Tuesday, 27 December 2011

INNER CONFLICTS AND PSYCHOANALYSIS

La Coscienza di Zeno began life in Genoa in 2007 on the initiative of three experienced musicians: Gabriele Guidi Colombi (bass - previously in other bands such as Trama, Narrow Pass, Armalite, Il Tempio delle clessidre, Hidebehind), Andrea Orlando (drums – previously with Finisterre, Malombra, Real Dream) and Alessio Clandriello (vocals – previously with Narrow Pass, Hidebehind, Klepsydra, Lucid Dream). Later the line up was completed by Stefano Agnini (keyboards), Davide Serpico (guitar) and Andrea Lotti (keyboards, guitar). The name of the band is taken from the tile of a famous novel by Italian writer Italo Svevo, Zeno’s Conscience, which is based on the psychological analysis of the protagonist, Zeno Cosini, a man who tries to find out the reasons of his emotional weakness. The musicians thought that there was a strong connection between the spirit of this literary work and what they were trying to express throughout their music and lyrics. Their first eponymous full length album was released in 2011 on the independent label Mellow Records and in the studio the band was helped by same guest musicians such as Luca Scherani (accordion), Joanne Roan (flute), Rossano Villa (strings arrangements) and Lidia Molinari (vocals) who contributed to enrich sound. The result is excellent, the strong influences of the Italian prog masters of the seventies are effectively mixed with a touch of up to date technology and an original song-writing. The original, disquieting art cover by Dario Milana (a.k.a. D Tao) probably depicts the content of the album better than many words...


The opener “Cronovisione” (Chronovision) starts with a keyboards surge and a lively rhythm but in the middle section the mood suddenly changes, there’s a thunder and the music stops giving way to a cryptic narrative vocal part... “The stones are telling a story / When you touch them lightly you become part of the story... The conscience of the matter submerges you / If it only could speak men will become insane...”. After this warning the rhythm rises again but the atmosphere becomes darker while some Oriental influences add a touch of mystery to the music.

“Gatto lupesco” (Wolfish cat) begins with piano and vocals in the forefront. The lyrics draw the blurred lines of a strange character, a young man whose look makes seem him much older than he really is. He’s tired of struggles, he would like to set off looking for new experiences but not in the army as his father did... Then the rhythm rises, the other instruments come in and the music becomes more complex. Along with the sunburnt body of the protagonist now you can see his tiredness and the shivering of someone who tried to overcome the remorse of his bad conscience but failed. Now his conscience surreptitiously tantalizes him like a “wolfish cat”... After an effervescent instrumental break the vocals come back commenting the attitude of the protagonist... “As if you were another man / As if you were speaking of another man / Your otherness prevents you to be yourself / And to be a different man as well...”.


“Nei cerchi del legno” (In the circles of the wood) is a long, complex track in four parts inspired by Le avventure di Pinocchio, a famous novel by Italian writer Carlo Collodi that tells the adventures of an animated puppet who eventually becomes a real child. The lyrics, by means of some short poetical flash-backs, try to investigate the roots of the conscience that lies in the circles of the wood which forms the body of the protagonist... “In the evening you used to come back home with the burden of your truancy... In the night you secretly studied the forbidden books / To build your civil consciousness...”. An excellent track!

“Il fattore precipitante” (The precipitant factor) deals in some way with therianthropy and describes a strange character who is going through a terrible inner conflict between instinct and reason. At last the factor that inhibits the animal instinct falls apart and gives way to the wild call of an inhuman nature... “Man-beast, old theriomorphs / Leader of the pack, you were born wrong...”. Soaring vocals fly towards unexpected heights as if howling to the moon.


The acoustic, evocative “Il basilisco” (The basilisk) is introduced by the accordion of the guest Luca Scherani and features a strong Mediterranean flavour. The lyrics describe in a poetical way a land between rocks and sea, a steep coast overlooking the sea and its merciless fury. It’s a beautiful country with a glorious past but where the life is hard and from where many people want to leave... “The basilisk spits at us the heritage of the coat of arms / Then it smiles and goes back to the sea / Looking for a new master to dominate...”.


“Un insolito baratto alchemico” (An unusual alchemic exchange) is an excellent instrumental track featuring many changes in rhythm and mood where electric guitar riffs, organ waves and swirling flute notes embroider dark images and unquiet dreams...

The final track “Acustica felina” (Feline acoustic) is complex and tense. The lyrics investigate the background of a haughty woman who acts like a star and looks like the beautiful witch in the story of Snow White... “Eat your damned apple, do it! / Get poisoned with your own taste / Once in your life taste yourself...”. The music leads you through the vortex of the conscience of a bad girl. She was a disappointment for her parents but she met the wrong people and is also a victim of her broken dreams... “Words pronounced with young innocence burn inside whom can to listen to them...”.

On the whole an excellent album. It’s not an easy one but it grows spin after spin...

You can listen to the complete album in streaming. Click HERE

Read the interview with the band on Progarchives. Click HERE

A new video for a new project...



