Issue 2017-027: Italian Prog Special, Part 2
La Bocca della Verita - Avenoth
Intro 2161 (2:08), Ouverture (1:58), Contro Luna e Luce (4:14), la Suite die Tre Pianeti (17:57), Avenoth (8:16), La Festa (4:02), Antico (2:32), La Deportazione degli Avenothiani (10:02), La Rivolta - Il Massacro dei Terrestri (13:03), Perduto Avenoth (5:53), Reprise (Speranza Distorte) (10:27)
Anyway, it was the name of that ancient relief which was chosen by this Rome-based band founded in 2001, that started its career with playing covers of Italian prog icons PFM and Banco, as well as their British coevals Genesis, Pink Floyd and ELP. After a few fairly active years, the band decided that it was time for its own compositions and started to gather material for a concept album to be called Avenoth. Working on this album apparently took several years and Avenoth finally saw the light of day in 2016. Haste makes waste appears to have been the band's motto, and that approach proved to be worthwhile.
The story is based on the idea by former LBDV (I am using this abbreviation, which is also officially stated on the album cover) bass player Andrea Palombaro. It starts in the year 2161, when an expedition is sent out to outer space to discover a new habitat for mankind after the earth had become uninhabitable. After many futile attempts, the earth-like planet Avenoth is discovered. Having been given a warm welcome by its inhabitants, the terrestrials quickly start exploiting the planet and enslaving its population, which in turn revolts against its suppressors, causing the surviving terrestrials to flee from a largely destroyed planet (I hope I have interpreted the inner sleeve notes in Italian correctly).
Musically, this concept is implemented by Jimmy Bax (keyboards), Roberto Bucci (lead guitar), Massimo di Paola (keyboards), Guglielmo Mariotti (bass, Moog taurus), Fabrizio Marziani (vocals, electric and acoustic guitars) and Ivan Marziani (drums) plus some guest musicians on oboe, sax and flute.
Whilst offering dreams of the future lyrically, the music itself is retro and deeply rooted in the seventies progressive rock of the bands mentioned above (albeit less complex) plus a dose of neo prog such as early Marillion. Clearly, this is symphonic prog ' la Italiana in a pure form. Dual keyboards ensure that the emphasis is clearly on these instruments, mainly used in their analogue versions: Hammond, Mellotron, Davoli, Arp etc.
Also notable is the dynamic bass playing by Guglielmo Mariotti, that has that good old Rickenbacker sound. The vocals are mellow, sometimes poetic and lyrical, with that typical Italian feeling sung in that language, which perfectly brings across melody, mood and atmosphere.
Lengthy instrumental passages dominate, which nicely alternate between romantic twelve-string guitar parts, harder-edged guitar riffing (La Rivolta: Il Massacro dei Terrestri as the title suggests), David Gilmour-like solos, Hammond and synthesiser outbursts and Tony Banks-like keyboard arpeggios, always with a strong emphasis on melody. The music is varied enough to hold the listener's tension for the entire length of an album clocking at just ten seconds short of eighty minutes. It avoids unnecessary complexity, twists and turns, and everything stays at the easy-to-digest level.
I won't single out any track as a particular highlight, as there is enough for everybody's taste. La Suite dei Tre Pianeti, Avenoth and especially La Deportazione degli Avenothiani have met my taste the most, as they represent a sort of 'executive summary' of LBDV's music.
This album will appeal both to fans of the old school Italian prog, but also to aficionados of RPI coming from other "The X of Y" bands such as La Maschera di Cera, Il Tempio delle Clessidre, La Coscienza di Zeno, Il Trono dei Ricordi, Il Bacio della Medusa plus LotoS. The music is not particularly ground-breaking, but it is by no means a stereotype of what can be found umpteen of times in the RPI scene.
This is a strong debut with a flawless production, coming in a gatefold cover with elaborate artwork. All very professional and it wets the appetite for more.
So should I ever put my hand into the Bocca della Verita and state that this is a fine debut album which I very much like, I am confident that I would be able to remove my hand without the slightest problem!
