Album Reviews

Issue 2022-095

It's Prog-Tober! 31+ albums and reviews in 31 days!

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso — Orlando: Le Forme Dell'Amore

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - Orlando: Le Forme Dell'Amore
Proemio (2:10), La Pianura Rossa (6:39), Serve Orlando Adesso (4:11), Non Mi Spaventa Più L'Amore (4:11), Non Serve Tramare (4:06), Le Anime Deserte Del Mondo (4:43), L'Isola Felice (4:00), La Maldicenza (6:06), Cadere O Volare (5:05), Il Paladino (2:51), L'Amore Accade (3.41), Non Credere Alla Luna (6:55), Moon Suite (11.04), Come È Successo Que Sei Qui (3:29), Cosa Vuol Dire Per Sempre (6:45)
Thomas Otten

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, also known simply as Banco, is a name that makes progressive rock fans click their tongue and makes them reminisce about the beginning and the golden age of Italian prog, especially if they grew up with the prog of the seventies, such as I did.

Banco were formed in 1968 by the keyboardists (and brothers) Vittorio and Gianni Nocenzi. In 1971, a stable line-up had materialised, and the band released their first (eponymous) LP in 1972. During the seventies, Banco, with its complex, keyboard-driven, rock, jazz and classical music-influenced sound and Francesco Di Giacomo's remarkable melodic vocal gifts, became style-defining for progressive rock from Italy, together with PFM, and Le Orme.

During their long career, Banco underwent countless line-up changes, performed using the short and the long version of their name, and explored different musical styles including mainstream rock, film music, and even snippets of Italo pop. However, they never forgot about their roots, which are progressive rock and which they have increasingly gone back to during recent years.

As this year marks the 50th birthday of Banco's first release, the band decided to embark upon an ambitious project: writing and composing an album inspired by, and dedicated to the epic chivalry poem Orlando Furioso by the Italian Renaissance poet Ludovico Ariosto, published between 1516 and 1532.

This opus is considered as one of the anchor pieces in Italian literature, with wide-ranging influences on subsequent authors. The trigger for this approach was the fact that the first song, Il Volo on their first LP deals with an episode from that very poem, ideally suited for being picked up again 50 years later.

The band also remained faithful to what became its visual identification figure, the "salvadanaio" (piggybank). This featured as the cover on their first LP and, having the surface of the moon (which plays an important role in the story), on this release.

The band's website gives detailed and painstaking information on the "mountains to climb" and the difficulties to overcome, in connection with this project, given the length of the poem and its complicated plot with several, sometimes intertwined, sometimes parallel, running storylines.

Orlando Furioso is a love story at the end of the day. So the band chose to focus the entire narrative on this theme and the different forms of love that appear in this poem. Consequently, each of the 15 songs on the album bears a subtitle. There is love narrated of, denied, renounced, inescapable, free, dominating, lysergic, envied, dilemmatic, protecting, refused, brotherly, saving, unexpected, and everlasting.

The music on this record was written by Vittorio Nocenzi, who is the only founding member still present, and by his son Michelangelo, who acts as guest keyboardist on various tracks. The current line-up besides Vittorio, consists of Filippo Marcheggiani (lead guitar, backing vocals), Nicola Di Gia (rhythm and acoustic guitar), Fabio Moresco (drums), Marco Capozi (bass), and Tony D'Alessio (lead vocals).

Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, promo photo

I think that having some background info on the narrative is vital to evaluate the album. The band has attached a high degree of importance to the narrative of each song being coherently reflected in its music. All these connections are outlined in detail on the band's website.

That makes a few things clear right from the beginning:

  1. It makes sense to follow the lyrics (which are provided in Italian and in English in the booklet) whilst listening.
  2. Orlando: Le Forme Dell'Amore is nothing to be listened to "en passant".
  3. The music on this record can't be simple, the narrative (which by and large is based on the poem with some alterations here and there) being so complicated.
  4. It takes repetitive listening for full appreciation.

However, complexity, technical and musical abilities, the importance of keyboards (especially the sparkling grand piano runs), emphasis on lyrical vocals, melting of different musical styles: all that has always been inherent in Banco's prog, and forms the key elements also on this record.

The band juggles with the fundamentals of music: dynamics, rhythm, harmony, and melody in an extraordinary way. Multi-layered melodies, changes of metre and key, poly-rhythms, variations of softer and louder parts, parallel soloing of guitar and synthesizer, syncopation, contrasts appear throughout the album, particularly present in La Pianura Rossa, Non Serve Tremare, played and sung in the 7/8-metre, and the two instrumentals La Maldicenza, and Il Paladino. But also, the "simpler" sounding pieces, such as Serve Orlando Adesso, Non Mi Spaventa Più L'Amore (possibly the only tango I have ever heard in prog-rock), the ballad L'Amore Accade, and Non Credere Alla Luna convince by their subtle details in the arrangement, especially with respect to drums and bass playing.

I liked the fact that despite all its versatility and the musicians' abilities, the music is neither l'art-pour-l'art nor some kind of show-running. For me, it becomes evident that Banco are a band which have come beyond the point where they need to prove something to themselves and to others. Their music is timeless, in a positive way, as it combines the sound of the 70s progressive rock with modern elements such as sampling and digitality. It sounds both retro and contemporary.

The only epic on this release, Moon Suite, and the instrumental La Maldicenza (my favourite) are probably the most representative of all that: various creative periods of the band from the "golden prog of the 70s" to the more mainstream activities of the 80s, complexity and simplicity, roughness and tenderness, dissonance and melodics.

From their first releases, to my ears the music of Banco has always been a touch too complex (too ELP-ish) to be fully accessible and catchy right from the beginning. In this respect, the band makes things a little easier for the listener here, by cautiously borrowing and evoking their more moderate style of the 80s. That provides for the music on this release to be more comparable to some RPI-bands which surfaced much later than Banco, such as LogoS, La Maschera Di Cera, Cellar Noise, Mangala Vallis, Il Tempio Delle Clessidre, La Coscienza Di Zeno, Barock Project, and RanestRane. However Orlando: Le Forme Dell'Amore unmistakably sounds like Banco prog!

This review belongs to the most challenging and emotional ones I have written over the past seven years.

Challenging, because Banco have delivered a complex, ambitious, and demanding project, both lyrically and musically. It not only addresses the listeners' senses and emotions, but requires their intellectual investment, given the intense interrelation between narrative and music.

Emotional, because when I first encountered Banco's music in 1975 by listening to their fourth album (the first one targeting an audience outside Italy and released by ELP's Manticore Records), I could not have imagined that 47 years later I would be writing a review of a current album by the same band; the band that strongly contributed to turn the tender seedling of my prog-rock love, into a strong tree that is still standing firm today.

This is highly recommended to a spectrum of fans ranging from those knowing Banco since the beginning, to those wishing to start with the most recent release to familiarise themselves with Banco's music. Ooh, the heck with it! This is highly recommended to every prog fan!

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