La Coscienza di Zeno: La Coscienza di Zeno (2011). Other opinions:
Chris “Seventhsojourn”: I wasn't exactly bowled over at first by the seemingly less-than-adventurous music, but then some of the best progressive music suffers from the very same perceived deficiency. And sure enough this album's initially vague landscape slowly came into perspective with repeated plays, like clouds of mist drifting away to leave a clear summer's day... (read the complete review HERE)
Jim Russell: I am captivated by the sweeping twists and turns, the heartfelt, soaring emotions, and the transitions from one interesting, lovely section to another. Even some dissonance and non-linear surprises here and there, but mostly just knockout, exceptional Italian prog... (read the complete review HERE).
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: Indeed, La Coscienza di Zeno is a must for all lovers of vintage Italian prog, adding the band to the growing list of excellent “traditional but modern” acts that already includes their fellow Genoese Il Tempio delle Clessidre and La Maschera di Cera, as well as the revamped Delirium. Highly recommended to symphonic prog fans and anyone who is not put off by foreign-language vocals... (read the complete review HERE).


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Friday, 23 December 2011

TIES AND LIFTS

Mogador began life in 2007 on the Lake Como on the initiative of Richard George Allen (drums, vocals). The first line up was completed by Luca Briccola (piano, keyboards, guitar, flute), Stefano Lago (guitars) and Paolo Pigni (bass, acoustic guitar, vocals). The musicians started to rehearse in a tie factory and named their band Mogador, as the ancient name of the Moroccan port of Essaouira that gave its name to a tie cloth that is a mix of silk and cotton. According to their website the same idea of mixing is reflected in the influences on Mogador’s style since the individual members of the band enjoy all kinds of music from progressive rock to folk, from fusion to classical.




In 2009 they released a first interesting self produced eponymous album, a kind of conceptual work inspired by the four elements that was recorded in a non professional home-studio. The lyrics are in English and the overall sound of the album recalls the early Genesis... Well, despite the poor recording means the result is not bad at all.

There is a short opener that sets the atmosphere and introduces the subject matter with narrative vocals, “Ab imis fundamenti”. It leads to “The Salamander”, a track inspired by fire, the fire of passion... “There’s a fire that I burn / When I desire, when I yearn...”. The second track, “The Tide’s Undertow” was inspired by water and deals with some environmental issues, exalting water for the dangerous strength of its rage and its priceless value for life... “We all can feel water’s primal force / And one day she’ll call us all back out sea / We all exist in the dread and the fear / That one day we’ll live the tide’s undertow...”. Then comes “Tell Me Smiling Child”, one of the two tracks with no relation with the elements of the concept. It’s a short piece for piano and voice featuring lyrics taken from a poem by Emily Brontë...


“Mammon’s Greed” was inspired by earth and takes us back to the concept and its pastoral mood... “Take courage dear friends and we’ll find the way / Hope never ends to see that perfect day / When Earth and Man live as one...”. Next comes the other track non related to the elements, the short acoustic guitar driven “Solitary Bench – An Alchemy”, my favourite on this work... “There is a place that nobody knows / Where I sit alone on a solitary bench... Like a grain of sand changes into a pearl / I change too... Like an alchemist I turn my lead into gold...”. “Floating In The Void”, the piece inspired by air, and the instrumental symphonic outro “Omnia mutantur, nihil interit” conclude the album. By the way, the beautiful art cover reproduces a painting by Johan Christian Dahl titled “Vesuvius Erupting” where you can see all the elements. In my opinion this tableau depicts in some way the content of the music as well...



You can listen to the complete album HERE

* * *

Soon after the release of Mogador’s first album, Stefano Lago left the band while the other members started to work on another conceptual work. According to the band, Richard read the story of a man who got trapped in a lift in a newspaper and it struck him as a viable vehicle for a narrative album, the other two agreed and set about writing the music. The result is another self produced work, “All I Am Is Of My Own MaKing”, featuring an improved recording quality and an overall sound that could recall bands such as The Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard.

The opener “Unexpectedly, Friday” sets the atmosphere. It is just like any other Friday evening, the weekend beckons and the protagonist of the story is ready to enjoy its delights. But he forgets his keys in the office and has to go back... “I should have taken the stairs but I saw that open door / As I rose the lift shut down, a sudden halt / Unexpected dark and silence / Unwelcome dark and suspense / Took me by surprise...”. The man shouts, asks for help...

“Deep In Trouble Deep” is darker and more aggressive. While Richard George Allen interprets the protagonist of the story Paolo Pigni interprets the narrator and in this piece he takes the lead... “He was the last one out of the door / Trapped in a lift, it was trouble for sure... Hitting wildly in all his rage / To try to break free from this steel cage... So you thought life was so good? / And you said I want everything now / But look now, my young friend, where are you? / Deep in trouble deep...”.


“Panic!” is a beautiful instrumental track featuring many changes in rhythm and mood that describes the feelings of the protagonist when he realises there’s no one to help him...

