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Trollheart 12-09-2016 11:40 AM

You certainly have to hand it to prog bands when it comes to names. They come up with the weirdest ones, both for albums and songs and also for the bands themselves. I mean: “A plague of lighthouse keepers”? A Trick of the Tail? Lark's Tongues in Aspic? Now we have the oddly-named Elephants of Scotland who, just to confuse you, are not Scottish at all, nor even British, but hail from the USA. Why did they choose this name for their band? Who knows? But they've been around since 2010 and are the project of yet another multi-instrumentalist, Adam Rabin. Anything to Yes's famous guitarist? I don't know, but his entry in Wiki doesn't mention any brother or son, so I'd assume perhaps not.

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Execute and Breathe – Elephants of Scotland – 2014
Since their formation the band, who tend to prefer the abbreviation EoS (not to be confused with the famous Canon camera!) appear to have been busy, releasing a total of three albums in four years, with their most recent only hitting earlier this year. This however is their second, and though I admit I have not yet heard it all the way through (until now, that is) I have heard the odd track while shuffling through my ipod, and what I've heard has certainly left me wanting to explore further.

So let's do just that.

An almost orchestral intro is quickly supplanted by a funky bass and then warbling keyboards of the kind our departed friend Urban Hatemonger always hated as “A different machine” gets the album underway. EoS seem to be one of those bands who switch up the vocals a la Alan Parsons Project and others, and here I find Dan MacDonald, who only sings on this and one other track, very reminiscent of Marillion's Steve Hogarth. A good rocky opener, slowing down in the middle before heading off on a super keyboard solo. Although I am only now experiencing the album for the first time as I say, it seems to be gaining favourable reviews, as ProgArchives have assigned it a four-star rating. The band also performed at the annual Marillion Weekend festival in Montreal and received a standing ovation, so they must be good.

The opener is good, but I'll admit I'm not salivating or anything. It's competent prog, certainly, but is it anything to get excited about? Well, not yet, not for me, but we've a long way to go yet. “The other room” has a nice guitar and keyboard line running through it, with a repeating guitar riff in the background acting as a kind of motif. It's a good rocky tune, but again I don't see it being anything terribly special. Adam takes the vocal here himself; not sure whether I prefer his singing to that of MacDonald. I do like “Amber waves”, with its soft then harder piano line and which I assume is the first ballad on the album. There's definitely something catchy about the melody, which is something I have not been able to say up to this point. There's kind of a sense of Deacon Blue about it in parts, I feel. Some very nice keyboard passages, courtesy of Adam, who also takes vocals here. This is the longest single track on the album, just over eight minutes, which is good in a way as there are no twenty-minute prog epics to contend with. They can be great, as in “Supper's ready”, or terribly boring, as in “The last human gateway”, so it's always something of a gamble when you see one on an album, and you do, more often than not. Nice to see EoS breaking the pattern.

“TFAY” has an atmospheric little run-in, crying guitar, honking synth, barely-there percussion before it powers forward on rolling drums and sharp guitar, kicking into a nice eighties Genesisesque run. The third and last vocalist on this is guitarist John Whyte, who has a vaguely more feminine sounding voice, slightly Anderson-like. The song is a nice uptempo rocker with some great guitar, good strong ending and we're into “Boxless”, which opens on phased guitar and a sort of ticking percussion with darkly ominous synth. Adam Rabin is back on vocals, the guitar betraying an early Police influence, with a certain sense of the east in the melody too. A slower track than the previous one, I still wouldn't call it anywhere close to a ballad, and there's some nice exuberant keyboard running through it.

Although I said “Amber waves” was the longest track, and it is, I qualified that by saying it's the longest single track, because if you add parts one and two of “Endless” together you get a total of over eleven minutes. Part one opens very like the closing section on “Forgotten sons” by Marillion; hard guitar, rolling keys, bouncy rhythm, and again it's Rabin who retains the mike for this song, though the first part is instrumental. It's his last stint on vocals as part two begins, this running for close to eight minutes and starting off on a very gentle acoustic guitar, everything slowing right down for a very reflective second half. Or not. Midway through rolling drums crash in and warbling keyboard kick up the tempo considerably before ending on a nice soft piano line. We come to a close then with the final vocal from Dan MacDonald as “Mousetrap”, another longish song at just under seven minutes – literally: one second under! - takes us out with a punchy rocker with a sort of tribal rhythm and very much a look back to Abacab in parts.