Thomas Otten: 8 out of 10
Egoband - Tales From The Time
Return from Trantor (3:46), Time and Souls (8:58), Black Tears (8:07), No Fear to Flying (9:04), The Spaceship (13:23), Hard Times (5:47), Four-stroke (7:18), The Thirteen Towers (10:26)
Singer and keyboardist Alessandro Accordino is the sole remaining founder member. He is joined on this album by guitarist Simone Coloretti, Francesco Dei on bass guitar and Adriano Dei behind the drums. They seem to play occasional gigs in Italy but have remained a largely hidden name outside of their home country. Their albums to date have evolved from neo prog, to jazz prog and Canterbury, via a harder, more experimental sound on their second disc.
Thus Tales From the Time can be seen as bringing all of these influences together, in yet another new sound for the band.
The first track is really an extended prelude, before Time and Souls works its way through some nice progressions. I began by thinking that this was going to be just another collection of songs replaying the best of Genesis and the usual neo-prog bands. However the guitar style has a rough, quirky nature and the central melody is strong enough to carry it all. The interplay between guitar and keys at the end is too dragged-out and discordant for my tastes.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Allesandro's keyboards play a big part in the Egoband approach, and he utilises a wide range of sounds to keep things interesting. On Black Tears he introduces a very Floydian vibe. His vocals remind me a lot of the singer from German prog rockers Toxic Smile. Allesandro is not the most soulful singer but his voice actually suits the band's style rather well (just not too many sustained notes please).
As we move onto No Fear To Flying we take off, fly and land in early Marillion territory where someone has clearly enjoyed their Misplaced Childhood. Nothing original here, but nothing to dislike. Everything is built around a repeating keyboard melody. What's not to like.
The Spaceship is the longest song and is an instrumental, borrowing the keyboard and guitar sound from Pallas' The Sentinel. The jazzy fusion mid-section works well, but the song doesn't really evolve enough nor vary its dynamlics, to warrant its running time.
We get more eclectic with the next two songs. Hard Times is a straight rocker that owes a debt to Chris Rea whilst Four Stroke offers a sparse, retro, 60s vibe, full of flower power over more Floydian keys. Sadly Allesandro hasn't got the voice to carry this sort of song. A nice bluesy guitar solo reignites one's interest towards the end.
There is a long (very long or maybe over-long) build-up to the final track, that is really a modest, down-tempo reworking of Rush's La Villa Strangiato. Instead of evolving like the original, it halts, to be replaced by a rockish ballad sung in Italian. Sadly we are ending with the worst part of the album. This second section all sounds somewhat off-key and off-kilter and has absolutely no relationship to the first half of the song. Shame.
Overall this is a pleasant album with some bits that work better than others and a couple of efforts that don't play to the band's strengths. Egoband has a good ear for a melody and an idea of how to construct an interesting collection of prog. However the contrasts and changes in dynamic occur between the tracks, rather than within them. If they could make better use of dynamic shifts and bring their numerous influences into individual songs, then Egoband would become a more interesting proposition.
For those who would like to explore further, then three of their albums (Fingerprint, We Are and Earth) have been reissued by Mellow Records are are available on Bandcamp via the links to each release. Their debut album, Trip In The Light Of The World is available on Spotify from the Samples link in the info box at the start of this review.
Andy Read: 7 out of 10
Ingranaggi della Valle - Warm Spaced Blue
Call for Cthulhu: Orison (9:23), Inntal (10:35), Call for Cthulhu: Through the stars (3:15), Lada Niva (8:52), Ayida Wedo (5:55), Call for Cthulhu: Promise (11:47)
The band members all use a wide range of instruments. There is Davide Savarese on vocals, glockenspiel and Rhodes MkV. Matthia Liberati plays all sorts of keyboards (Hammond, Mellotron, Moog, Fender Rhodes, piano) and sings backing vocals. Flavio Gonnellini plays electric guitars and sings backing vocals, whilst Alessandro Di Scullio plays electric and acoustic guitars, Moog, Mellotron, a Roland drum machine, an Akai MPC Touch and a Korg Kaoss Pad KP 3. Marco Gennarini can be heard on violins and backing vocals, Antonio Coronato on electric bass, and Shanti Colucci on drums and percussions.
As if this is not enough, there are some guest musicians as well: Fabio Pignatelli plays electric bass and bass effects on Orison, Florian Lechner is the narrator on Inntal (he speaks German with a Bavarian/Austrian accent), Stefano Vicarelli plays modular synthesis on Ayido Wedo and Paolo Lucini plays the transverse flute solo on Promise.