The next track, “So Cold”, is calmer and begins with an acoustic guitar pattern. The voice of the protagonist comes back... “Panic gave way to reason / As I slid on the floor / At times like these I thought intelligence would pay / But thinking very calmly made it all seem worse... It’s cold, I’m cold / Help me someone...”.

“One Day” begins with a piano solo pattern and marks the lowest ebb of the story for the protagonist. On the first part we can listen to the voice of the narrator. The protagonist finds a gentle peace while his hope slips away and fear gives way to peace. The second part of the track features a church-like atmosphere and great harmony vocals... “We know that one day / We will all fall to sleep... If we have lived in full virtuous and true / Who knows, death may be a blessed relief...”.

Mogador 2010

“Sweet Liberty” is lighter and begins with a delicate acoustic guitar arpeggio, then the rhythm section and the keyboards come in. The protagonist is saved by a rescue team, at first he thinks that the voices of his saviours are nothing but a dream then he can see the light again... “In a moment I was free... In a moment I could see... Finally unbound, all the world was there for me / Thanking endlessly / Oh sweet, sweet liberty...”. Tubular bells announce the end of the dark.

“Homely Smells Again” tells what happens later the same day... “They provided a car to take him home... He turned the key of the door... / He headed for the bed, to rest his head / Finally homely smells again...”. But this is not the end of the story and this is a complex track. The protagonist is woken by the sound of the telephone. A lawyer calls him and insists that he needs assistance... “We met later that week / There were damages to seek / A six or seven figure sum for a life undone...”. The protagonist returns to work two weeks later but when he places the damage claim on his boss’s desk he’s fired... “I was called in by the boss again / And told to return at home / This time I took the stairs...”.

“A New Beginning” is a reflective track that marks the end of the story and the definitive change in the attitude of the protagonist. The protagonist suits his former employer in court under the media’s attention but he loses the case and can’t find another job... “Now I’m living in a different place / Right and wrong are in their place / I take each day as a new beginning / The rising sun brightens the way / Ends the darkness, leads the way...”.


“All I Am Is Of My Own MaKing” begins with a marry piano pattern and draws the moral of the story: never surrender! The music could recall the Beatles and the sax played by the guest Marco “Plumber” Bonetti enriches the sound of this piece... “There are times when you feel sad and very lonely / And the world looks grey and grim / Don’t surrender, face the fight...”. Voices and sounds coming from the country conclude this work as a ghost track.
Well, all in all I think this is an interesting story and a very good work. You can listen to the coplete album HERE

Read the interview with the band on Progarchives. Click HERE


Mogador: All I Am Is Of My Own MaKing (2010). Other opinions:
Brian Block: Mogador, first off, is a fantastic band that is capable of playing many styles within both the prog and rock spectrum... Another good thing about this album is the variety of instruments played here. Not only are there guitars and a bass, but there's also very nice orchestration and the addition of a flute on some songs... Overall I really enjoyed this album, and I'm sure many other prog fans will too. Featuring great musicianship from everyone involved this album was great to listen too and had many memorable riffs and choruses... (read the complete review on  seaoftranquillity.org. Click HERE).
Gert Hulshof: Right from the start I was amazed by the sheer beauty of the album... There is no doubt in my mind that Mogador is a great band, with great musicians. I will keep my eye on them. Refreshing... (read the complete review HERE)

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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

ABSURD WALLS

Garden Wall come from Cervignano del Friuli and began life in the late eighties on the initiative of composer and multi-instrumentalist Alessandro Serravalle. During the years the band went through many changes in personnel and style but has always maintained a coherent musical integrity. The present line up features, along with founder member Alessandro Seravalle (vocals, guitars, keyboards), Raffaello Indri (guitars), William Toson (bass), Ivan Moni Bidin (drums) and Gianpietro Seravalle (drum machines). “Assurdo” is their eighth full length work, the third of a kind of trilogy, and was released in 2011 on the independent label Lizard Records. In the studio the band was helped by some guest musicians with excellent results and the overall sound is challenging and extremely rich. You can find here influences ranging from Opeth to Area, from psychedelia to classical and jazz and many more.