TRACK LISTING AND RATINGS

1. A different machine
2. The other room
3. Amber waves
4. TFAY
5. Boxless
6. Endless pt 1
7. Endless pt 2
8. Mousetrap


Yeah, it's decent but I don't find myself rushing to hear the rest of their material, which I have. This might take a few more listens to get properly into; there are certainly some nice ideas there, but whether they're executed (hah) as well as they could be I'm not so sure. I'm going to reserve judgement for the time being. Might come back to this.

Trollheart 12-12-2016 01:14 PM

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There are some prog bands I just don't get, and many I should but can't see the appeal in. This bothers me slightly, especially when the band concerned is a major one. And yet, there are huge gaps in my prog appreciation where I just simply don't like or can't get into a particular artiste. Here, I'm going to attempt to address this. The plan is to pick an artiste and listen to up to three of their albums, preferably those considered their best. If, after this, I have still not got into them I'm going to assume that for now at any rate I probably won't manage it, and will temporarily accept that and stop trying. I may give it another shot at some later date on my own terms, but for this section that artiste will be considered a failure for me.

Aristes I intend to cover (more will probably be added later) are: Spock's Beard, IQ, Pallas, King Crimson, Yes, Riverside, Van der Graaf Generator, Dream Theater, Gentle Giant, ELP, Gandalf's Fist, Enchant, Porcupine Tree, Pain of Salvation and Saga.

As I listen to each album I will rate it and assign it a Result, determining whether it leaves me in the same mind as I was before I listened to it, ie no change,
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or has had a positive effect on me,
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or even made me more reluctant to listen to more of their material.
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At the end, I'll know whether I've got into the artiste or still feel meh about them, or even if this experiment has turned me even further from them.

I'll start off with a brief intro to the artiste and what I know of them and have heard from them, and then dive into the review. First one up soon!

If you have any suggestions, feel free.

Trollheart 12-12-2016 06:22 PM

All right then, let's get this under way.
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A band a lot of people give credit to, and who apparently are one of those who often straddle the prog rock/metal divide, I have only heard one full album from Riverside, and that was, at the time, their latest, 2011's Shrine of New Generation Slaves, or SONGS. I seem to remember being reasonably impressed with most of it, but as usual when I listen to this band there's always something niggling me about them, like I can't quite enjoy them or say they're really great; it's like there's something missing? Never quite sure what it is. I've only heard tracks on shuffle playlists other than the album referred to above, but of those, well, some I've really liked, some I have not. A lot of the time it seems to rest on the length of the song, and Riverside tend to go with longer songs, evens suites, most of the time, or at least, most of the times I've heard them. This should not be a problem for a prog head, but I've mentioned the problem previously: a good long track is fine, a joy to listen to, while a bad long track can be torture. Sometimes Riverside's music has given me the feeling of the latter. Well, not quite, but I do recall skipping on after maybe three or four minutes of what I considered uninspiring music.

Current status: http://www.trollheart.com/smallneutral.jpg

Quick bio: Riverside were formed in 2001 in Warsaw, Poland by four friends, and are generally led by bassist and vocalist Mariusz Duda. Over their career so far they have released seven albums, and were hit in February with the sad news of the sudden death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński.

Albums I have heard: Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013)

As it appears the first three albums comprise a trilogy, it makes sense I guess to make them the three I listen to, though I wanted kind of to stay away from debuts and also from consecutive albums. But this seems to be the best way to go with this band, so that's what I'll do. Therefore the first one up is
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Out Of Myself (2003)

First in the “Reality Dream” trilogy, there's only one really long track on it, the opener, and of the remaining eight there are two instrumentals, though both are longer than you would expect the average instrumental to be. The radio being tuned at the beginning of “The same river” harks back to the opening of Marillion's “Forgotten sons”, though I'm sure they weren't the first to do that, then it's a nice powerful dramatic almost Floydesque opening, actually kind of reminds me of Twin Peaks, oddly. A crooning, chanting voice but as yet no vocals as we hit the second minute, but then there are still ten left. Building up nicely on synth and guitar and Duda's bass bringing it all together. Definitely the sense of something about to happen. Four minutes in and still no recognisable vocal. Must say I'm enjoying it though. I can hear the metal influences leaking through now as the guitar gets harder and sharper, running into a soaraway solo that takes us into the fifth minute.

