ISSUE 2017-026

Italian Prog Special, Part 1
Reviews in this issue:

Ad Maiora - Repetita Iuvant
Ad Maiora - Repetita Iuvant
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 56:53
Links:
Track List:
Molokheya (5:11), Life (7:03), Fermati (4:49), Torba (7:51), Invisible (6:41), Repetita Iuvant (5:32), Etereo (5:45), Never Mind (5:48), Whaling Stories (7:18)
Ad Maiora is an Italian band, consisting of Enzo Giardina (drums), Flavio Carnovali (electric guitar), Moreno Piva (electric bass/backing vocals), Paolo Callioni (vocals/tambourine) and Sergio Caleca (keyboards/electric guitar). They formed the group in 2009 and released their self-titled debut record Ad Maiora in 2014. Their second album Repetita Iuvant was released in 2016, and presents eight progressive rock tracks that are a mixture of neo-prog and symphonic prog (maybe due to their Italian heritage?).

Molokheya reminds me of some neo-progressive rock bands. Actually all the tracks sung in English have this feeling. The production is a bit weak. It lacks some power. It lacks some depth. This sounds probably different when played live. The overall focus of the music is either on the guitar or the keys. It is all very melodic. There are occasional weird and heavy parts, like in Fermati, but even this is overall laid back and brings out some Italian influences. This can be heard on all the 'Italian' songs.

One of the musical highlights is the instrumental title track, and a real surprise comes at the end. As a bonus track, Ad Maiora has covered Procol Harum's Whaling Stories, and they do so very well! Unfortunately in some passages the instruments do not really seem to fit together, as if they play out of their rhythms. This is probably also due to the production.

Overall a nice, little record, which would have shown the band's full talent, if the production was a bit better. Still good!
Conclusions:
Philipp Röttgers: 7 out of 10

Consorzio Acqua Potabile with Alvaro "Jumbo" Fella - Coraggio e Mistero
Consorzio Acqua Potabile with Alvaro
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 72:59
Links:
Track List:
Coraggio e Mistero (12:00), Io ti Canto (6:13), Tra le Scale e il Cielo (9:26), La Strada (6:32), la Notte e il Mulino di Al (21:10), Ciao Alvaro (Dove Vai?) (4:33), In Cervo e la Fonte (7:01), Bonus Track: Sette e Trenta (di Mattina) (5:44)
I have always liked this band from Boffalora Ticino close to Milan, whose origins date back to the early seventies and whose music was strongly influenced by the Italian progressive rock masters of that period PFM and especially Banco. Interestingly enough, whilst being around during the same musical period, this band never released an album in the seventies (a record with live songs from 1977 called Sala Borsa Live 77 saw the light of day only after the official dissolution of the band).

After reuniting in the early 90s, the band also recorded three albums in a time span of ten years: Nei Gorghi del Tempo in 1993, Robin delle Stelle in 1998 and the outstanding Il Bianco Regno di Dooah in 2003, which is still one of my favourite albums of progressive rock from Italy. After that, the band contributed songs to various compilations such as Odyssey: The Greatest Tale in 2005, and Inferno Part 2: Dantes Divine Comedy in 2008. However, no full album with new material was released after 2003. Consequently, I was quite delighted to find out that CAP had returned to the musical scene with Coraggio e Mistero, and my expectations were high.

For this release, CAP have teamed up with vocalist Alvaro Fella, frontman of the 70s Italian prog band Jumbo, his influence is felt distinctly throughout. In my opinion, the musical style on this album is less symphonic, rougher, with less focus on melodies, and an ever stronger emphasis on (theatrical) vocals compared to the previous CAP releases. Besides Alvaro Fella (vocals, 12 string guitar), the line-up is extensive and consists of Maurizio Mercandino (vocals, acoustic guitar), Maurizio Mussolin (drums), Luigi Secco (bass), Chicco Mercandino (guitar), Massimo Corlezza (guitar), Enrico Venegoni (keyboards) and Maurizio Venegoni (keyboards). The latter one being the only remaining member of the original seventies line-up.

Structurally, some of the songs come across as mini rock operas, sub-divided into various movements, with different characters being involved, and the lyrics taking the form of dialogues. In many songs, Alvaro Fella and Maurizio Mercandino share the role of vocalists, each of them displaying their particular singing skills. Maurizio singing somewhat mellow, gentle and melodic, with that typical Italian drama and timbre, Alvaro sings rather rough, passionate, and theatrical. I personally have difficulties getting by the latter's singing style.

