explains "I understand why the record company decided against using them. In their opinion Jackson really should have joined the project right from the start in order for his music to blend in naturally with our ideas." The English version, entitled Felona and Sorona, didn't achieve the success that Le Orme had hoped for, but gained them enough international exposure to allow for a two week UK tour.

It's a shame that Jackson's parts were never fitted to the album, because that could have been the detail that made the difference between the original version and it's English counterpart, which has been included as a separate disc in the Universal Music 'Deluxe Edition' of Felona e Sorona. As it is, I can't say that I find Tagliapietra's singing in English to be that convincing. I could say that of a lot of bands who choose to sing in English over their mother tongue, but Le Orme in particular don't seem suited to it at all. Nevertheless, Hammill's lyrics help the English-speaking listener get a grip on the two planets concept, which I happen to like very much. Too often, a concept can get blown out of proportion and become overwhelming, especially on double-disc albums like The Wall or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (too controversial?). That Le Orme could come up with a sufficiently interesting concept and restrain it to just half an hour shows maturity; prog shouldn't just be about excess.

This particular reissue has its pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Italian and English versions of the album give the listener the opportunity to hear the English lyrics, and yet enjoy the authentic feel of the original album. Weirdly, the English version is listed before the Italian version.
  • Well written notes in both Italian and English, including song lyrics. Most of the Italian reissues I've bought are quite sparse on the notes, heightening the mystery that surrounds them. The essay in these notes gave me a proper understanding of what this album is about, as well as details about the album's production.
  • Good artwork reproduction. I'm a stickler for these sorts of things and I'm glad to say that the beautiful album art created by Lanfranco remains highly intact. Any cropping is negligible. As a bonus, there are also some band photos and copies of original mixes and vinyl stickers, both English and Italian.

Cons:

  • Poor sound quality for the English album. This is especially heard in the intro of the first track In Between. For the rest of the album, the only noticeable difference is the volume, which is lower than that of the Italian version. I suspect that while 'E' had master tapes treatment, 'And' might have simply been recorded from an old vinyl copy. At least it isn't the other way around!
  • Two discs don't make any sense when the album is only half an hour long and could easily fit twice on the same disc. It seems like a waste of good plastic to me.
  • Bad sleeve design. While the glossy folding cardboard case looks fancy, it's a tricky job trying to retrieve the CDs and booklet without hurting the sleeve itself. This is a problem endemic to all Universal Deluxe Editions.

In my opinion, the pros outweigh the cons. While it's a shame that the English version doesn't have the same sound quality, I suspect there is a reason other than gross negligence. Felona e Sorona is a beautiful album, soaked in that '70s flavour we all love. While still not as technically impressive as PFM or Banco, this is one of the first Italian albums that I've managed to enjoy for its concept, as well as its content and is easily a worthwhile listen. A true classic of Rock Progressivo Italiano.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS


La Maschera di Cera - Le Porte del Domani
La Maschera di Cera - Le Porte del Domani
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:BTF AMS
Cat.No.:AMS 217
Year of Release:2013
Time:45:14
Info:La Maschera di Cera
Samples:Click Here

Track list: Ritorno Dal Nulla (8:40), La Guerra Dei Mille Anni (4:30), Ritratto Di Lui (2:50), L'enorme Abisso (5:46), Ritratto Di Lei (4:49), Viaggio Metafisico (3:44), Alba Nei Tempio (4:23), Luce sui Due Mondi (5:11), Alle Porte Del Domani (5:21)

La Maschera di Cera - The Gates of Tomorrow
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:BTF AMS
Catalogue #:AMS 218
Year of Release:2013
Time:45:25
Info:La Maschera di Cera
Samples:Click Here
La Maschera di Cera - The Gates of Tomorrow

Tracklist: Back From the Void (8:40), The 1000 Years' Warfare (4:33), Chant of Him (2:51), The Deepest Chasm (5:44), Chant of Her (4:48), Metaphysical Journey (3:49), Dawn in the Temple (4:23), A Word for Two Worlds (5:11), All The Gates of Tomorrow (5:26)

Words fail me; Fabio Zuffanti, one of Italy's most productive producers, composers and musicians has outdone himself with the last release of La Maschera di Cera. Not only has the album been made in two languages, English and Italian, but in doing so Fabio has superseded every expectation possible.

