Issue 2021-014: Prog From Italy
Ellesmere — Wyrd
Ellesmere is an Italian symphonic prog band consisting of Roberto Vitelli (guitars), Fabio Bonuglia (keyboards) and Mattias Olsson (drums). Wyrd is their third studio album and features a plethora of notable guest musicians including David Cross (King Crimson), Tomas Bodin (Flower Kings), John Hackett and David Jackson (VDGG).
With that calibre of talent involved, you would expect excellent performances and this release is chock full of them. The five songs that make up this album are a smorgasbord of old school prog instrumentation. Think classic ELP, Lizard & Red-era King Crimson, early Genesis and 70s Deep Purple. With its wild synth work, soaring guitar solos, complex drumming and chaotic musical structure, there is an admirable, aggressive attitude displayed on Wyrd. There are also some vocals, but they are minimal and take a back seat to the instrumental menagerie.
However, what is lacking in these compositions are cohesive arrangements. There are moments that I really enjoy, but the transitions are not fluid and the album plays like a mish-mash of musical ideas, without a solid framework. It all feels somewhat pieced together and one can only wonder what a solid arranger/producer could have done to help this recording. The album closer, Endeless, is the closest that this material gets to working as a whole piece.
If the musical references above peak your interest, I would recommend giving this album a try. You may get more mileage out of it then I did. The performances are strong and, as noted, there are some significant positives to be found.
I admire the ambition and moxie of this band, but I just wish all of the musical ideas on Wyrd had been meshed together more successfully. It is a good album that, in my view disappoints, if only because there was such potential for it to be great.
Il Bacio Della Medusa — AnimAcusticA
Il Bacio Della Medusa is a progressive rock band from Umbria, Italy, who thus far have released four studio and one live album since their foundation in 2004, none of which reached DPRP headquarters in their day. After their 2018 album Seme they set out for an acoustic experiment, now preserved on AnimAcusticA and recorded on the 19th of October 2019 at the historical Palazzo della Corgna in Castiglione del Lago (Perugia, Umbria). It is a renaissance palace perfectly befitting Il Bacio Della Medusa's lyrics inspired by historical events and myths that have captured the public's imagination over centuries.
These lyrics are written and sung in Italian, not my strong point, so as to what they refer to I haven't got the faintest clue despite their inclusion in the accompanying booklet. In this particular setting I interpret them simply as another instrument, and a powerful one at that. The expressive, theatrical way in which they are performed (a style typically patented by Italian prog), gives the acoustic songs strong emotional depth and a lively spirit that works well with the classical, folky, rock 'n' roll, jazz interpretations of the songs.
Equally passionate is the interplay expressed between the musicians, making the superbly arranged compositions come alive, as shown in the excellent instrumental Uthopia... Il Non Luogo!. Thanks to this musicality, the songs instantly captivate. The two seamlessly-joined opening tracks (from their 2008 album Discesa Agl'Inferi D'Un Giovane Amante) flow through joyous, intricate melodies embracing charming Camel-like flutes surrounded by jazzy notes, bringing to mind the Poles Quidam.
In delightful contrast stands Il Vino (Breve Delirio Del Vino) from their 2004 debut album, which denotes uplifting rock 'n' roll and excellent acoustic guitar-exercises, swinging extensively with jazz and comforting sax. The other compositions from 2004 (Scorticamento Di Marsia, Cantico Del Poeta Errante, De Luxuria, Et De Ludo, Et De Taberna) show the same alluring atmosphere, radiating additional elements of early seventies Jethro Tull.
La Sonda, leading-off a solid five-song intermission from Seme, highlights this appreciative aspect as well, while the restrained play and the delicious guidance of bass, reflects a friendly PFM. In this regard Sudamerica stands out for different reasons, one of which is the harmonica which gives the song a different folk mood, firing up images of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. The second highlight is its exquisite piano-led ending. The vocal delivery does require some getting used to at this point.
While Bandcamp gives the option towards an additional song in the form of Corale per Messa da Requiem, the CD-version concludes with a new studio track Testamento D'un Poeta. A great appetiser to finish, it is a beautifully-moving composition harbouring feelings of tranquillity, soothing jazzy guitars, Camel touches and elegant Jethro Tull influences.
