Monday, 30 September 2013

MIRRORS AND VISIONS

Labirinto di Specchi (the name means maze of mirrors) came to life in Chiusi, in the province of Siena, in 2005 with the ambitious aim to blend progressive rock with other forms of art such as poetry, painting and philosophy. After some years of hard work, in 2009 the band started the recording sessions of their début album, “Hanblecheya”, with a line up featuring Raffaele Crezzini (drums, percussion), Gabriele Marroni (guitars), Filippo Menconi (bass), Andrea Valerio (piano, lead synth) and Diego Samo (keyboards, synth) plus two special guests: former Pholas Dactylus' front-man Paolo Carelli (vocals) and Michele Sanchini (cello). The album was released in 2010 on the independent label Lizard Records and the result is an interesting mix of vintage sounds, post rock and psychedelia. According to the band, the title “Hanblecheya” is taken from a Native American language and means “crying the vision”. As you can guess, this is a conceptual work where the music and lyrics try to conjure up powerful, evocative visions. While listening to the music you can see flowers of light and hidden shadows as in a dream while forgotten thoughts and free emotions come back from your unconscious.


The opener “Eclissi Pt. 1 – L’occhio e la maschera” (Eclipse Pt.1 – The eye and the mask) sets a mystic atmosphere and Paolo Carelli's narrative vocals draw the image of a mysterious mask that slowly begins to hide the sun and the moon unchaining a timeless madness without any logic. Phenomena triggered by an uncontrollable reality begin to take shape... On the following “La maschera della visione” (The mask of vision) whipping synth waves announce a change and your mind, filled with desire, starts to run towards the unknown and tries to seize it... “The conscience is silent and soars / The visionary mask becomes alive / The hidden truth unfolds...”.


Fantasia” (Imagination) is a long, spectacular ride into the unknown where you could find yourself wandering in beautiful, hidden places and getting lost in wonderful dreams. Next comes the dark, disquieting “Nel nulla etereo soggiogato dall’ignoto la mente si espande” (In the ethereal void, subjugated by the unknown, the mind spreads out) where dreams seem to turn into nightmares. The narrative vocals and the obstinate percussive patterns evoke an ancestral spirituality and American Western plains and fights between the native people and the blue soldiers... “I've walked, I've seen, I've run... I've heard sounds that no one had ever heard before... I've seen enormous butterflies and spiders dancing with snakes and cormorants... I've seen my body lying in the dust just before entering into the hut of sweat...”.


On the tense, nervous “Purpurea” (Purple) deep red colours prevail while the music and lyrics conjure up a subtle sense of fear. Then the chains of conscience melt and you can perceive the energy of life, you are filled with this energy and you miss it in the same time. Then comes the long, complex “Foll(i)a” (Madness/Crowd) where the tight rope of equilibrium is shaken and madness spreads all around. Threatening, ever changing clouds run across the sky, you can feel that everything is trembling around you and everything gets blurred while strange sounds strike hidden keys in your mind.

Labrinto di Specchi 2010

The conclusive “Eclissi Pt. 2 – La genesi” (Eclipse Pt. 2 – The genesis) closes the circle. There's a new burst of energy then the spiritual, cathartic experience comes to an end and slowly the sun rise again from behind the mask of vision. Well, on the whole I think that this is a really good album and that it's worth listening to!

Labirinto di Specchi: Hanblecheya (2010). Other opinions:
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: Firmly anchored to the Italian progressive tradition by its keen sense of melody and the rivetingly dramatic tone of Paolo Carelli’s narration, yet unafraid to experiment with more radical musical directions, and skilled in combining the acoustic, the electric and the electronic component (though at times the slashing, whistling presence of synths can become a tad overwhelming), Labirinto Di Specchi are a band that adventurous listeners would do well to check out... (read the complete review HERE)
Olav Martin Bjørnsen: As tantalizing and intriguing as Labirinto Di Specchi's exploits are, they won't appeal to everyone. If you have a taste for electronic and acoustic instrument interactions you will have an advantage, but apart from that, those who generally appreciate ambient, dream-laden music just as much as textured post rock excursions and futuristic-sounding psychedelic music should all have a fairly good chance of enjoying this album. Progressive rock for an eclectic mind of a rather particular nature, one might say... (read the complete review HERE)