Seven minutes in and we finally get a vocal, though to be honest had it gone on like that to the end I wouldn't really have minded. Maruisz has a nice voice; I've heard it before of course. There's that little twang in it that denotes he's other than English. Settles down in the last two minutes into a kind of acoustic ballad style, which is nice after the intensity of the first ten. Oh, and now we get a super guitar solo. Great opening track. Twelve minutes just flew by. Colour me impressed. And hopeful. The title track is much more immediate and in your face, though it's less than four minutes long. Driven on a punchy guitar with a pretty manic vocal. Like this too. Very metal, as Vivian would say. “I believe” is more laidback, relaxing with nice gentle guitar but at times quite an intense vocal from Mariusz. Could probably do without the sounds of the crowd at the beginning, and they come back in around halfway through the track too. This is another short song, relatively: just over four minutes. Nice melody.

The first instrumental, however, is over six and I'm always a little doubtful of instrumentals that long. We'll see. The ticking clock at the start is less annoying than it could be, and then my god they get going with a big heavy keyboard run as the piece hits its stride early. I quite enjoyed that, and again it didn't seem six minutes long. “Loose heart” is nice, sort of a semi-ballad that puts me in mind at times of Gary Moore, some great guitar work there. Ah. It changes to something of a manic shout-fest near the end, little jarring but it doesn't ruin it for me, while the second instrumental, shorter this time, has more sound effects (phone dial then wrong number sound) but runs on a really smooth guitar line and has a lot of almost angry power. Yeah, I like this too. And we're more than halfway through the album. Going well so far.

“In two minds” has a lovely acoustic line before the organ comes in to shoulder the melody, and reminds me of the best of post-Fish Marillion, and things stay fairly low-key for “The curtain falls”, or so they? Seems like it's taking a left turn here on the back of Duda's almost hypnotic bass and some “Run like Hell” guitar riffs. Nice. Gets really driving and powerful near the end. Excellent. No problems with this. The album ends on “OK”, which as a descriptor of this debut is well below the mark. It's a really nice, almost trip-hop song that at times even reminds me of Norwegian popsters a-ha. I feel I may have heard this as one of the songs on one of those shuffles I was talking about. Nice addition of trumpet here, really gives the song something different. Great closer to a great album.

Track Listing and Ratings

1. The same river
2. Out of myself
3. I believe
4. Reality dream
5. Loose heart
6. Reality dream II
7. In two minds
8. The curtain falls
9. OK


Well if I had any reservations about Riverside this album has gone a long way towards putting those fears to rest. A very accomplished debut – even a triumph, I might say, and it's left me eager to hear more.

Result for this album: http://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpg

Total Result so far: http://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpg

Trollheart 12-21-2016 01:04 PM

A good start, so let's move on to the second in the trilogy, and indeed the second Riverside album.
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Second Life Syndrome (2005)

“After” gets us going with a whispered spoken word then the guitars slide in along with synth and the song seems to be fairly melancholic to start off with, quite dour but I do like it, then “Volte face” takes off from the start on a rocking guitar line and takes three minutes before the vocal comes in. The song runs for almost nine, so that's okay, and I can see here that things are that little bit heavier than they were on the debut. Some sweet laidback piano in the fifth minute though it then gets pretty intense with the vocals all but snarled and the keys going wild as it hits the eighth. Powerful stuff. Back to soft piano then for “Conceiving you”, a much shorter song which I'm going to say is a ballad. Some very expressive and emotional guitar here.

Another three-minute introduction but in fairness this is fifteen minutes long, and it's the title track. Great sense of urgency in it, riffing guitars and hurrying keyboards. I would say I do like this, though perhaps with a little caution, as it's beginning that kind of technical wankery I so dislike in many prog rock bands. I'll reserve judgement on this one though till I've heard the whole thing. No, actually I think all that was necessary and I did enjoy the track. Faster and more powerful then is “Artificial smile”, with a kind of angry vocal at times while “I turned you down” sounds like it could be a power ballad; certainly some stirring organ there at the start of it. Well it got pretty powerful but I don't know if I'd necessarily call it a ballad. I remember “Reality dream I” and “Reality dream II” on the debut were both instrumentals, so I wonder if ... yeah. “Reality dream III” is too. Very good I must say; quite dramatic with some energetic piano and snarling guitar.