Some forty years ago Italy produced a great rock band by the name of Le Orme, who still exist, and in 1973 these guys produced a piece of work called Felona e Sorona. You could view Le Porte del Domani as the long awaited sequel to this magnificent album from the early ages of prog rock. Looking at Le Porte del Domani as a sort of remake of Felona e Sorona is equally possible.

From the first notes until the last ones fade the album is reminiscent of the '70s album which it only out does in length. Compositionally as well as musically the resemblance is stunning yet it is a long way from being plagiarism.

For the readers among us that are not aware or not into RPI it may be difficult to understand what I have just written. It might look as though La Maschera di Cera are copy cats. Not as such as we are dealing with a bunch of excellent musicians capable of performing such an incredible piece of work.

All the songs are keyboard dominated as is often the case in RPI as well as in Neo prog. The Italian language in which all the tracks are sung lends itself very well to the bombastic soundscape that Le Porte del Domani is enriched with. The band and label have gone to great heights to release it in both an Italian and English version. Although I absolutely do not speak Italian very well I much prefer the Italian version above the English one. For those who own Le Orme's Felona e Sorona getting Le Porte del Domani by La Maschera di Cera is an absolute must as what Le Orme's works were for the 1970s this new album by La Maschera di Cera does for the RPI scene today.

The album is simply packed with great keys, good guitar work, fine bass lines and Well written songs with great melodies. I could go on and on with all this raving about Le Porte del Domani.

The album is also very well produced with a very open and bold sound. I have had the opportunity to listen to both versions and can really say that the Italian version has a slightly better sound as some of the power seems to have been lost in transferring the whole album into English. Not only that but the voice of Alessandro Corvaglia does not seem as strong on the English version.

In conclusion, La Maschera di Cera have taken three years to come up with Le Porte del Domani leaving many of us with great expectations of what we could expect and if they would be able to deliver. Mau di Tollo, Agostino Macor, Andrea Monetti, the aforementioned Alessandro Corvaglia and of course the mastermind behind all of this Fabio Zuffanti have delivered and in great style; Le Porte del Domani/The Gates of Tomorrow together make for an album that is not to be missed both in English and Italian.

Adding to the reminiscent feel is the artwork which amply shows and hints towards Felona e Sorona making the picture complete.

Magnifiscente, Bellisimo guys.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF


Tristema - Dove Tutto è Possible
Tristema - Dove Tutto è Possible
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:43:17
Info:Tristema
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Dove Tutto E' Possibile (3:56), L'impercorribile (3:56), L'Assenza (3:24), Nel Silenzio (3:56), Maryland (3:16), La Penisola Che Non C'è (3:13), Vortice (3:22), L'Eclissi (3:10), Costanze (3:51) Gli Spazi Della Mente (3:31), Immagini (3:20), L'istante (3:11)

I was attracted to this album by two things: The very eye-catching cover by artist Felideus and the fact that Pain of Salvation mainman Daniel Gildenlöw features on one of the tracks.

I can't shed too much other information about this Italian band. They seem to have been around since 2005 and released one previous album. They've certainly not featured on DPRP before.

Having given this a good few spins, I must say that I've rather enjoyed it. However other than Gildenlöw completists, I can't see this holding too much interest to a Prog audience.

Most of the songs clock in closest to the three minute mark and nothing passes 236 seconds. Sitting firmly in the alternative rock mould, the music is catchy and melodic, keeps up a pretty rocking pace and gets straight to the point before moving on. There are some inventive details to the arrangements. The vocals of Candido Di Sevo (sung all in Italian) are very strong, as is the use of harmonies with guitarist Alessandro Galdieri.