This list alone reads a little overblown, but we really do get to hear all these instruments over the album. The songs are constructed around a main theme, and all the intros, outros, slow and fast passages, heavy and soft passages were build around them. All this is presented in a well-produced, retroprog style.
Among the songs on the album, is the three part Call for Cthulhu suite, which is separated by the other songs. The first part of the suite, Orison, begins with creepy sounds that set the atmosphere for the topic. Then the strings set in, and some percussive sounds, probably from the drum machine, give a beat. A little later the whole band sets in and presents classic 70s progressive rock at its best. The vocals are also very good, especially the high parts sound very strong.
It is difficult to point out certain passages of the album. There is a high standard of playing and of songwriting but the album is very hard to grasp after the just one hearing. One definitely needs to listen to it more often, to get the whole thing and to keep up with the quick changes of passages and moods. This is heavy stuff, but still very well played and more original than some other bands that just copy their heroes' styles.
Magni Animi Viri - Heroes Temporis – World Edition
Soundtrack (3:06), Heroes (4:17), Temporis (4:35), Intus + Until (5:29), Thoughts (4:40), Never Again (5:21), Desertsoul (4:40), I'd Like (4:49), Like The Hawk (4:56), Moon Peace (3:35), Crystalize (4:20), Fortis (4:27), Without Breath (4:03), Outro (2:33)
The Bulgarian Sif 309 Orchestra has created a powerful and at times touching foundation for the different tracks. From beginning to end this album is a true opera, and with the voices and talent of Allen and Sommerville added to the mix, this album is a wonderful listen for anyone who enjoys similar efforts like Avantasia, Aina or Ayreon. So if you are not into multi-vocalist rock/metal opera, then this is definitely not something for you.
Narrator Clive Riche proves to be a very good choice with his deep tone, and starts the album off with the intro Soundtrack. The story told in this opera is of a man looking back on his life, with all the songs representing a different phase or event. Allen and Sommerville have a heavy task, but they both handle the job in a great and sometimes moving way. To me Russell Allen is a bit more melancholic here, than in Symphony X and his voice is definitely a more modest. But his majestic quality remains, and the same goes for Amanda Sommerville. The highlight is their duet Moon Peace, which is hauntingly beautiful at times.
Amanda Sommerville is also known for her work with After Forever and Kamelot, and the reason she is a great addition to these bands is her strong but also complementary voice. Never over the top, but always of the highest quality, she gives her magic to a track like Intus + Until.
As a whole this album is very good. However when broken down into 14 separate tracks, there are only a few that are strong enough to be remembered on their own. One of them is the second song Heroes which features Allen. Other stand out tracks are Thoughts and Without Breath.
My final verdict on this album is that it is a very good listen and a wonderful vehicle for the talent of Russell Allen and Amanda Sommerville, although it is still a remake. It lacks an epic song or innovative story, but with the music and production of a very high quality and a great orchestral layer, this album will give you your money's worth if you are into rock/metal operas. Fans of Therion, Nightwish and Kamelot should also take notice of this album.
And you certainly can't go wrong as all the proceeds of this album go to the Italian charity Heroes Temporis; an organisation that supports autistic children, and hopes to fund a ward for research and help for these children. Apart from buying this album you can also support the good cause by donating via the website.
Arno Agterberg: 7.5 out of 10
Nuclearte - Endo
Argla (5:09), Al Akay (4:22), Kabesh (4:10), Ixorius (5:32), Endo (5:39), Ater Tumti (3:55), Glei Nhoà (4:52), Electra (4:38), Iso'h (4:36), Hinn'oo (4:34)
But maybe that is what is wanted, since the band, consisting of Ramya on vocals, Maurizio Cucuzza on bass and keys, Luca Rinaudo on keys, Sergio Schifano on guitars and Antonio Leta on drums, set their musical identities in outer space; on a world in the Pleiades, to be precise.
Their music is an esoteric psychedelic mix of electronica and world music, with lyrics written in an artificial language, which the band wants to be understood as an intergalactic mother-of-all-languages. Some songs are based on synthesisers, and combine the styles of Tangerine Dream and Kitaro, with the rhythm section of Eloy. Others are simple rock songs with random folk elements, using different World Music scales and folk instruments from various countries, helped by a couple of guest musicians. All this is arranged at great perfection to beautiful soundscapes, and overlaid by very wonderful female vocals.