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Sunday, 29 September 2013

AN EXPLOSIVE FRUIT

Amigdala began life in Naples in 2008 as a “laboratory of instrumental music” with the aim to blend jazz with progressive rock and avant-garde. In 2012 the band released a début album on the independent label Suoni del Sud, “Opere Omus”, with a line up featuring Marco Gesualdi (guitars), Vittorio Nicoletti Altimari (bass), Carmine Brachi (drums), Luca Toller (piano, synthesizers) and Francesco Gallo (sax, flute). During the recording sessions they were helped by many guests (among others Lino Vairetti from Osanna) who contributed to enrich the sound with good results. Amigdala's sources of inspiration range from The Beatles to Frank Zappa and Weather Report, from Osanna and Napoli Centrale to Area but they managed to add to their music a touch of originality.


The beautiful opener “Intifada” begins with the piano evoking the race of a White Elephant in a dark September day, then the sax starts to weave threatening plots with a strong Middle-Eastern flavour. Next comes the title track where Area's influences are even more evident thanks to the vocals provided by the guests Luca Saccoia and Marco Francini who recall Demetrio Stratos... “An unknown desire calls me in the enchanted city / Stronger than a book, stronger than a game / In the music street there are smiles and guitars / Forests of sounds, horizons of joy / Hooters, narrow alleys, ghosts, queens / Come here, come here...”. The finale of this piece is freely taken from Igor Stravinsky's “Bird of Fire”.


No One” is a nice instrumental track where the fusion influences take you on an imaginary voyage across the Ocean. It leads to “Sinistro” (Sinister) where a string quartet interacts with the jazz rock sensibility of the band adding more musical colours with interesting results as in the following “29.S” where you can find echoes of Tango and clouds of passionate nostalgia flying around.


La mela di Odessa” (The Apple from Odessa), is an Area's cover featuring Lino Vairetti on vocals. As you probably know, the lyrics tell in a surreal way the story of a Dadaist artist called Apple who, soon after the Russian Revolution, hijacks a German ship and delivers her to the Bolsheviks in Odessa where they blow her up. It's not an easy subject but the interpretation here is personal and filled with irony.


Unisono” is a short jazzy instrumental that leads to the swinging “Sir Ralph”, featuring the guest Marcello Coleman (from Almamegretta) on vocals... “Sensibility and feelin' / This is the music who's fillin' my brain / Keep on runnin' / Keep on jumpin' / Keep on movin'...”. The last track “Macumba” features the guests Maurizio Capone on percussion and Riccardo Veno on flute. It comes from the repertoire of a previous band where militated Marco Gesualdi, Vittorio Nicoletti Altimari and Maurizio Capone and features a strong Mediterranean flavour.

On the whole, a good album from a very interesting band.

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Saturday, 28 September 2013

A VISUAL PERCEPTION OF SOUNDS

Ske is the brainchild of keyboardist and composer from Varese Paolo “Ske” Botta who features also in the line up of bands such as Yugen and Not A Good Sign. In 2010 he gathered around him some excellent musicians such as Fabio Ciro Ceriani (percussion), Valerio Cipollone (clarinet), Enrica Di Bastiano (harp), Maurizio Fasoli (piano), Elia Leon Mariani (violin), Nicolas Nikolopoulos (flute), Giuspeppe Jos Olvini (theremin, percussion), Roberta Pagani (vocals), Valerio Neth Reina (vocals), Mattia Signò (drums), Markus Stauss (sax), Fabrice Toussaint (trombone), Pierre Wawrzyniak (bass) and Francesco Zago (guitars) for the recording sessions of a début album, “1000 Autunni” (Thousand Autumns), that was released in 2011 on the independent label Altr0ck/Fading Records). The result is an amazing instrumental work, extremely rich in sounds and ideas, where you can find a perfectly balanced mix of classical influences, vintage keyboards, symphonic rock, avant-garde and many more. Anyway, the beautiful art work might describe the music better than my words.


The opener “Fraguglie” sets the atmosphere painting an evocative autumnal landscape. You can almost hear the gentle steps of a giant moving through an enchanted wood and directed to the court of the Crimson King. You can even hear some nice tunes soaring from the wood, then the mood becomes hypnotic and you risk to get lost. The following “Denti” (Teeth) is darker and filled with a heavy tension.