Overall this is a most enjoyable and honest live album, where the admirable sound brings out the finer details within the compositions beautifully.
Il Rovescio Della Medaglia — Contaminazione 2.0
Il Rovescio Della Medaglia (IRDM) are a Rock Progressivo Italiano band from Rome who have been together, on and off, since forming in 1970. Contaminazione 2.0 is a live reworking of their well-regarded 1973 release Contaminazione. It was well regarded when it was re-released two years later in an English-language version, as had been the more well known Le Orme release Felona e Sorona.
The band revisit the 1973 version on this well-recorded and mixed live outing, with a string quartet in place of the orchestra that appeared on the original. It was recorded in 2018 at the 13th century, roofless Abbey of Sal Galgano, near Siena in Tuscany. A magical location that has produced a rather magical live recording, full of atmosphere, with a natural acoustic and little in the way of extraneous crowd noise.
IRDM were wise to stick to the Italian language version as Nicola Costanti's vocals are strong and at home in his own tongue. Contaminazione 2.0 is not about any kind of pandemic by the way, but rather it is about the baroque composer J.S. Bach and his relationships with some of his 20 or so children. IRDM incorporate themes from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier almost seamlessly into the themes they use. Only when they isolate the Bach borrowings, do you realise that they are there.
On Contaminazione 2.0 IRDM produce high quality symphonic prog with a hard rock edge. The line-up has two keyboard players (Nicola Costanti and Carmelo Junior Arena), two guitarists (founder member Enzo Vita and Pino Polistina), plus bassist Andrea Castelli. Unfortunately I have been unable to find a credit for the fine drumming on this release.
There is a forward momentum to Contaminazione 2.0 that makes its near 70-minute run-time fly past. Focussed and grandiose, intricate and straight ahead; there is rarely a wrong step taken. Though there isn't a show-boating epic track here, the shorter tracks do fit together in a suite of songs that feel like an epic in itself. The keyboards have an alternating Keith Emerson and Jon Lord feel to them and the guitars occasionally burst into Ritchie Blackmore mode.
There are brilliant moments amongst these fabulous symphonic melodies. On Ora Non Ricordo Più and Mi Sono Svegliato E ... Ho Chiuso Gli Occhi the synth solos are an absolute joy. Harpsichord and Hammond organ are great on the short-but-intense Il Suono Del Silenzio.
The balance between the guitars and keys is superb across the album and IRDM rock it up on Contaminazione 1760 amid its Gentle Giant baroque flourishes, to a surprisingly heavy and powerful end.
Heavy riffing and Hammond battle it out on Alzo Un Muro Elettrico, which also has a cracking flute solo from guest Vittorio De Scalzi. There is classical piano and strings on the ballad La Mia Musica that sports a storming vocal performance.
As Contaminazione 2.0 reaches its bonus tracks, the buried musical resemblance to Deep Purple comes more to the fore, with the hard rock edginess of the two closing tracks La Creazione and L'Ammonimento. It is the sound of a band letting itself off the leash.
For me, Il Rovescio Della Medaglia's Contaminazione 2.0 has been a terrific discovery with its mix of classic symphonic prog melodicism and dashes of hard rock punch.
Daniele Sollo — Order And Disorder
During the past few years of writing reviews, the one big thing that this has enabled me to discover, is the how varied the international progressive rock scene has become. One country I have always been aware of having a rich history of progressive artists is Italy. Aside from PFM, I have to admit my knowledge of what Italy truly has to offer is negligible. So reviewing Daniele Solo's debut album, has made me feel guilty in not knowing any of the immensely talented collection of artists who help him. Therefore please accept my apologies in advance for my ignorance of the Italian progressive scene.
The first thing that catches the eye is the stunning oriental-themed artwork by Fabio D'Auria, which adorns Order And Disorder. Look closely, and the image and album title will make complete sense.
Daniele is a bass player who has worked with many bands as a session player. Order And Disorder is his first solo album. With Daniele being a bass player, it came as a surprise listening to the album that aside from the album closer, all the tracks are group compositions and display Daniele's song-writing ability as well as his bass playing talent.