Garden Wall 2009

Philosophy, spirituality and literature are an important source of inspiration too in this concept album about “absurdity” as Alessandro Serravalle explains in an interview with Murat Batmaz on the site seaoftranquillity.org: only by the means of something we can call “absurd” we could have a chance to embrace and, while embracing, trying to know, to taste some particle of “"truth”. If we try to catch, to grip the “real” with a somehow violent mental act of possession (which is exactly what the “technical world” tends to repeat over and over again) we’ll almost surely lose it... The instruments we have, to work with absurdity, are paradoxes, oxymoron, hyperboles and other “rhetorical embracing traps for truth atoms” as I like to call them. The music itself gushes from this position too... This leads to my idea of death of pure musical genres. Garden Wall’s music is built by mixing up as many musical influences as possible. It’s the result of both a strong alchemic interaction between different styles of music hurled into a strange particle accelerator to become something entirely new and of an “absurd” self-therapy process involving my inner ghosts. To be cured by one’s own music is indeed quite... absurd!. As for the lyrics, they do not try to tell a story, they are as touches of colour that are meant to suggest emotions and they swing from Italian to English, to German... In the same interview Alessandro Serravalle explains the reason of this artistic choice: every language has its own typical “sounds”, so it’s absurdly interesting to add, to inject this recipient inside the “strange accelerator particle” I was just talking about. There’s not only English and Italian, but also Friulano (my dialect), German, Latin, Greek and French. Of course I can’t actually speak most of those languages, but it’s very fascinating to use them for their sounds. Then there’s the problem of the translation. Sometimes the “soul” of an expression just can’t be translated into another language. Some expressions come to my mind in Italian, some in English, though I’m not an English native-speaker. I want to keep them in their language. Sometimes I make multiple translations of some key words (I worked that way in “Vacuum Fluctuation” for example) in order to reach the core of the key word in question via its different “sonic shelves” in different languages. Although in the liner notes you can find some quotations from maîtres à penser such as the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, Guido Ceronetti or the writer Robert Musil do not worry, this is not a philosophy lesson so now relax, listen to the music and let it stir your imagination...


The opener “Iperbole” begins with a sudden burst of energy and “growling” vocals but after a minute the rage stops giving way to an oneiric, psychedelic mood. You can smell the colours and taste the wind while a musical kaleidoscope leads you to the gates of delirium... “You’re mine! You’re mine! Immortal symphonies... I’m close to the other side / So close to the other side / Iridescent membrane...”. The music flows away with many changes in rhythm and atmosphere, there’s room for a short organ solo, for a wild, fiery electric guitar ride and for many other surprises... The other tracks follow without interruption forming a long suite where moments of peace and reflection are broken by violent bursts of desperate rage... “You led my spirit out of the darkness / You fed it with light / Now the icy ranks of obscurity / Take possession of my soul once again...”.


“Butterfly Song” is the first leg of an odyssey accompanied by mental demons such as the crossed-eyed gnome who comes out from the sheets of another city in the frenzied “Trasfiguratofunky” and melts back in a sad rain. Then you have to cross the stream of notes and the vortex provoked by the mysterious power of absence evoked by the ethereal, hypnotic atmosphere of “Negative”. Next comes “Just Cannot Forget”, a short passage half way between free jazz and musique concrète leading to the narrative vocals of  “Flash (short–lived neorealism)”... “I love to listen to baroque music from four to six a.m. / Wet streets are deafly lit by the traffic lights...”. You have to walk through the mists of a troubled night following a path that leads to the lucid madness of “Clamores horrendos ad sidera tollit” where you can listen to a monologue that recalls the late Area’s vocalist Demetrio Stratos... “To be or not to be? / Neither one nor the other...”. In “Vacuum Fluctuation” echoes of Heisenberg’s philosophy bounce around you while you risk to lose the contact with reality following the charming notes of a violin coming from east...


“Re-awakening” starts by the dreamy notes of the flute and acoustic guitar, but the dream is still disturbed by a relentless flux of thoughts... You’re worn out, dried up! The experimental “Isteroctomia” concludes the album bringing an ephemeral and disquieting peace...   

Well, it’s very difficult to describe this excellent work where the absurd walls which  usually divide the music genres are completely smashed down. Maybe the beautiful, dark artwork by Giulio Casagrande depicts the atmosphere of this album better than my words...

You can read the complete interview with Alessandro Serravalle HERE

Garden Wall: Assurdo (2011). Other opinions:
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry:  If I had to use a single adjective to define Assurdo, I would call it unpredictable. While far too many albums and individual songs seem to endlessly reproduce the same structure, the 10 compositions featured on Garden Wall’s eight CD take the listener on a veritable rollercoaster ride that will leave all but the most open-minded rather bewildered, as well as drained. To say that Assurdo is not an easy listen would be an understatement: spanning a wide range of influences and moods, each song conceived as a mini-suite in many different movements, and providing a canvas for Alessandro Seravalle’s amazing vocal gymnastics, the album is an exercise in deconstruction rather than a showcase for cohesive compositional standards... In any case, adventurous listeners will find a lot to appreciate in Assurdo, one of the most intriguing albums released in 2011, and one that definitely deserves more exposure... (read the complete review HERE)
Guillermo Hernandez Urdapilleta: This is a great album by Garden Wall, highly recommendable but I warn you, don't judge at the first listen, you have to give it more chances before you truly enjoy it. Then you will not regret... (read the complete review HERE).


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Saturday, 17 December 2011

THE PSYCHEDELIC MARINER

Una Volta Eravamo In Sette are an Italian progressive rock band from Forlì that was formed in 2008. The line up features Francesco Agnoletti (keyboards, electric guitar, vocals), Riccardo Fiorini (vocals, flute), Mattia Massa (electric and acoustic guitar, vocals), Mattia Flamigni (drums) and Fabrizio Piani (bass). From the very beginning they started to work on original pieces inspired by The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Their debut work, La ballata del vecchio marinaio, was released in 2010 as a free legal download on the site jamendo.com and is an interesting and original mix of vintage and modern sounds featuring influences ranging from the Italian prog masters of the seventies to psychedelia, from classical music to tribal rhythms and many more. The musicians interpreted the poem with the music and their own words just giving you some hints of the events narrated by Coleridge... The rest is up to your imagination!