Well, perhaps the giant is not directed to the hall of a British castle but in a mysterious nursing home in the Carpathian mountains. The music goes on with the exotic, sensual “Carta e Burro” (Paper and butter) and the nervous, tense “Scrupoli” (Scruples). To be honest, I've recently read a novel by French writer Maurice Renard titled L'homme truqué (The phoney man) and when listening to this album the rhythm and the images evoked by the book come back to my mind, I can't help it! The novel starts as a crime story: a physician is murdered, then the investigations reveal some secret experiments on human beings and the attempt to discover a sixth sense through the implantation of electroscopes into a blind man's eyes. What would it happen if they applied an electrical-ear on your optical nerves? “You would see the sounds, you wouldn't listen to them any more, you would have a visual perception of the world of sounds...”.


Delta” begins with a relaxed, dreamy mood that seems to conjure up some memories from a happy childhood, then the course of thoughts risks to get lost in the ripples. “Scogli 1” (Rocks 1) comes as a short, disquieting break while the ethereal “Sotto sotto” (Underneath) delves into the unconscious... “Those who have lost their loved ones know the sacred game of reviving them concentrating all the forces of memory and imagination to create shadows that look like them...”. Just another short quotation from L'homme truqé to introduce the following “Mummia” (Mummy) and its bold games of shadows and lights.



Scogli 2” (Rocks 2) is a short, dark interlude that leads to the charming “La Nefazia di Multatuli” (I fear the title can't be translated and I don't know if it contains any reference to the Dutch writer Multatuli or to a siren queen called Nefazia). Another short interlude, “Scogli 3” (Rocks 3) leads to the conclusive “Rassegnati” (Resigned), a beautiful, complex track with sudden changes in mood and rhythm.

On the whole, this is a great instrumental album where not a single note sounds out of place. It could be the perfect score for a thriller, the music is challenging but never boring and it's really worth listening to.

Ske: 1000 Autunni (2011). Other opinions:
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: An intriguing, refined album, 1000 Autunni offers something for nearly everyone. Even though those who crave extended compositions, with flights of instrumental fancy and lush vocal harmonies, will probably not appreciate the album as much as RIO/Avant and Canterbury devotees, this is a truly eclectic effort that bridges the gap between the great Seventies tradition and the more forward-thinking directions of progressive rock. Like most AltrOck releases, the album is also a treat in the visual sense, with a stunning cover shot of autumn leaves (taken by Botta himself, who has a background in design and visual communication) and the stylish layout of the very detailed liner notes. Definitely one of those discs whose full potential will unfold at every successive listen, 1000 Autunni is poised to become one of the standout releases of 2011... (read the complete review HERE)
Steven Reid: Not for the feint hearted, 1000 Autunni is a hugely satisfying and rewarding listening experience which makes an immediate impression, whilst still growing in stature the more familiar you become with it. Impressive stuff indeed... (read the complete review HERE)


Friday, 27 September 2013

IN NOMINE DEUS

Deus lo vult” is the third album by Il Bacio della Medusa, a band from Perugia that was formed in 2002. It was self-released in 2012 with the help of Glare Art Communication and features a beautiful packaging with an art work by Licia Marino mixing photographs and drawings. Violinist Daniele Rinchi left the band after the excellent second album and now the line up is reduced to a quintet featuring Simone Cecchini (vocals, acoustic guitar, harp), Diego Petrini (drums, percussion, mellotron, organ), Federico Caprai (bass), Simone Brozzetti (electric guitar) and Eva Morelli (flute, sax, theremin). The overall sound is harder than in the previous work but in my opinion the music perfectly fits the storyline and the final result is magnificent. In fact, “Deus lo vult” is a concept album inspired by the first crusade where sarcasm and irony prevail upon epic tones. It tells the story of an unfortunate, naive lord from Umbria who leaves his land and wife in search for glory and richness in the Holy Land. Well, if I had to compare this work to a film I would say that it's definitely closer to Brancaleone at the Crusades by Mario Monicelli than to Kingdom of Heaven by Ridley Scott!


The short opener “Invocazione alle Muse” (Invocation to the Muses) sets the atmosphere with Simone Cecchini who here plays the role of a minstrel... “Let the wind blow strong / And as for magic / Let it suggest the song / Of the young Simplicio...”. On the following “Indignatio (Infedeli in Terra Santa)” (Indignatio – Infidels in the Holy Land) the rhythm rises while the music and lyrics weave a sense of organized delirium. This piece describes the atmosphere of mystic fanaticism and hysteria that leads to every religion war. The Earth seems to give birth to dark, venomous scorpions while infidels plunder and celebrate their pagan rites in the Holy Land. You can hear curses and invocations to the divine wrath... “Hurry up! Hurry up! / The whole Christianity has to rise and fight...”.