As the album is quite text-oriented, the lyrics are abundant. For people with little to no knowledge of the Italian language (such as myself), the absence of English vocals makes it difficult to find out what the stories are about. However, I consider Italian as a wonderful language for singing, and consequently, I feel that the music and the lyrics are perfectly matching each other on this album.

Musically, whilst being less symphonic and melodic than one would have expected from CAP, the album remains varied. Without becoming too technical, the music is very well performed, and complex, with frequent changes of mood and atmosphere. I hear some blues, some hard rock (after all, it is a Black Widow release), and some singer-songwriting influences, especially on Ciao Alvaro (Dove Vai?).

The musical resemblances with Banco are still in evidence, but Alvaro Fellas presence and influence have moved the bands music a bit in the direction of bands such as Osanna, Jumbo, Devil Doll and La Fabbrica dellAssoluto. Despite using two keyboardists, the roles of guitars and keyboards are quite balanced. Overall, there seems to be slightly less priority on keyboards. My preference is for the songs Io ti Canto (great synthesiser playing in the middle section) and Tra le Scale e il Cielo (Jethro Tull-style flute playing in there), which come close the musical style that CAP had adhered to on its previous albums.

As I said, expectations were high and for me, and they have not been met to the full extent. I fully respect a bands approach to try something new and to come up with a slightly different musical style, but as this was the first full album with new songs in 13 years, in my opinion the band could have stuck to its roots. Dont get me wrong, this is by no means a bad album. For me, it is just not a pure CAP album, akin to its predecessors. Still, it is definitely worth a try.
Conclusions:
Thomas Otten: 7 out of 10

Karmamoi - Silence Between Sounds
Karmamoi - Silence Between Sounds
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 51:15
Links:
Track List:
Silence Between Sounds & Nashira (10:49), Atma (7:11), Sirio (6:06), Martes (6:49), Plato's Cave (8:42), Lost Days (4:41), Canis Majoris (6:57)
"And now for something completely different."

That old phrase from Monty Python often comes to mind when switching from one progressive album to another. It is the diversity in music that has an appeal of its own, and which makes it very worthwhile to listen to the different varieties and species that inhabit the realms of prog. Here again is a band that sets itself apart. The band has already released two albums, with their previous one, Odd Trip, released in 2013 and reviewed here.

The core of the band consists of Daniele Giovannoni on drums and keyboards, Alessandro Cefalì on bass and Alex Massari on guitar. For this album they decided to feature four different female singers, who all get to sing on songs suiting their vocals. Sara Rinaldi gets to sing on four tracks, whereas Hellena and Serena Ciacci only get to sing on one track each. Irene Morelli, a soprano singer adds her vocals to two numbers.

Apart from the vocals, the band decided to invite other musicians as well. There is Luca Uggias and Emilio Merone on piano. Emilio plays the keyboard solo in Plato's Cave too. Lara Bagnati plays flute on the two last tracks, whilst Mario Rodriguez Reina plays cello on the opening track and on Plato's Cave. Finally there is Fabio Tempesta playing guitar on two tracks.

It must be said that this is not your ordinary progressive rock album. What the album has most of all, is richness in atmosphere. The variety in female voices, even with Sara Rinaldi being the very characteristic dark voice taking centre-stage in four of the tracks, is one of the elements that builds that richness. Yet it is more than that. Karmamoi doesn't rely on and doesn't limit itself to what one might call standard prog tracks. For sure, there are elements in the band's sound that just screams 'PROG' in your ears, (such as the development of Plato's Cave), yet the band seems to add equal parts of contemporary alternative rock, as well as some jazzy, loungy aspects to their sound.

The musicians all excell at their instruments. It really is a joy to be listening to this album, where at times you might be dreaming-off to (parts of) tracks, like you would expect from Mazzy Star or Portishead, and then find yourself woken by massive riffing that could come straight from either Steven Wilson's or Robert Fripp's well-of-inspiration. It is this variety in sounds that is another strength in Karmamoi's repertoire. Yes, the ending of Nashira has a likeness to the revered Porcupine Tree but if it were merely copying their sound, the music here would not make that much of an impression. And on this album, it is the songwriting, combining a feel for loungy, lush, jazzy and poppy elements with proggier aspects, that makes the difference. Just lean back and treat yourself to Atma, and you'll find that Karmamoi really nails these musical combinations. This is what happens with the stunning Lost Days as well.

Make no mistake, this band knows how to rock as well. And yes, they are good at it. Sirio reminds me of Machine Head-era Deep Purple with Steven Wilson joining in after one minute and a half, only to have your mind drifting off to the great keyboard sounds and somewhere in between, a subtle solo.