The opener “Overture” sets the atmosphere. The mood is dark and calm, then the rhythm slowly rises while Oriental influences add a touch of exoticism to a musical tableau where you can see a flock seagulls merrily dancing. The birds are flying over a ship and show the way while some threatening black clouds are gathering on the horizon and an impending sense of doom hangs on the sailors...

“Il matrimonio” (The marriage) depicts the beginning of the poem. The music is lively and tries to describe three men on their way to the church where the marriage of one of their relatives is going to be celebrated. Suddenly the music stops and the mood changes. An old sailor stops one of the three men... “Stop, stay a while with me / Listen to me now that you can...”. The voice of the singer now is the voice of the ancient mariner... 

“Nella tempesta” (In the storm) opens with a thundering drum roll, then aggressive electric guitar riffs and raging organ waves come in. A “tyrannous and strong” storm drives the ship off course, towards south, to Antarctica... The music and lyrics take you on board... “I want to show where it goes / The ship chased by the storm... I still remember it / My ruin began then...”.  


“E quanto è immenso l’oceano di ghiaccio” (And how vast is the ocean of ice) is a beautiful, complex track that tries to depict a desolated landscape of ice and solitude... After the storm the sun shines high over emerald green ice blocks. The sailors in dismal can see nothing but ice all around them and on the horizon there’s no shape of men nor beasts... “No shape nor beast...”. 

“L’albatro” (The albatross) begins softly and marks the meeting with a strange bird, an albatross. The beautiful bird in some way speaks to the desperate men... “And now turn your gaze to me... Follow me, follow me...”. The sailors follow the flight of the bird and find a way out from their prison of ice but at a certain point one of the sailors, the ancient mariner, feels the sudden impulse to shoot the bird with his cross-bow. An aggressive electric guitar riff underlines the infernal action... “And the scream suffocates our breathing... Take me, kill me...”.

“Apologia” (Apology) starts in a frenzied way, then a surreal calm comes down... “I committed my infernal action, I killed the beast / First I was condemned, then I was celebrated as a hero / You’re guilty as well...”. Initially the other sailors got angry with the mariner since they believed that the albatross brought the south wind that led them out of Antarctica. However they changed their heart when the weather became warmer and the mist disappeared since they thought that it was the bird that brought the fog and mist. They made a mistake in supporting this crime as it aroused the wrath of  the spirits who then started haunting the ship. The south wind now sends the ship into uncharted waters, where it is becalmed...


“Silenzio del mare” (Silence of the sea) is definitely closer to post rock than to vintage prog and perfectly depicts a long sad time in the sea where the crew has to wait for a breath of wind... “Day after day, day after day / As a painted ship in a windy sky / While our throats were drying...”. Time passed by and one day another ship appeared, a ghost ship! “A sail, a sail! / The sail was moving fast the bones of its crew as a spider-web does...”. 

“Dadi d’ossa” (Dice of bone) is a powerful, dramatic instrumental featuring a good flute work, sharp electric guitar riffs and raging organ waves. It depicts a nightmare where the Grim Reaper and her companion Death-In-Life are casting dice... The winner will take the souls of the sailors!

“La collana dell’albatro (Danse Macabre)” (The necklace of the albatross) is another beautiful track featuring an eerie, hypnotic mood. All the other sailors are dead now and the mariner is alone. He still wears the dead albatross around his neck because of his crime but now he can see some dangerous water-snakes swimming in the sea around him and is charmed by the beauty of their colours. As he blesses them and begins to pray the albatross falls down from his neck as if the guilt was partially expiated... “The light splits the sky and sea / It’s high time to set off / It’s time to go on... A sun ray gives the crew a new life...”. Like magic the dead sailors come back to life and lead the ship near the coast before sinking forever into the water. The protagonist of the story survives...


The dreamy, ethereal “La ballata del vecchio marinaio” (The ballad of the ancient mariner) concludes the album and the story... “Judge this dream / Judge my act / What I committed is a crime / I relished my wishes... I bring my sentence as a sceptre...”. Now the listener has to guess the meaning of a nightmare on the borders of reality...