On “Urbano II bandisce la Prima Crociata” (Urban II summons the First Crusade) Simone Cecchini plays the role of pope Urban II blessing Godfrey of Bouillon and his army in an almost ludicrous way and there's a strong sense of parody. Next comes “Simplicio”, a beautiful ballad which describes the protagonist of the story on his way to the Holy Land and his meeting with an attractive girl who reads his hand and predicts him a gloomy future. She offers him shelter and love but our hero turns her down and rides on... “When he gave up counting so many suns and too many moons / He attained his destination...”.

Deus lo vult” (God wills it) begins softly with exotic flavours in the air, the music here recalls the score of Lawrence of Arabia by Maurice Jarre. Then the rhythm suddenly rises and you can hear the battle raging and see the blood flowing in deep purple colours... “Shoot the arrow and run / Towards those towers... God wills it! / Beyond those gates / Death is waiting for you... God wills it...”.



Verso casa” (On the way home) tells of a sad return. Simplicio is disappointed, for him there's no glory nor land nor richness since the leaders and the most powerful knights make the rules and for him there's nothing left but pain. So he comes back home with no booty but, at least, the hope to find again his faithful wife cheers him up. The final track reveals a nasty surprise... “La Beffa (Non un trono, non un regno... Solo sdegno)” (The prank – No throne, no kingdom... Only outrage) describes the moment when he finds out his spouse cheating on him. She's in bed with the local priest and Simplicio goes mad. In his final explosion of rage he's merciless and burns them alive... “Get ready the stake...”. Well, a real flamboyant finale!

Il Bacio della medusa : Deus lo vult (2012). Other opinions:
Raffaella Benvenuto-Berry: Besides the outstanding quality of the music, which successfully blends a vintage feel with a thoroughly modern allure, Il Bacio della Medusa should be commended for the painstaking attention devoted to the lyrics – though, unfortunately, non-speakers of Italian are bound to miss out on this aspect, as even the best translation is unlikely to convey the stylistic subtlety of Simone Cecchini’s work. In any case, Deus Lo Vult is undoubtedly poised to become one of the standout Italian prog releases of this first part of the 21st century. Especially recommended to fans of bands at the heavier end of the RPI spectrum (such as Osanna and the already-mentioned Balletto di Bronzo and Biglietto per l’Inferno), this intense slice of top-notch musical skill and exquisitely Italian drama will probably be mentioned in many “best of 2012” lists at the end of the year... (read the complete review HERE)

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

TRAVELLING THROUGH EUROPE

I Tugs began life in Livorno in 1978 on the initiative of Pietro Contorno, Nicola Melani, Bruno Rotolo, Michele Lippi, and Claudio Cecconi. They were influenced by Italian prog bands such as Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Le Orme and by Italian singer-songwriters as Fabrizio De André and Angelo Branduardi but in the eighties progressive rock was out of fashion and they had no chance to release an album in the early phase of their career. After a long hiatus the band re-formed and started to play live again mixing music and theatre with the contribute of a company of comedians. In 2013 they finally released a début album on the independent label AMS/BTF, Europa Minor, with a line up featuring founder members Pietro Contorno (vocals, guitar), Nicola Melani (guitar) and Bruno Rotolo (bass) along with Marco Susini (keyboards) and Fabio Giannitrapani (drums, percussion). During the recording session they were helped by Claudio Fabiani (flute), Francesco Carmignani (violin), Martina beinfei (cello), Matteo Scarpettini (percussion) and Antonio Ghezzani (guitar, mandola, mandolin) who contributed to enrich the musical fabric with excellent results. According to the liner notes “Europa Minor” is a clandestine collection of literary and musical works, fragments of poetry, tales, scores, drawings and images preserved by a group of travelling artists and on stage all this stuff comes to life thanks to all the musicians and actors involved. Well, in the absence of the comedians, listening to this album we will have to complete the musical tableaux with our imagination.