The unusually and intriguingly titled opening song, 11-IX-1683, is an intense musical workout. The singer on this track has a vast range which he ably displays. On the first few listens, his slight accent reminded me of someone, but I just could not think who. Then, on probably the fourth listen it came to me. It was due to the intensity of the track, as well as the singer, but this reminded me of Everon. So from this point on I was captured by what Daniele Sollo had to offer.
Second track is an instrumental which transitions through a number of moods, but the spacey keyboards and exquisite bass playing brought to mind The Rocket Scientists, which for me is an apt comparison due to the similar quality of bass playing between Daniele and Don Schiff.
A Journey is the first of two tracks which extend to over 11 minutes. The opening has a slight oriental flavour, before the vocal section, which finishes after less than five minutes. This song is reminiscent of early Genesis, but with a slight jazz vibe puncturing the atmospheric instrumental section. Some of the vocal phrases are repeated, to conclude the song.
In My Arms is the only solo composition on the album, and is an almost orchestral arrangement accompanied by Daniele's bass playing. This is a stunning song, whose only down side is that the singer chosen for this track does not suit the music. Otherwise I was totally enthralled.
The penultimate track, and the second to extend to over eleven minutes, Anytime, Anyplace, is a glorious slab of progressive rock. Bouncy polyphonic synths bring a sense of joy to the song, with dramatic vocals, somewhere between Gabriel and Fish, capturing the listener's attention. This is a track which will appeal to any fan of traditional prog, and if you have time, I highly recommend you search out the chance to give it a listen.
The album's final track is where Daniele takes the opportunity to display his classical bass playing talent by performing French composer, Gabriel Faure's, Pavane In F# Minor. This is a track which Little Mix sampled for the opening of their song Little Me. Daniele's playing and skill in reinterpreting the song to bass is something to be admired.
Every so often as a reviewer you get a CD to review that takes you by surprise and delivers far more than you expect. Daniele Sollo has done this with Order And Disorder, and I would urge anyone who has been intrigued by my meagre review to give this a chance.
Witchwood — Before The Winter
Witchwood is a band from Italy and their music can be best described as a combination of Jethro Tull, Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. If you like these classic progressive rock bands then you will very probably like Witchwood's third album, that offers all new songs with a very familiar sound. Witchwood puts the warmth of the seventies into a fresh new release.
Anthem For A Child immediately shows what Witchwood is all about, opening slowly with keyboard sounds before suddenly exploding into a Uriah Heep-style pounding rock rhythm. Fans of Wishbone Ash will like the twin guitar solo, which is followed by a flute solo for the Jethro Tull fans. Vocalist Ricky Dal Pane has a pleasant rock voice, and he sings English without an accent. In the opener the vocal lines are a bit too floaty for my liking. I prefer a heavy rock voice, with the lyrics more in line with the pounding rhythm.
On the second song that is what we get with the lyrics on A Taste Of Winter sounding more powerful. It is also heavy on the organ sound, with a pounding rock rhythm and soloing by several different instruments starting with a very thick, heavy organ, then guitar and then the flute again. Witchwood really relies on the familiar 70s sound but if you like that, then this is an album for you.
The album moves from songs like the heavy rocker Feelin' and the ballad Crimson Moon, to more lengthy songs like Hespures. At over eight minutes in length, this does not start with a lengthy, epic bombastic sound but with a funny little rock ditty. In the middle, a stretched instrumental part with a Roger Waters-like bass followed by a lot of flute.
No Reason To Cry is a likeable rock song. Nasrid is an acoustic, mellow guitar song with opera singing that could be mistaken for the theme tune of an Italian western. Crazy Little River is a slow song which can be best described as Uriah Heep playing country music.
Slow Colours Of Shade is the longest song, over ten minutes, and holds the most progressive elements. This song almost puts you in a trance, a psychedelic trip with especially the organ to blame. The LP version has a bonus track, a cover of Marc Bolan's Child Star but for a bonus track it is not that spectacular.
This is an album with a familiar sound but possessing a diversity of styles within the classic progressive rock bandwidth. In previous reviews of Witchwood albums such as Handfull Of Stars from 2016 the same influences have been mentioned and this is exactly what you get.