On the whole a very good album! And you can legally download it for free...
Click HERE

You can read the poem (and an Italian translation) HERE

You can read an interview with the band HERE


Other opinions from Progarchives collaborators:

Jim Russell: The album is an enchanting mix of classic 70s prog spirit in an updated package. A concept album where you can feel the connection to the seafaring adventures, the story is told in large part instrumentally but there are occasional vocals and narration. The overall vibe is a mellow, often minimalist symphonic prog with a nod to the 70s RPI, and significant helpings of dreamy, low-key psych. Occasional tinges of hard rock, folk, and jazz come and go... This is an album which should please prog fans of many stripes and is a very promising debut. The music is very good. I'd be lying if I said a download was as satisfying to me as a physical CD release with nice artwork and packaging, but if you just want to hear some good music, check this out. Again, the band generously offer this for free so there is no reason not to have a listen and let them know what you think! (read the complete review HERE)

Torodd Fuglesteg: The songs are really varied in their expressions and this album is a pretty big mouthful. It is obvious that Una Volta Eravamo In Sette is a very talented band which I have already put high up on my "must follow" list... (read the complete review HERE)

Chris “Seventhsojourn”: La Ballata del Vecchio Marinaio” is a concept album based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's chilling poem about an ancient mariner condemned to wander the earth and tell his strange tale whenever the impulse seizes him. The vivid imagery of the poem seems to lend itself to musical treatment and has inspired works by Iron Maiden and David Bedford among others. I would urge those who are unfamiliar with the poem to read it, as doing so will hopefully increase the listener's appreciation of the music. As with any concept album, the question for me is how well the idea works with the music. Well let me tell you, these guys pull the concept off big-time and you don't even need to understand Italian to get the gist of things... (read the complete review HERE)


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Saturday, 10 December 2011

TIME AND SPACE

Phaedra is an Italian prog band from Trento that began life in 1993. After many troubles, line up changes and a lot of work in studio, in 2010 the band released a self produced album with a line up featuring founder member Claudio Bonvecchio (bass, guitars, backing vocals) along with Stefano Gasperetti (keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin), Stefano Dalcanale (drums), Davide Tabarelli (keyboards, theremin), Fabrizio Crivellari (flute), Elisabetta Wolf (violin), Antonio Floris (violin, viola) and Claudio Granatiero (lead vocals). This work, titled Ptah, is a concept album telling a science-fiction story written by the vocalist Claudio Granatiero whose atmosphere reminds me of some novels by the French writer René Barjavel as “La nuit des temps” (The Ice People) and “Le grand secret” (The Immortals) or the sci-fi TV series “Space: 1999”. The music flows in a long suite where calm acoustic passages alternates with more aggressive parts. The overall sound could recall some historic Italian bands such as Locanda delle Fate or Maxophone and features a very good use of flute and violin...


The excellent instrumental “Overture” set the atmosphere and draws some melodic lines that will be developed later... “They say that once upon a time the sky was blue / They say that the sun was shining / There were green lawns over there and there was a river as well... They say, but for me it’s just a dream... They say that there were many children... And now I’m alone...”. On “Dicono” (They say) the very particular voice of Claudio Granatiero interprets a lonely child on a dying planet, victim of the human ambition. What happened to the Earth?

The next track “Sotto un cielo stellato” (Under a starry sky) takes us far back in time, on another planet where some people are leaving their advanced civilization to seek for another world where they can live and start again. The people of that planet had defeated maladies and aging but they couldn’t survive to a sudden natural catastrophe provoked by their endless quest for knowledge. The vocals are broken, almost out of tune, when depicting a sad farewell and the nostalgia for what was left behind while the music in the middle section describes a journey through the space.   

Next comes “Il reietto” (The outcast) that describes in music and words a strange character, one of the people who left the doomed planet when he was just a child... “We escaped from Death / We tricked our fate / We wondered through the space looking for a better day / Nobody run after us / Nobody regretted us / But fear has not left us since then...”.


“Un mondo nuovo” (A new world) is a beautiful instrumental track featuring nice flute passages. The music here tries to describe the feelings of joy and relief that the space-traveling survivors prove while they’re getting closer to the Earth. Then they go down from their starship to explore the new planet and realize that they are finally ready for a new start...   

“Come un bambino” (As a child) describes the meeting with a primitive form of life whose strength is the brain: man. The survivors don’t get old but they are not immortal and they are not able to breed anymore. They “adopt” men as children, they start to manipulate their DNA to accelerate their evolution to build up a new civilization... “Life is growing up, new hope / Offspring of the Earth and of an ancient science / Here men will live their innocence / They will grow up strong, they will be mighty / Our leadership will make them wise / We will be free again...”.  

“La costruzione di Atlantide” (The construction of Atlantis) is another instrumental track which begins with a nice marching beat, then soaring melodies played by flute, violin and synthesizers interact painting a busy scene with “Renaissance colours”. The music tries to depict a scene where the survivors and their new “children” build up a new city and a new civilization.

On “Uomo!” (Man!) the tension rises. Something goes wrong between teachers and pupils. Men get old and die while their masters are always young, immutable and strict. Seeds of rebellion are spreading... “How many years have passed by? I still remember my defeat... It’s sad when you see the work of a whole life destroyed by a son who can’t understand / That all what you were doing was necessary to give him a better world and a happy life...”.

Ptah: album cover

“La distruzione di Atlantide” (The destruction of Atlantis) begins with an acoustic guitar arpeggio. It’s a dark, sad instrumental track that marks the end of the new civilization. All the masters but one are killed, dreams explode and Atlantis crumbles... The men escaped from Atlantis go back to their nomadic primitive life and the knowledge of the masters gets lost in a few generations. The memory of Atlantis survives just as a myth...