The opener “Waterloo” is a lively track about the Battle of Waterloo. On a marching beat you can imagine the armies moving with a martial pace. Then the lyrics depict the stench of death soaring from the battlefield while Lady Fortune dances on the fate of the heroes like the wind among the trees. Now she turns her back to the glorious Emperor who once ruled all over Europe, the man whom five years of exile would convert into a martyr, and fifteen of restoration elevate to the rank of a god (1). The country around Waterloo is soaked in blood... “The crops are laughing at the honours of the heroes...”.

Il re e il poeta” (The king and the poet) is a complex piece divided into two parts. The first part, “La corte” (The court), describes in musics and words the arrival of a poet in the court of the king of an European country. The poet comes from the Middle-East and brings new secrets and magical scrolls. People gather around, they come to the king's hall to listen to the stories of the poet about heroes, wars, demons and death. The poet tells old fairy-tales and unfolds arcane mysteries, then king ask him to predict the future of his kingdom... “The frontiers of my world lie beyond Time / Cries and repentances of men and peoples made this kingdom fit to challenge Time / Now I ask you, poet / To tell us the future of my kingdom / And in your name let's celebrate...”. The second part, “La gloria” (The glory), describes the sardonic answer of the poet... “Time passes by and the veil of a rapidly forgotten age falls down on the memories... As rain that will get lost in time / Your name will be erased / Millennia will bend on you / And your fruit will be consumed / It's the glory...”.


La brigata dei dottori” (The physicians brigade) is a reflective, bitter-sweet track about real knowledge. What is the secret of the man who hides inside yourself? Science can't answer this question, physicians and eminent people can't give you any useful advice when you are confronted with the mystery of your ego and they could become for you just an awkward bunch of charlatans... “Leave behind you your fire / And read the signs in the sky... And my face broke into a thousand faces / And my hands crushed into a thousand hands...”.

Pietroburgo 1824” (Petersburg, 1824) takes you on board of an old steam engine train directed to Saint Petersburg, the Imperial capital of Russia founded by the Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. Here Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was set along with many other novels by Russian writers as Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol. The music and lyrics depict the city on a windy day in November 1824 with beautiful, evocative musical and poetical colours. “On the roofs and in the streets / That November wind was raging against the men...”.


Le colline di Ems” (Ems hills) begins with a strummed acoustic guitar. The mood is dreamy but there's a vein of melancholia. In a dark night old memories come back... “He painted his thoughts like the sun / And the memory of the colours of the street gave way to the clear air / And that was his last dream / Then the shadows closed his gaze / Amidst the fogs of dawn...”.

Il pianto” (The cry) is darker and filled with an exotic sense of mystery. Music and lyrics describe the strange dialogue between a man and his shadow where the borders of reality get blurred. Eventually a desperate cry springs out from broken dreams and deluded hopes.

The following “Il sogno di Jennifer” (Jennifer's dream) is an excellent instrumental featuring a perfectly balanced mix of classical influences and rock. It leads to the committed “Nostra Signora Borghesia” (Our Lady Bourgeoisie) that depicts an old lady with a heart of ice, covered with gold and dressed up in all her vanity. It's a poetical denounce of social injustice and hypocrisy. There's no violence in the music and lyrics but a drum roll towards the end seems to suggest an impending execution... “Dance with us, my old lady...”.


I bambini d'inverno” (The children in winter) draws the image of a child in a cold house. Outside there's a high wall, cold as a blade, that makes the heart bleeding. There are children in the snowy streets who are playing and moving around like human crumbs in a sea of lights and concrete. They can fly high, over the wall... “The children in winter / Coffee drops in the white sea of this hell...”.

Canzone per un anno” (Song for a year) is a charming ballad with a slightly Medieval flavour and strong classical influences. It depicts a Northern mountainous landscape. In January barbaric hordes from the forests stormed through the valleys and until April the crying of the women resounded all around, there were no celebration in honour of God Pan and of the elves. In May the snow melted and the corpses of the dead were buried. In June there was a new battle and the invaders were defeated. In September the vineyards gave their fruits and Bacchus was celebrated, then the winter came back. All this events are seen through the eyes of a little girl... “Open your eyes, my little darling / May will come back / Dance peacefully your cheerfulness...”.


The conclusive track, “Nanou”, is set in France in 1943 and tells of a meeting between a desperate, suicidal girl and some partisans who rescue her from the cold water of the river. The meeting is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the Germans. You can hear the shots... “A thousand air drops are drawing me away from you...”.

On the whole, I think that this is a very good album, a labour of love filled with passion and great musicianship that is really worth listening to.