Musically there is nothing new offered on Endo, and a thorough listen might be quite unrewarding, but the album does possess a sheer musical beauty to be used as a background ambient.
Raimond Fischbach: 7 out of 10
Pandora - 10 Years Like In A Magic Dream...
Always And Everywhere: Overture, Fantasia in Pandora Major (8:40), The Way You Are (7:32), Turin 03.02.1974 (7:51), Drunken Poet's Drama (8:21), Passaggio di Stagioni: a. Lamenti d'Inverno b. Canto di Primavera (10:48), Second Home By The Sea (8:51), Man Of A Thousand Faces (7:21), Ritual (11:17), Lucky Man (6:25)
The trio is the core of the band, alongside guest musicians and past full members. They released some records, played concerts and became one of the leaders of modern-day symphonic Italian progressive rock. In 2016 they released the album 10 Years Like In A Magic Dream as a celebration of their 10th anniversary. Apart from the trio, we can hear new singer Emoni Viruet and guest musicians Andrea Bertino on violin, Dino Fiore on bass, and Irma Mallus (chorus), David Jackson (woodwinds) and Vittorio Nocenzi (Moog).
The album is separated into several parts. The first four songs (Fragments of the Present) are four Pandora-songs, sung completely in English for the very first time. The two-part Temporal Transition is a rework of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso's Canto di Primavera, and the last songs (Fragments Of The Past) are cover versions of songs by Genesis, Marillion, Yes and Emerson, Lake And Palmer.
Always And Everywhere: Overture, Fantasia in Pandora Major gives the listener exactly what is expected from the title. A fantastic instrumental overture, full of musical references to old prog greats like Genesis, ELP, Gentle Giant and newer heroes like Dream Theater. The musical direction is carried on in The Way You Are, which contains vocals by Corrado Grappeggia.
The change to the next track is quite abrupt. Turin 03.02.1974 begins with acoustic sounds, but turns out to be as fantastical as the songs before. Andrea Bertino's violin shines all over the Drunken Poet's Drama.
The Passaggio di Stagioni includes a great Moog solo by Vittorio Nocenzi and introduces Emoni Viruet's voice for the first time. Her singing is very melodic and suits the folk-parts of the tune very well.
Second Home By The Sea begins with the spoken words: "Into the other world". When Genesis played the song live, Phil Collins would always introduce it to the audience as a ghost story, and together they tried to get in contact with the other world. In general, Pandora's version is nearer to the live versions of the track. It is a little sad that part one (Home By The Sea) was left out, but it is very nice that the band chose a track from the Banks-Collins-Rutherford era (and one of the band's best!). They include bits of other Genesis-instrumentals as well: The Brazilian, In That Quiet Earth, and Los Endos. The playing is virtous, the mixture of songs is great and a wonderful tribute to Genesis, and especially the great music from the trio-period.
The same can be said about Man Of A Thousand Faces. It is nice to hear a cover version from a Hogarth-era-tune and such a nice one as well. Emoni Viruet sings from her female perspective about the man from the title ("He's the man..." instead of the usual "I'm the man..."), which gives the song a nice touch.
Ritual by Yes and ELP's Lucky Man are good as well. In comparison with the other cover tunes, Lucky Man seems a bit of an odd choice. It is the most obvious ELP tune to cover, but the band includes some nice variations, and since his death it can be seen as a nice tribute to the great Greg Lake.
Sherpa - Tanzlinde
Dune (4:38), Robert W. (3:32), Dubinuska (4:12), Tanzlinde (3:43), Sherpa (3:38), Magnetic White Tree (4:46), Loto (4:30), Big Foot (6:05), Of Coke and Steel (4:47), Plot (3:03)
The songs on the album are all relatively compact and are poppy nuggets of psychedelia. Similar to Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, but without the longer jam-based songs Floyd produced. The opening three tracks set out the direction Sherpa will take. Dune's rolling gait and guitar jangle displays a Byrds-like feel. The eastern tonalities come into play on Robert W., whilst Dubinska grows from a late 60s west coast sunshine harmony opening, to an Indian chant-like structure.