This is another album that will let you forget about expectations. Sit back, relax and listen. Karmamoi serves sounds that will have you remain silent when they do. Here comes another spin. Recommended, most certainly!
Conclusions:
Marcel Hartenberg: 8.5 out of 10

Presence - Masters and Following
Presence - Masters and Following
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time:
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: Masters and Following, Deliver, Now, Interlude, The House on the Hill, Freewheel Burning, Space Ship Ghost, This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us, Prelude, Symmetry, Collision Course, On the Eastern Side, The Revealing
CD 2 - Bonus Live CD: Scarlet, The Sleeper Awakes, Lightening, The Dark, Eyemaster, Just Before the Rain, The Bleeding, Un di' Quando le Veneri. Orchestral: Overture, Hellish, J'accuse, Makumba, Supersticious, The King Could Die Issue-less
If I was on a quiz show, I'd be much happier with a series of questions on 80s pop, than I would with having Italian prog as my specialist subject. The name of Presence from Naples is one that I have seen referred to many times over the years, yet have never heard a single song of theirs. With this being the one album not selected by another reviewer for this Italian Prog Special Edition, then this was my opportunity to give them a go.

The band has had a somewhat intermittent career ever since the release of their debut, Makumlba in 1992. Initially there was a two-year gap between releases, with The Sleeper Awakes and Black Opera both following biennially. Then a five-year pause before the release of Gold, with fans having to wait another seven years for the band to compile Evil Rose (review here).

Contributing to several 'tribute' albums has kept the Presence name alive, until the release of this, album number six. Masters and Following is certainly an unusual format. A two-CD set, the first contains ten songs, including three covers (The House On The Hill by Audience, Freewheel Burning by Judas Priest and This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us by the Sparks). The second CD offers seven live tracks followed by an orchestral suite of some passages from the Presence discography.

The style of Presence is one that mixes that commonplace Italian theatrical style with some complex, ever-changing dark and often metallic arrangements. Guitars and keyboards take it in turns to dominate. Singer Sophya Baccini mixes a gothic rock style with more operatic moments, swaying between classical and rock.

The problem is that the production is appalling. Indeed the first time I played this, I genuinely thought that I had inserted the live disc by mistake. Every quaver is dominated by that bottom-heavy live sound (all low-end guitar and bass), with Baccini's voice sounding like it is coming from the back of a stage. Anything in the arrangements that requires any finesse to be appreciated, is destroyed.

I returned the initial CD after checking it was the correct one (it said CD1 on the label) but was still convinced there must have been an error in the pressing lab. After matching the song titles, with those on the track listing, I had to accept that the recording quality was so abysmal, that after the band's sonic destruction of Priest's Freewheel Burning, I could take no more.

As for the live collection, well if a live sound needs to be worse than the studio version, then this succeeds. The audio quality is so flat and lifeless that it is actually unlistenable. I have home-made bootlegs recorded using a hand-held Walkman recorder at small club gigs in the 80s, that have more life than this. Two tracks were all I could take.

As for the orchestral versions of Presence songs. It is exactly what it says it is, but by this time I had actually lost interest in exploring Presence any further.

Those who would like to discover some heavy dark prog, with operatic, theatrical and metallic leanings, and who are not in any way bothered with sound quality, may wish to give this a go.

But that only leaves me to surmise, that in leaving this album unclaimed for review, my fellow reviewers have a better nose for Italian Prog than I do.
Conclusions:
Andy Read: 4 out of 10

Promenade - Noi al dir di Noi
Promenade - Noi al dir di Noi
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 46:25
Links:
Track List:
Athletics (10:32), Il Secondo Passo (6:43), L'albero magico (4:33), Roccocò (5:48), Kernel (4:16), Pantera (6:47), Crisantemo (7:53)
There is not too much to be found on the internet about this quartet from Genova. The band members are Matteo Barisone on vocals and keyboards, Gianluca Barisone on guitar, Stefano Scarella on bass and saxophone, and Simone Scala on drums. They released their debut album in September 2016. There are also some guest musicians on strings and flute.

Atlethics starts off with some backward tunes and sounds, before we are taken on a highly progressive ten-minute-journey with jazzy influences. Later on there are some South American parts. One can tell right away that the four musicians are very talented and that they can play really well. One passage is added to the next, each one sounding different than the one before. And there are no vocals throughout the whole song!

Il Secondo Passo begins quiet and relaxed and Matteo Barisone is heard for the first time on vocals. He speaks and whispers, before he really starts singing, which he does with the typical theatrical style that we get in Italian prog. The song is almost a little too overblown with sweetness, but it fits the style.