You can listn in streaming to the complete album HERE


Tugs: Europa Minor (2013). Other opinions:
Olav Marin Bjornsen: All in all Tugs very much belated debut album is a fine specimen of it's kind. Symphonic progressive rock with more of an acoustic atmosphere to it and with a fair few details of folk music flavoring the proceedings, creating an elegant and sophisticated breed of timeless but vintage sounding symphonic progressive rock that should have a fairly broad appeal. With those who have a soft spot for Italian bands with vocalists singing in their native tongue as a logical key audience... (read the complete review HERE)
Paul Fowler: It's a remarkably mature piece of work with strong musicianship without going for overly flash, everyone playing their part perfectly. There are moments of bombast with heavier guitar riffing but that's not what Europa Minor is about, rich melodies and tastefully restrained instrumentation weaving together to form an intricate whole being the order of the day... (read the complete review HERE)

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(1) This quote is not from the lyrics but from The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas


Monday, 23 September 2013

FLOWERS AND DUCKS

Flower Flesh come from Savona and were formed in 2005 on the initiative of Ivan Giribone and Alberto Sgarlato. After some line up changes, in 2010 the band began the recording sessions of their début album, Duck In The Box, with a line up featuring founder members Ivan Giribone (bass) and Alberto Sgarlato (keyboards) along with Daniel Elvstrom (vocals), Marco Olivieri (guitars) and Andrea Fazio (drums). The result of their efforts is an interesting mix of influences ranging from The Doors and Quicksilver Messenger Service to Uriah Heep, from Premiata Forneria Marconi and Le Orme to Kansas and Rush. The album was finally released in 2012 on the independent label Black Widow Records and I think it's worth listening to.


The opener “Falling In Another Dimension” is a short rock piece veined of psychedelia and full of energy that tries to take you in another space, far from the daily grind. The following “My Gladness After Sadness” begins softly, driven by a delicate piano pattern backed by an acoustic guitar. It's a long, complex track that every now and again evokes the ghost of the Lizard King and Daniel Evstrom's hieratic vocals provide here an almost mystic atmosphere. On an evocative marching beat you can see a woman's body materialize through a crystal ball... “I'm thirsty, you know / And in your eyes I can see the sea that I can't drink... The hourglass of Time stands still / We are a sinking ship / But when everything seems lost / We become energy of the universe / That's what I dream for us / You have to know it, my very sweet Mary...”. An excellent track where PFM meets the Doors. The lyrics are half in Italian and half in English and I have to say that's a real pity that the band didn't exploit more their native language.




It Will Be the End” evokes a dark night and a light in the distance on the sea, there's a desert around you where truth and lies dance in the mist while the music features a slight eighties flavour. Next comes the psychedelic “God Is Evil (Like The Devil)” that recalls The Doors. According to the band, the lyrics are about clergymen who cover with religion their wickedness. The following “The Race Of My Life” features an exotic flavour and many changes in rhythm and mood. It's another track featuring lyrics half in Italian and half in English that draw strange visions taking you beyond Moon and Time to challenge fire and wind.


Antarctica” features a slight a new wave touch and tries to describe the icy “landscape” that forms in a house when a relationship is falling apart. The last track, the complex “Scream and Die”, according to an interview with the band, is about the Soviet war in Afghanistan and quotes some verses by Arab poets from the book “Versi di fuoco e di sangue”. It's an excellent piece and a perfect conclusion for this work.

Flower Flesh: Duck In The Box (2012). Other opinions:
Jerry Lucky: Flower Flesh are a relatively new band, having started in 2005 and as such they bring an updated sensibility to the world of Italian prog. Their sound is clearly symphonic, a kind that hearkens back to an earlier time, primarily in the sound of the instruments and also in the uncomplicated arrangements. It may take a couple of listens to pick up what’s going on here, but in the end Duck in a Box is a very satisfying set of tunes. I’m liking it more and more each time I put it on... (read the complete review HERE)
Vitaly Menshikov: The band is obviously not setting out to change the world of Neo Prog – they simply make their own contribution to the genre. Nonetheless, those who prioritize rock music more based in melody than in details will likely find the album a solid success... (read the complete review HERE).