The song with Gildenlöw (L'assenza - translated as 'Roses and Thorns') is actually the best. It would make a great pop rock single. I also really like Vortice and the opening title track.

As I said this ain't a prog album but if you fancy a bit of Italian alternative rock then there's some great music to be enjoyed.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDY READ


Alberto Rigoni - Three Wise Monkeys
Alberto Rigoni - Three Wise Monkeys
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Any And All Records
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:46:32
Info:Alberto Rigoni
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Toshogu Shrine (1:10), Mizaru (6:52), Three Wise Monkeys (5:16), Kikazaru (3:58), Blackened Tornado (7:15), Iwazaru (4:23), Free Falling (4:45), Between Space and Time (4:21), Coming Home (3:47), Believe (4:40)

Three Wise Monkeys is the third solo album by multi-talented Italian bass virtuoso and composer Alberto Rigoni. In this outing Alberto has surrounded himself with famous colleagues; we can hear Göran Edman, Jonas Erixon, Kevin Moore, Frederico Saolazzo, Mistheria, Alessandro Bertoni, Tommi Ermoli, Simone Mularoni, Mark Cross, Paolo Valli, Paco Barilla and Sebatian Persini in guest roles on various songs on the album.

Now this is quite a list, will there be surprises or will this be just a famous crew for a mediocre album? I can tell you that the latter it certainly isn't.

Partly instrumental and partly vocal, the album begins with the inevitable instrumental track. Toshogu Shrine tells us something about where Alberto got his inspiration, based as it is on traditional Japanese folk tunes. Toshogu Shrine is an important place in Nikko and on the top of the shrine one finds the Three Wise Monkeys, Mizaru-Kikazaru-Iwazaru. The story of the three wise monkeys is the traditional See-Hear-Speak no evil, always a good source of inspiration.

The opening track, Toshugo Shrine, with glockenspiel in the traditional Japanese court fashion, is the overture for what is to come in the following track where Mizaru takes the stand, the one who sees no evil. A fast paced, heavy bass driven instrumental track, Alberto leads the way in a not too complex piece which is all the more enjoyable for his fine bass playing. One for bass enthusiasts.

The first track with vocals is Three Wise Monkeys, A progressive rock opus with a nifty little melody, instantly sticking and staying in your head. Göran Edman is on vocal duty in this song and does a good job too. A firm and straight forward rock song that is really not too progressive.

Along next comes Kikazaru, he who hears no evil. The monkey covers his ears but please, you as listener had better not do so. Kikazaru is an Alberto Rigoni special with bass guitar in rhythm and solo roles in one song. It reminds me of Jaco Pastorius' playing and the way that he showed that the bass could be a solo or lead instrument as well. Great tune.

The fifth track on the album is Blackened Tornado, also the longest track at 7:15 minutes. I cannot say that I was at all impressed by this one which sounds a bit like an old Rainbow song from the '70s and a bit out of date. This may of course have been the intention, creating a '70s atmosphere, and in that the song gloriously succeeds.

The last of the Three wise ones is up next, Iwazaru, speaking no evil. Listening to the devilish tones in the music and the manner of playing I could swear Alberto is doing his best to try something different. Bass guitar obviously leads the song but some cruel sounding keyboards accompany the bass. Nearing the end the atmosphere gets more cheerful.

Freefalling is another vocal track; I cannot say I am at all impressed by all of these songs. I don't know but they all just sound too mainstream. I cannot find the right words for it.

Track 8 is once again instrumental; a softer spoken, atmospheric one. An instrumental ballad you could call this, not bass driven but piano takes the lead, along with keyboard sounds. Sure there is bass but in this case supportive mostly.

The intro to Coming Home made me smile; this sounded surprising and fresh and made me wonder what the song would turn into. The surprises are in short supply, apart from the nice bass lines and the easy going melody lines that stuck even more than Three Wise Monkeys. The song just wanders on without any additional surprises, which is too bad.