The following songs are all very melodic, and consist of a nice mixture of acoustic and electric parts with some jazzy overtones. The guest musicians add their flavour to some of the passages, and they always fit in well. It has the well-known Italian touch, delivered by Matteo Barisone's vocals. He sometimes reminds me more of a storyteller than a vocalist. All the band members are very skilled and the music is well structured and created. The artwork also underlines the music, with its retro art and photographs.

Another one of those Italian retro-prog albums that fans will love, but one that does not deliver anything new.
Conclusions:
Philipp Röttgers: 8 out of 10

Il Rumore Bianco - Antropocene
Il Rumore Bianco - Antropocene
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 49:56
Links:
Track List:
Al crepuscolo dell'anima (5:17), Mediocrazia (7:17), Il capitale umano (7:52), Tempio pallido (6:40), Tephlon (club) (5:05), Il giudice e il bugiardo (9:25), Antropocene pt I (1:54); Antropocene pt II (6:23)
Il Rumore Bianco was founded as a project in 2012 by Thomas Pessina (keyboards, synth), Michele Zanotti (guitars, saxophone) and Alessandro Danzi (bass). They call their music "post-progressive rock with social and introspective lyrics". They released their debut EP Mediocrazia (click the link in samples above) in 2013 and toured northern Italy afterwards. After some personal changes, the band released their first real record Antropocene on a label in 2016. Apart from the founding musicians, the band members are Alessandro Zara (lead vocals), Giacomo Banali (guitars) and Andrea Sbrogiò (drums). Apart from them, there are also some additional musicians on the record: Umberto Sartori on drums, Federico Lonardi on guitar, Eddy Fiorio on synths and Carlo Cappiotti on backing vocals.

Al crepuscolo dell'anima shows what is meant by post-progressive rock: A mixture of typical, sometimes heavy, progressive rock elements combined with some jazzy and alternative overtones. The mixture works. The lyrics are in Italian throughout the whole record, so unfortunately I cannot tell you what they are about, nor if they really cover "social and introspective themes".

Mediocrazia comes along in a calmer mood and has some nice, strange stereo effects in the middle and a great keyboard solo over some odd time signatures. Il capitale umano is jazz at its best. This mixture and the combination of styles goes on over the whole album. We get well-produced jazzy retro-prog, carried especially by keyboards, guitar and saxophone. The vocals are okay, but not overwhelming. Still, they fit the music, and give it that theatrical Italian touch.

The album is good, but not special. The band creates good music, but it has all been heard before in some way or another. For lovers of Italian prog and of retro-prog, this album is a must-have.
Conclusions:
Philipp Röttgers: 7 out of 10

Souls of Diotima - The Sorceress Reveals – Atlantis
Souls of Diotima - The Sorceress Reveals – Atlantis
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 70:32
Links:
Track List:
The Sorceress Reveals ~ Atlantis (Prelude) (1:27), The Land of The Wind (8:01), Stories, Songs, and Celebrations (5:53), Divine Love (Interlude) (1:18), Divine Love (5:35), Fate and Destiny (Interlude) (1:36), Fate and Destiny (4:48), Gold and New Horizons (Interlude) (1:25), Gold and New Horizons 05:18 (5:18), The Battle of Giants (Interlude) (0:34), The Battle of Giants (6:46), Tears of Fury (Interlude) (1:23), Tears of Fury (4:43), Zeus Unleashed (Interlude) (2:06), Zeus Unleashed (5:49), Atlas Condemned (Interlude) (0:15), Atlas Condemned (4:51), Our Atlantis (Interlude) (0:29), Our Atlantis (6:21), The Sorceress Reveals ~ Atlantis (Prologue) (1:44)
Souls Of Diotima is a female-fronted (gothic) metal band from Italy. The Sorceress Reveals – Atlantis is a concept album about the legendary story of Atlantis. The album contains 20 songs but as you can see from the titles, there are a lot of interludes plus a prelude and a prologue. Still, about ten songs of a very acceptable length remain.

The music of Souls Of Diotima is in the middle of Epica and Nightwish, and it will also appeal to fans of Rhapsody Of Fire. It has the film-score approach from Epica and the diversity of melodies and theatrical approach from Nightwish. The album is mixed and mastered by Jens Bogren who works with many great artists, amongst them is Symphony X. The music sounds great, and also the theatrical sounds and narrative voices are mixed in very nicely. The music has all the typical elements of female-fronted gothic metal. The voice of Claudia Barsi is incredible, and she fits in nicely with the other well known vocalists in the female-fronted genre. The screaming/grunting male vocals are used occasionally, so if you do not like that sort of singing then you only have to skip a few very small parts.