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Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A TRIP IN THE GHOST TOWN

Civico 23 began life in Rome in 2010 on the initiative of Massimo “Joe” Galatone and Lorenzo Gaudino with the aim to blend classic rock with new sounds. After a demo and an intense live activity in the Roman area, in 2013 the band released an interesting début album on the independent label Lizard Records titled “Siero progressivo” (Progressive serum) with a line up featuring Massimo “Joe” Galatone (vocals), Lorenzo Gaudino (basso), Daniel Parisi (lead guitar), Federico Cianfarra (rhythm guitar), Simone Mastrodonato (organo, piano, keyboards) and Francesco Cossio (drums). The result of their efforts is a personal “NeWintage” music (as they define it) full of raw energy and irony with a strong theatrical approach and influences ranging from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Premiata Forneria Marconi to Joe Cocker, Neil Young, Dream Theater and many more.


The opener “Umida cenere” (Wet ash) begins with an electric guitar arpeggio. Then, out of the blue, the music and lyrics conjure up hard images of desolate, dark streets where drug dealers and pimps rule over men and women who burn their life under a gloomy rain before getting lost into the black, as wet ashes swept away by a hurricane.

Il menestrello” (The minstrel) is a short narrative introduction to the following “Il cavaliere illuso” (The deluded knight) , a long, complex track that alternates heavy guitar riffs and calmer moments, fiery organ rides and acoustic passages. It tells the story of a knight who kills a dragon and later realizes that he did the wrong thing since the dragon was there only to protect the town. The ungrateful townsfolk are far from happy for his noble deed since the dragon used to feed on hatred and negativity giving peace in exchange. So, eventually, the knight runs away and shelters in the forest, ashamed and regretful. In some way this track reminds me of another Italian prog band called Fiaba.


Urano” (Uranus) tells in music and words about a cathartic voyage toward Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, named after the ancient Greek deity of the sky. It starts softly, then a sudden burst of energy marks the take off towards deep purple skies. Along the way you could die working in slavery, haunted by apocalyptic visions and then come to life again with a new hope... “Stand up!”.

Paura infinita” (Infinite fear) features a heavy atmosphere where the music and lyrics evoke gloomy, infernal figures moving behind the black face of Death, wildly dancing on the deck of a pirate ship... “Forests of fire / Deserts of sulphur / Come on damned! Dance with me! / You're welcome in my Hell...”.


Aureo” (Aureus) is a short narrative piece which sets the atmosphere to the following “I sette angeli” (The seven angels), an apocalyptic ballad evoking seven angels carrying death and destruction on earth. After their passage there's nothing left but dust, ash and silence, then a woman crowned with stars appears in the sky bringing a new hope. She's ready to give birth to a new messiah, a new sun is going to rise and you can't do nothing but hope in a better world...

Delirio ad occhi chiusi” (Delirium with eyes closed) begins with a delicate piano pattern, then the rhythm rises bringing a positive energy along with odd dreams and strange sensations. Only keeping your eyes shut you can fly over the towers of the prophets discovering humble, fragile secrets and see the infinite throughout the light that for centuries has been hiding it... “I want to shout on a distant music / As the wind blowing on a volcano that is going to erupt...”.


The long, complex “L'ultimo grido di Galeria” (The last scream of Galeria) is my favourite track on this album. Galeria is a ghost town that lies near Rome and was completely abandoned by the inhabitants in 1809, probably on account of a malaria epidemic. This piece depicts in music and words a traveller who walks among the ruins of the ancient buildings in wintertime. He can still hear the songs of a minstrel carried by the wind or the screams of pain of some lost souls still echoing all around...

A last short narrative track, “Rimane il mare” (It remains the sea), concludes the album with sparks of fairy tales and poetical visions... “In the beginning it was silence, then wind and rain came / And the sea with its ever changing wave / Then came the man with his wars and no solution / Then music came, primordial sounds / And in the end, in the very end / The wind was gone, and the man with his heart of pain was gone too / There was nothing left but the sea / A sound that can replace every human sound...”.

On the whole, a good work that is really worth listening to.

You can listen to the complete album in streaming HERE

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Monday, 2 September 2013

BACK TO THE NEW WORLD

After some singles in a melodic, commercial style, in 1972 Franco Battiato took a more challenging musical direction for his first full length album on Bla Bla Records blending Italian melody with experimental electronic sounds. The result is “Fetus”, a concept album written in collaboration with Sergio Albergoni and producer Pino Massara and recorded with the help of a team of skilled musicians featuring, among others, Gianfranco D'Adda, Gianni Mocchetti and Sergio Almangano. According to the liner notes, this album is “completely dedicated” to Aldous Huxley and his works, in particular to Brave New World, a novel which anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and operant conditioning that combine to profoundly change society. It's subtitled “Ritorno al mondo nuovo” (Return To The New World) and features a provocative, controversial art work by Gianni Sassi.