“Dilemma interiore” (Inner dilemma) describes the pain of the only master escaped, Ptah. For many centuries he shunned men. His feelings were contradictory: hope, fear, disappointment, love. But eventually despair gives way to hope... “Leave the past behind you / Dream again / Don’t let fear rule over you / You will find all the strength you need inside you...”.

“Il saggio errante” (The wondering wise man) is a nice instrumental that describes the peregrinations of Ptah while he tries to transmit his knowledge and help humankind undercover. From the Egyptian city of Qena to Benares in India, to the dark sea of the coast of Norway...

The next track “Preghiera” (Prayer) deals with the issue of Faith. It begins with organ chords and a church like choir, then from a strummed acoustic guitar pattern heartfelt vocals soar... When Ptah came back seeking contacts with men, after centuries of solitude, he realized that humankind had developed the faith in God. Of course, God was just a distorted memory of the old masters, but he started to think about it for the first time... “I don’t know if you can hear me, if you exist or you’re nothing but a dream / Many people believes in you / No one can know if you are real / But listen to the pain which is destroying me / It doesn’t give me any hope... Give me hope... Knowledge has always been my only faith, my only God / But when everything falls down and time bestows on you the gift of eternity  / There’s no reason to go on living and fighting / Please, give me a sign...”.

Phaedra 2010

“Il peso del rimorso” (The burden of remorse) describes a spiritual struggle. No sign came from God and Ptah wonders whether is it better to give up trying to transmit his knowledge to humankind or not... Ptah can’t bear the burden of the remorse, he feels that he must help what he still consider his children, he has to help men...

“La decisione” (The decision) concludes the album. Thanks to the hidden help of Ptah, men were able to build up a new advanced civilization that could even compete with the one of the old masters. When Ptah reveals himself nobody believes him and a new destructive war is going to begin. The impending doom closes the circle and you can now imagine Ptah talking to the wind clod in a crimson cape while beside him a child dreams of a better world with green lawns and rivers and other children to play with...

Well, on the whole this is a very good album although the vocal parts are not flawless. Claudio Granatiero wrote the lyrics and the liner notes in the booklet that contribute to explain the plot but in my opinion he should have shared the vocal parts with other singers since he had to interpret too many characters and passages in this “rock-opera” and the result is not always convincing...  


Phaedra: Ptah (2010). Other opinions
Chris “Seventhsojourn”: Ptah” is certainly an ambitious and visionary tableau, but with 14 tracks and a running time of 75-minutes it's very long, perhaps too long. I hate to be critical about the album, especially as the band has clearly invested a great deal of time and effort in its creation, but someone really should have separated the sonic chaff from the wheat. It's not all bad news, mind you. The album has moments of calm beauty and an overall atmosphere of quiet intimacy, while my favourite pieces are the intermittent instrumentals that intersperse the longer tracks. Although graceful and well crafted, ''Ptah'' just seems to lack spontaneity and something of an edge. Phaedra is undoubtedly a band with great potential, although if it's a further ten years until the band's second release I'll consider myself lucky if I'm still around to listen to it... (read the complete review HERE)

Read the interview with the band at Progarchives. Click HERE

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Friday, 9 December 2011

ANGELS AND DEMONS

Antonio Bartoccetti and Doris Norton started their long artistic partnership at the end of the sixties as Jacula and are still active today as Antonius Rex. Their last album, “Per Viam”, was released in 2009 on the independent label Black Widow Records. The packaging features a nice three folds digipack and a suggestive art cover...


The music every now and again could recall Goblin, Pink Floyd or Mike Oldfield and flows away as if it was the soundtrack of a horror movie or a thriller. In fact, I think that tracks such as “Micro Demons”, “Per Viam”, “Spectra” and “Angels & Demons” could be a perfect musical background for the reading of a Dan Brown’s novel... Liturgical chants, gothic organ and piano passages are intertwined with modern sounds and distorted guitars. Well, probably it’s not by chance that during the video of “Angels & Demons” the word illuminati appears! By the way, you can find this video on Youtube, while on the album as a bonus extra track CD-Rom Video there’s “Micro Demons”.


My favourite tracks are “Woman Of The King” where you can find some Celtic influences that remind me slightly of the atmospheres of Alan Stivell’s album “The Mist Of Avalon” and “UFDEM”, an old piece from the repertoire of Jacula dressed up in modern, more aggressive sounds that exalt the charming voice of Doris Norton. Good also the final track “Antonius Rex Prophecy”, a long piece featuring the narrative vocals of Antonio Bartoccetti and a slow “atmospheric” pace.


On the whole I think that “Per Viam” is a good album, even if it’s not really challenging and, at length, maybe a bit kitsch. In nomine Christi, amen.