The title track takes things in a more powerful, darker, bass-driven direction without going in for walls of fuzz. Insistent and repetitive guitar figures feature throughout the album, but reach a pinnacle on Sherpa. Whilst the longest track, Big Foot, has a scarily-atmospheric sound world.
There are a couple of problems with the album. If you don't buy into the overall mood of Tanzlinde, then its reliance on nothing faster than mid-pace songs and generally whispery vocals, may be a little wearying; and the closing piece, Plot, a drone-based instrumental, is an ambient step to far.
If you come to this expecting the crazy psychedelic edge of Gong, for instance, you will be disappointed. Instead you get music that is on the same page as Wolf People or Tame Impala. It promises to be an interesting journey, following where Sherpa go in the future.
Martin Burns: 6.5 out of 10
Paolo Siani ft. Nuova Idea - Faces With No Traces
No One's Born a Hero (5:51), Welcome Aboard (4:09), Black Angel's Claws (6:40), Free the Borders (6:35), Rockstar (5:06), Post War Saturday Echo (7:25), Three Things (4:26), E'Riu (6:22)
No One's Born a Hero begins with a duduk solo by Gevorg Dabaghyan and is the perfect introduction and ouverture into the record. Soon after Paul Gordon Manners enters, with the guitar, and sings in a storytelling manner about a farmer who defeated a giant with his magical sword. Together with the duduk melody, the acoustic ballad could be from a medieval TV series or movie.
It becomes electric on Welcome Aboard, where we are invited aboard by singer Roberto Tiranti. Apart from Siani on drums and vocals, other players on this proggy track include Paolo Vacchelli and Marco Abamo on guitars, Paolo Tognazzi with a Farfisa solo, and Roberto Tiranti on bass.
Siani also plays all the instruments, apart from the bass (Guido Guglielminetti) on the following Black Angel's Claws. Lyrically this dark track, deals with evil people.
Guglielminetti also plays bass on the next song, Free the Borders, a funky, up-tempo track with some oriental elements. Carlo Marrale plays acoustic and electric guitars, Paolo Vacchelli electric guitars, whilst Siani and Paul Gordon Manners sing about and against dictators. They are supported by 40 female singers of the Nuove Armonie Choir (conducted by Maurizio Ramera) and their great lead vocalist Laura Capretti. Federico Buelli delivers great saxophone solos throughout the track, and the Mellotron is played by Giangusto Matiucci.
Paolo Tognazzi's organ intro opens Rockstar, that is an ironic look on the life of a rockstar. After the intro, it turns into a classic rock tune à la Deep Purple, with Ricky Belloni on guitars, Siani on drums and Hammond organ, and Roberto Tiranti on bass and vocals.
The next track, Post War Saturday Echo, is actually a cover of a blues song from 1971 by Quatermass. Here we hear Siani on drums, Roberto Tiranti again on bass and lead vocals, Marco Zoccheddu on piano, and Giorgio Usai on Hammond organ.
Cellist Eva Feudoi Shoo and Andrea Calzoni on flute, add a fitting atmosphere to the deeply metaphoric theme of Three Things, which is also shown in the video clip (see above). The last song E'Riu is completely instrumental and full of references to Celtic music. The first part is very slow and orchestral, the second part is a dance, supported in a nice way by Marco Zoccheddus' accordion solo. With these acoustic folk sounds, the album almost ends as it began.
Also (although unfortunately this did not work with my computer), when the disc is put into the computer, one can watch the video clip of Three Things and listen to two remixes of Black Angel's Claws, one with, and one without vocals. These remixes were created by Lee Roy Thornhill (formerly of The Prodigy) and Alessandro Siani, and mastered by Geoff Pesche at Abbey Road Studios in London.
It might be a bit tedious for the reader, that every guest musician is mentioned, but they all deserve to be mentioned here, as they all contribute in great parts to the work. Siani is the only musician that we hear on almost every track. And although all the other tracks are full of different musicians, this does not have a negative effect on the album. It still feels like a consistent band-work.
Although it is definitely influenced by old prog music, and could therefore be labelled retro-prog, it sounds fresh and new. This makes it a better album than many recent Italian retro-prog records, which just ruminate the old styles and musical patterns.