Belief as last track on the album brought the same result as the other sung songs did - no surprises. Not that the songs are complete crap, absolutely not, just too ordinary sounding.

The instrumental tracks save the album in my humble opinion. These tracks show how good a bass player and composer Alberto Rigoni is, I would like to hear more of these.

See no, Hear no, Speak no evil - The Three Wise Monkeys have spoken. The fourth will speak his verdict in concluding that this is a good album that bass players can certainly find inspiration from in the instrumental tracks. The album will absolutely appeal to a wider audience.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF


Australasia - Sin4tr4 EP
Australasia - Sin4tr4 EP
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Golden Morning Sounds
Catalogue #:072012
Year of Release:2012
Time:54:15
Info:Australasia
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Antenna (2:56), Spine (4:23), Apnea (2:38), Scenario (2:26), Satellite (2:53), Retina (3:06), Fragile (3:55)

There's a lot of good Italian progressive music out there. In the past obviously and also very recently there have been many excellent releases. So it is interesting to hear about another new 'post metal' Italian band that released their first EP last year. A duo really, Rico being the drummer and Gian playing guitars, I have no idea if these are nicknames. But that is not all that you hear as these guys pour over a mixed sauce of faint synthesised flavouring as well.

The setting of the EP, named Sin4tra4 is instrumental although there is one song, Apnea, that has a trace of vocals by a female singer. The seven ultra short tracks are clearly experimental, meaning that the EP does what it is meant to do: try what you like as a band and give the world a chance to listen to what you have to offer. The style is hard to pinpoint exactly, sometimes it tries to be brutal, sometimes soft and gentle. This is okay if it leads to a balanced new direction but in my opinion this is not the case. The second track is clear instrumental metal, offering some heavy riffs against melodic guitar but is way too short to leave an imprint. I think most of the other tracks are technically okay but definitely not as unusual or experimental as they claim they are and I can't get excited about one of the tracks. It could possibly make a great documentary soundtrack but I'm afraid it will probably never make it to an invitation for opening a festival or something like that.

This EP showcases that this band has something to offer musically yet Australasia still has to grow a lot after choosing a more specific and unique direction. This EP of seven relatively short tracks doesn't bring a good enough insight so I can't say that I expect an instantly great future for Australasia, but focussing on a clear musical direction first, with vocals, could hopefully prove me wrong.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ANDRÉ DE BOER


Ballo delle Castagne Surpassing All Other Kings
Ballo delle Castagne  Surpassing All Other Kings
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Blood Rock Records
Catalogue #:BRRCD012
Year of Release:2012
Time:39:59
Info:Ballo Delle Castagne
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Tema Di Gilgamesh (4:53), Il Risveglio (4:16), Il Viaggio (4:56), Rorate Coeli (3:40), Königin Der Nacht (3:55), Il Segreto (3:55), Aquarius Age (2:57), Fire In The Sky (5:15), Eoni (1:58), Apocriphon Of Gilgamesh (4:12)

Ballo delle Castagne, or "Chestnuts Ball", is named after the Bacchanalian shenanigans of Pope Alexander VI, who, during his reign in the middle of the 15th century together with his infamous offspring Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia used to have sumptuous feasts (read orgies) adorned with naked prostitutes. After dancing with the guests the girls used to grovel about on all fours, picking up chestnuts by candlelight. Prizes were awarded for the girl who could pick up the most, and that's not even the half of it. I'll leave you to head on over to Wiki to check out the rest! Sounds like a fun job, this Pope business, I might apply.

Obviously not afraid of a grand concept then, and this, their third album in three years continues the grand guignol. The last part of a trilogy that expands on life, the universe and everything, centres on the myth of Gilgamesh and his 1000 year snooze, awaking to find that man has lost his way. According to the press release, Gilgamesh's "...mission is now to reach a new state of consciousness, embracing a new golden age called 'Aquarian Age'". And who am I to argue?