Antonius Rex: Per Viam (2009). Other opinions:
Assaf Vestin: I quite like the feel of this album, its eeriness and oddity. I find its cross-over between a more electronic and synth dominated side and a more rock and heavy inclined tendency is well balanced. I'm not as big a fan of the artificial sound it boasts however. I'd have liked them to use real drums instead of the digital ones, which are the prominent ones here (there are also acoustic drums). These just sound life-less and turn what could be a powerful piece to something much duller and devoid of striking punch. If you seek a dark-sounding album, odd, creepy and scary sounding music, this album should satisfy your needs... (read the complete review HERE)
Jim Russell: Rex proves that simple melodies and hooks can be just as satisfying to proggers than a bunch of avant manic thrashing... (read the complete review HERE)

You can find an interview with Antonio Bartoccetti at Progarchives. Click HERE

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Thursday, 8 December 2011

MYTHS OF CORAL

Coral Caves are an Italian prog band from Palermo, Sicily. They started their activity in 2001 on the initiative of Pietro Saviano and of the first drummer of the band Stefano Bartolomei as a tribute band dedicated to Pink Floyd. After some line-up changes they managed to shape a more personal sound blending in an original way influences swinging from the Italian prog masters of the seventies to hard rock, psychedelia and neo prog. The current line-up features Pietro Saviano (vocals, bass, flute), Dario Gallotta (guitars), Luciano Gallotta (guitars), Salvadores Arcoleo (keyboards) and Massimiliano Vacca (drums). After a demo in 2006, in 2008 the band released an excellent debut album, “Mitopoiesi”, on the independent label Mellow Records.


The opener “Mitopoiesi” (Mythopoeia, the making of myths) sets the atmosphere of this work... Waves of keyboards, sharp guitars, a pulsating rhythm section and evocative vocals drawing interesting melodic lines... “I want to skate on the thin ice of life / To be astonished by the crack under my feet... I’m looking for a shell in a coral cave / With the symphony of the sea inside... I want many illusions / With risks and disappointments / I want a burning fire in my heart...”.

“Sorridi” (Smile!) starts with drums and bass in the forefront and alternates quiet, dreamy atmospheres with faster parts... “Even the fastest car sooner or later stops / And if an usurer as the years go by wants to buy your gaze, your pride, your heart... Just smile and turn down that offer!”.


In “Cliff Of Moher” the band blends symphonic prog with Latin rock. A strange journey to Ireland indeed. Romantic lyrics describe a beautiful landscape, the sea and the sky that you can see from the Cliff of Moher while your thoughts are flying away, towards someone that is difficult to forget...

On “Senza di me” (Without me) Pink Floyd influences are stronger while the band tries to describe in music and words the melancholic feeling of being in a boat carried away by the current, without oars. But then, someone calls you and gives you hope for a return to reality... “What am I today? / I should look at my past / What will be tomorrow? / I was hoping it would be better than me...”.


“Ricordi” (Memories) is another introspective track. It starts with a flute solo, then the electric guitar comes in and leads the way... The song is about the memory of past friends losing themselves between disappointments and broken dreams.

“Torno a casa” (I come back home) is a kind of celebration of the “backpacker way of life”. It’s about the need to travel, the taste of discovery, the charm of exploring new countries, meeting new people, learning new languages. Acoustic strummed guitar and keyboards bring a positive, joyful feeling.

Then, a martial marching beat introduces “Tenochtitlan 1521”, a reflection about the behaviour of the conquistadores of Mexico where the band compares the cruel rites of the Aztecs and the cruel rites of the Spanish who, the in name of God, used to send non-believers and heretics to the stake. People don’t learn from history... “Despite time elapsed / Despite civilization, progress and freedom / Every day a new Tenochtitlan falls...”. The final guitar solo recalls Neil Young...


“Eterno ritorno” (Eternal return) is a beautiful, poetical track about the eternal circle of life, one of the best moments on the album, where acoustic folkloric suggestions are perfectly blended with prog. Calm passages featuring flute and acoustic guitars alternates with sparkling keyboards and a joyful rhythm section.

The long, complex final track “Il dolce canto della terra” (The sweet song of the Earth) is about the need to live in harmony with mother nature. Its calm, serene and solemn pace concludes an album that is really worth listening to...

From the book Rock Progressivo Italiano: An introduction to Italian Progressive Rock

You can listen in streaming to the complete album HERE

Coral Caves: Mitopoiesi (2008). Other opinions:
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: Though Coral Caves may not score very highly in terms of authentic progressive content, they do instead as regards melody and accessibility. Their music, never overly complex or demanding, has an easy flow that will appeal to those listeners who do not shun more mainstream genres. "Mitopoiesi", while clearly not breaking any new ground, it is nonetheless a well-crafted debut from a talented new band, which will please fans of both Italian music and classic rock. Prog fans will find enough progressive elements to please them, as well as solid musicianship and more than adequate singing... (read the complete review HERE)
Jim Russell: The players seem far more interested in the melody, atmosphere, and the emotional impact than they do in technical wankery or anything else for that matter. The compositions are beautiful and authentic and original despite the band's love of 70s rock, they succeed in taking the great elements of their influences without falling into the trap of worship. They sound fresh and modern in their presentation... (read the complete review HERE)

Read the interview with Coral Caves on Progarchives, click HERE

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