The opening is very Nightwish-like, with dark theatrical sounds seamlessly going into a heavy-guitar gothic metal. Stories Songs and Celebrations has more progressive stuff, and Divine Love is a poppy power ballad. Fate And Destiny is more standard gothic and in Gold and New Horizons there is even some Italian prog influences. The male grunting stuff is in the song Tears of Fury.

Without losing their gothic metal sounds, the style of music changes a lot of times. Souls Of Diotima take their sound everywhere on this album, even some Skrillex-like dubstep (just 10 seconds, do not worry) and some Trans Siberian Orchestra in Zues Unleashed.

The Sorceress Reveals – Atlantis is an album that will appeal to fans of female-fronted metal. If you like Epica, Nightwish or Rhapsody Of Fire, then you should try Souls Of Diotima. There is a lot going on during the long listen of over 70 minutes. Whether you like the story telling and theatrical sounds is a matter of taste, there sure is enough music left to like. Souls Of Diotima have earned their place in the world of female-fronted gothic metal.
Conclusions:
Edwin Roosjen: 8 out of 10

Syndone - Eros & Thanatos
Syndone - Eros & Thanatos
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 52:40
Links:
Track List:
Frammento (1:01), Area 51 (3:07), Terra Che Brucia (5:26), Gli Spiriti Dei Campi (5:27), Qinah (6:10), Duro Come La Morte (5:54), Alla Sinistra Del Mio Petto (3:08), Fahra (3:19), L'Urlo Nelle Ossa (7:15), Bambole Remake (4:15), Sotto un Cielo Di Fuoco (7:38)
The sixth and latest album by Syndone from Turin, Italy was released last year under the name Eros & Thanatos. Translated to "love & death"; the title says it all. While love and death can be seen as extremes to one another, they also couldn't be more entwined. The songs on this effort are exactly that, and in a very good way indeed.

From mellow chamber music, to dynamic and vibrant prog rock, this album possesses a fusion of sounds. But mixed together, the songs are a wonderful whole. The composing talents of founder member Nik Comoglio and Riccardo Ruggeri are moulded into a very well-produced and coherent album.

Comoglio founded Syndone in the early nineties as a three-piece, keyboard-driven prog band, but it evolved into a sextet when Comoglio decided to bring his former band back to life in 2007, with a completely different line-up. The keyboard-driven sound however is still in place.

As was the case with earlier albums, the themes of the songs are very layered and inspired by ancient (biblical) tales or myths. Singer and songwriter Riccardo Ruggeri took the Song of Songs book by Guido Ceronetti as an inspiration for the lyrical theme of this album; mixing the biblical-themed work, with the Greek Gods Eros and Thanatos.

Comoglio handles keyboards, pipe organ and orchestration, while singer Riccardo Ruggeri also plays the 12-string acoustic guitar. The other musicians on this album are Marta Caldara (vibraphone, piano and Mellotron), Gigi Rivetti (piano, Hammond, Moog, electric piano and clarinet), Maurino Dellacqua (bass and Taurus bass) and Martino Malacrida (drums/percussion). The Puntorec String Orchestra, conducted by Fabio Gurian, gives the album the dynamics and layers to make this a very bombastic and rich piece of music, from time to time.

As mentioned before, the different songs are very strong, but fragile at times. Terra che Brucia is a fine example of the latter. This song is beautifully sung by Ruggeri, who sounds delicate and in perfect control of his voice. Referred by some, as the Italian Freddy Mercury, Ruggeri is an amazing and talented singer and composer.

Another wonderful track is Duro come la Morte, starting with a wonderful melody before opening-up into a great prog epic that lasts way too short in my opinion. But like they say: You have to leave them wanting more.

The absence of an electric guitar is no problem at all. The keyboards and orchestra provide more than enough to please the eager listener. But one of progressive rock's greatest guitar icons was brought in to the studio to perform on the very last track, Sotto un Cielo di fuoco. Steve Hackett plays some wonderful solo guitar to make this another standout track. Moody Blues founder member Ray Thomas also features on the track L'urlo nella ossa.

I really enjoyed this album, although the first listen made me think it wasn't my cup of tea. But once I got past the Italian-sung lyrics, as beautiful as the language is, the album really got into my system and the pure class of Ruggeri's voice, combined with all the great performances from the different musicians, made me aware of the resemblance to bands like ELP, Vanden Plas and even Symphony X at times. In other words, I totally recommend this album to anyone who likes theatrical albums.
Conclusions:
Arno Agterberg: 9 out of 10

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Published Wednesday 29 March 2017

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