The line-up features two guitarists, a Moog player, a keyboard man, plus the bass and drums of the rhythm section. They are joined by several guests, including some feisty female voices to balance out the somewhat nondescript singing of co-founder Vinz Aquarian, who is also the Moog operator.

With lyrics mostly in Italian a lot of it is lost on me, and although translations to English are included in the booklet I find it hard to read something in one language while listening to it in another. And I am sure it loses something in translation as nuances are often lost. However, luckily the music is interesting enough to hold one's attention. A mish-mash of classic prog touches, goth-rock and dark psychedelia, the resulting pill is not too bitter to swallow and is actually rather enjoyable. Also, seeing that the album clocks in at an old fashioned 40 minutes long it will not outstay its welcome.

Although at times a bit "Hammer movie Goth" this is still an enjoyable record, and manages to meld various styles together with aplomb. Königin Der Nacht ('Queen of the Night') features eerie gothic piano overlaid with synth, above which a lone dramatic male voice intones rather than sings the song, in German. You could almost imagine Nico doing this in one of her less morose moments, or even Dagmar Krause. You may wonder how that fits in with the overall theme, but rest assured it does.

The intro to Aquarius Age would not sound out of place on a This Mortal Coil or early Cure album, and congrats to the band for bringing these unusual influences to the prog table, makes a change from Genesis! In the fashion of those two bands the intro becomes the entire song, and at less than three minutes I wish it had developed further. The following track, Fire In The Sky is the band's take on space rock, and sounds like early Hawkwind on a budget of 37p. Vinz does a proto-Robert Calvert speech over the top, followed by a rather cool wah-heavy grungy guitar break.

The last song is an anti-war militaristic marching tune, over which the George Bush Jnr. Iraq war justification speech reminds us of how truly awful that guy was. This could sound cheesy, well in fact it does a bit. This sort of thing is a tad passé now, guys. Together with Fire In The Sky (even though that one does stand on its own merits), these two tracks give the album a somewhat disjointed feel, as if maybe they had run out steam in the ideas department? Given that the album is under 40 minutes long anyway that could well be the case.

However, there are still enough decent ideas here to keep one interested in what the band might do next. Not essential but worth a listen.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


Marchesi Scamorza - La Sposa del Tempo
Marchesi Scamorza - La Sposa del Tempo
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Flow Double H
Catalogue #:FDH02
Year of Release:2012
Time:49:16
Info:Marchesi Scamorza
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Intro (1:05), Sentieri di Carta (6:44), Lo Schiavo di Babilonia (7:27), L'uomo Dall'ombra Lunga (4:54), Un Passo Ogni Parola (6:24), Quelle Volte (4:13), Il Castello delle Stagioni (7:20), Nelle Notti Più Lontane (4:09), Automno (7:01)

Now this is tricky; usually I'd admonish a band for being so shamelessly derivative, but in the case of Marchesi Scamorza, an RPI cover band who have only recently started writing original material, it seems only fair that their work stands on the shoulders of giants. The band, originally from Ferrara, Italy, consists of Enrico Bernadini (vocals, acoustic guitar), Lorenzo Romani (electric and acoustic guitars), Paolo Brini (bass), Alessandro Padovani (drums), Enrico Cazzola (keyboards).

The album, whose title translates as The Bride of Time, is a clear throwback to the '70s, with intricate, symphonic arrangements, although augmented with modern sounding instruments. Compare this to Astra, say, who try and make their albums as retro as possible, even muddying the production and utilising '70s sounding keyboards, such as the organ and the Mellotron. You won't find that here; while the retro-theme is there, I can still tell this is an album from the 21st Century.