The opener “Fetus” is a short track in three parts that begins just by vocals and sound effects evoking the heart-beat. The lyrics depict the feelings of a baby who slowly takes shape in his mother's womb... “I wasn't born yet / And I could already feel the heart-beat / Even before my birth / I could feel that I was born without love...”. On the instrumental middle section synthesizers come in describing the mystery of life flowing in the veins of fate, then an acoustic guitar arpeggio introduces an almost mystical atmosphere.

The following “Una cellula” (A cell) features a dreamy mood while the lyrics conjure up images from a future where time gets blurred... “My cells will change and my body will have a new life... We will travel around the sun, faster than light / As time-machines against the will of Time...”.


Cariocinesi” (Mitosis) is a strange, swinging track that every now and again reminds me of the Quintette du Hot Club de France of Stephan Grappelli and Django Reinhardt. The music and lyrics describe in a surreal way the magic of the process by which a cell, which has previously replicated each of its chromosomes, separates the chromosomes in its cell nucleus into two identical sets of chromosomes, each set in its own new nucleus, a process that is maybe blind or just “enlightened by a memory without past...”. But beware! Chance can alter the process leading to unpredictable effects.

Energia” (Energy) begins with the voice of some little children in the background and the reprise of the theme of the middle section of the title track. Then Franco Battiato's vocals come in and draw some reflections about the role of chance in the reproductive process... “I have had many women in my life / And in every room I left some of my energy... If a child would be aware that he was born by chance among thousands of occasions / He would understand all the dreams that life can give / And he would live with joy all those illusions...”.

Inner sleeve

Fenomenologia” (Phenomenology) begins with a strummed acoustic guitar and a dreamy mood... “My mental action is uncertain / The voice is marble and concrete / I live in spite of myself / It’s hard to get the control / There’s fog around my eyes / The outlines are getting blurred / I’ve already forgotten my dimension / Unknown forces are tearing me from myself...”. Then a second part follows introduced by strange percussion patterns while the vocals repeat the DNA formula. The track ends with a reprise of the third part of the title track

Meccanica” (Mechanics) is darker and begins with synthesizers in the forefront that bring a sense of tension. Then an acoustic section follows and the music and lyrics depict a laboratory where the genes of love are manipulated to shape a new form of life featuring mechanical eyes and brain, a plastic heart and a synthetic taste. On the final section you can hear the voices of the astronauts of the Apollo 11 and Bach's “Air on a G string”.


Next comes the ethereal “Anafase” (Anaphase). Anaphase is the stage of mitosis or meiosis when chromosomes are split and the sister chromatids move to opposite poles of the cell, but in this case the lyrics and music conjure up an interstellar journey. Some spaceships take off towards the immensity - Will man colonize new planets?

The conclusive “Mutazione” (Mutation) seems to suggest the answer for the previous question... “Millennia of sleep have cradled me and now I'm back / Something has changed / I can't see any signal of life / Nonetheless I can feel it / The are some vibrations / I can't say what my eyes are going to see / Perhaps some bodies of stone / I feel them coming...”.

Well, on the whole an interesting album with a concept half-way between science-fiction and spiritualism!

You can listen in streaming to the complete album HERE

Franco Battiato: Fetus (1972). Other opinions:
Jim Russell: Despite the less-than-appealing cover art, "Fetus" is one charming piece of work. It is true that it is less realized than his coming albums, perhaps more scattershot, and yet I find it is probably the one I enjoy playing the most. It's a collage work mixing symphonic, psych, traditional Italian pop, avant-garde, minimalism, and electronic sound... As for what "Fetus" delivers to the listeners, the songs are short and sweet, built upon the combination of Battiato's VCS3, voice, and the acoustic guitar. The eerie warbles of the VCS3 are handled masterfully, and even if occasionally cheesy by today's standards they are often evocative and haunting in their strangeness. The embellishments in the form of violin, swelling organ washes, light/minimal percussion, Bach samples, and sound effects keep each track very rich and interesting... (read the complete review HERE)