However, one might have thought that in this century, we'd have better sound production. As it is, the music seems to drown itself out, with instruments getting in the way of each other, rather than complementing each other. A firm example of this: the bass player can barely be heard throughout the entire album. I found this particularly disappointing, as the bass is usually the most interesting instrument to follow. Another example of poor production: at the end of Un passo ogni parola there is an unexplained forty second break between tracks. Maybe they're simulating turning a vinyl record over? The problems in the production are compounded by the band's style; the music of Marchesi Scamorza is generally rather forté. The band do love their loud sections; an exercise in subtlety, this ain't!

Nevertheless, I have to give the band merit for their songwriting ability. Even if the music doesn't sound too great through the headphones, there's something very positive flowing through this band. Whilst complex and intricate, all the compositions flow naturally, and have a good sense of melody, something a lot of bands lack. You only have to listen to the powerful opener Sentieri di carta to see what the band is capable of. The band's chosen tongue helps enormously as everything sounds better in Italian; what a beautiful language!

While the band isn't likely to win any prog polls soon - they seem to be largely based on nepotism anyway - there is certainly potential in Marchesi Scamorza. All they need to do is find a better studio and really elevate their ideas higher, and they could be on to a winner. As it is, the band has done pretty well for itself. I am grateful that the album is of a sensible length (<50 minutes) and that the band have kept to shorter tracks for now, rather than trying to outdo themselves. A positive release indeed!

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS


Psycho Praxis - Echoes From the Deep
Psycho Praxis - Echoes From the Deep
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Black Widow Records
Catalogue #:BWRCD 147-2
Year of Release:2012
Time:46:32
Info:Psycho Praxis
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Privileged Station (8:06), P.S.M (8:16), Hoodlums (7:44), Black Crow (9:09), Awareness (5:56), Noon (7:19)

Psycho Praxis is a young band from Brescia, Italy, and this is their first album. They possess a vintage sound, coming across like a mix of Atomic Rooster and just about every early '70s rock or progressive band where a Hammond organ was dominant amongst the keyboards. The band is fronted by a singer who employs an affected tone and occasionally chips in with flute (you know who that's going to remind me of, I'm sure). We also have electric and acoustic guitars from Anthony Phillips' cellar, and by now this may sound like a recipe for a dusty nostalgia trip free of any hint of irony, and it mostly is. The statement on Black Widow's website that they have "no samples no tricks, only genuine new way of vintage prog!" should be warning enough, methinks.

Privileged Station rollicks along and is at least not at all boring. One just wonders why bands like this seem so happy to be entrenched in the past when they obviously have the talent to forge their own sound. Oh well, on to P.S.M. which slows things down but maintains the pretence that this album was recorded in 1972.

All the lyrics on this album are written and sung in English, but the band are Italian, which might excuse lines like "The master comes again. He grips his long staff, it's a hand of glass". Oh dear, sorry but that can only be deliberate, and no, it's not even funny...well, alright it is, a bit.

This band appears to be another bunch of musical museum curators who are trying desperately to come across as a long lost prog act from forty years ago. Even if they were such a curio, I'd still find this risible in the extreme. Again from P.S.M., "I've been seeing the shadow of your tail in a corner of this prison and my corpse that was dangling from the pole. It's the sign that I am dead too. It's the sign that our afterlife is unhappy". Serves you right, say I!

They definitely sound better when they up the dramatics, as on Hoodlums (see YouTube clip above) which has a chorus recalling early Uriah Heep. Back in the day as an almost-teenager even then I found myself cringing at some of David Byron's lyrics, but at least he had a distinctive voice and a powerful set of lungs. Here, the reedy singing merely serves to highlight the dreadful cod-poetic drivel that passes for lyrics. If I may make a helpful suggestion; write your songs in your mother tongue, and if you must sing them in English get a translator in who can spot garbled syntax when they see it.

There's an instrumental on here, under the completely guileless title of Awareness, which I find rather amusing. At least there are no lyrics to spoil an even more dated sounding effort that is, I suppose, "retro-proto-prog" if there can be such a thing. It's no longer 1972, it's 1969!

Sod this I've had enough. Buy this if you are the singer's mum.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH

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