“Dance with the shadow” is another epic, this one over eleven minutes long, and starts with an almost folkish chant against deep lush dark synth, then in the second the guitar really kicks in, taking the whole thing up a serious notch. The extended instrumental is not this time wankery of any sort, and I am quite enjoying this. The last track, “Before”, starts off very moody and low-key but kicks up with a lot of intensity later on. Good closer.

Track Listing and Ratings

1. After
2. Volte face
3. Conceiving you
4. Second life syndrome
5. Artifical smile
6. I turned you down
7. Reality dream III
8. Dance with the shadow
9. Before


Generally speaking, though this is a heavier effort than their debut, I pretty much still like it. It does tend to noodle and wander a little, particularly on the title track, though given that that's fifteen minutes long that's perhaps to be expected, especially with a prog band. I don't hear anything though that makes me think I would not like this album more on repeated listenings, so it's another score.

Result for this album: http://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpg
Total result so far: http://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpghttp://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpg

Trollheart 12-30-2016 06:38 PM

Ok then, let's wrap this up before the year ends. We're two for two so far, let's see if we can make it three.
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Rapid Eye Movement (2007)

The final part of the Reality Dream trilogy, the album is split into two separate sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and called Fearless while the second is called Fearland and covers the final four. The album opens with “Beyond the eyelids”, with a nice soft psych feel to the music before a big organ crashes in on the back of heavy guitar, and it really kicks up. A long enough opener, just shy of eight minutes, and much of the first half is taken up with an instrumental jam. Yeah again it's good but I can feel my attention wandering (probably doesn't help that I'm websurfing while doing this, but really, an album that's good enough should be able to divert me back to it, and, well, this ain't doing it) and on we go into the second track, which is again okay but I can't say anything really positive about it, other than that it doesn't suck. Completely.

Yeah, that one just kinda went by without leaving much of an impression on me. I feel I know “02 panic room” (why the figures in front of it? Is it sponsored by the big telephone company?) before, and yes, it's a good song, even a great song. A real cut above everything that has gone so far, though in fairness that's not really saying too much. Oh, thought that piano was starting a new track, but it seems we're still on “02 panic room”: almost the reverse of the last time, when I didn't notice one track had ended and the other begun. Best on the album so far, definitely. May have some competition though, immediately, from “Schizophrenic prayer”, a real slowburner, a kind of concealed menace in the song. Really like this one too. Maybe the album is taking an upswing? All right, the next track is also great. Opening with an acapella vocal before it explodes all over the place, “Parasomnia” is both a great slice of prog and yet another mixing of words to make a pretty cool one. The whispering voice over the piano in the sixth minute is very effective.

And so into part two, Fearland, we go, with a very soft and gentle opener which goes under the title of “Through the other side”, a very low-key, almost sotto voce vocal with a really nice understated acoustic guitar and just a little light percussion. “Embryonic” is also driven on acoustic guitar, and I find myself wondering if this second part is all going to be low-key, introspective, ballady material? This has the same almost muttered vocal, but then we get to “Cybernetic pillow” and it's picking up speed and power again. Some pretty crazy guitar there near the end. The closing track then is the epic, thirteen minutes plus of “The ultimate trip”. It's a good closer, though I would question its length, something that is often a failing among prog rock bands.

Track Listing and ratings

Fearless
1. Beyond the eyelids
2. Rainbow box

3. 02 panic room
4. Schizophrenic prayer
5. Parasomnia

Fearland
6. Through the other side
7. Embryonic
8. Cybernetic pillow

9. The ultimate trip

I worried when I began drifting as the album began, but like any good album should it quickly demanded my attention back from the third track and more or less held it from then on. I would say I'm still not totally sold on this band – they can ramble on at times – but on the basis of these three albums I'm willing to keep listening to them in the hope that that special album will hit.

Result for this album:
http://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpg
Total result: http://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpghttp://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpghttp://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpg

Final Verdict (for now) on Riverside: http://www.trollheart.com/smallhappy.jpg

Trollheart 12-31-2016 11:06 AM

Someone I had not really expected to see here – but who was nevertheless very welcome – was Mondo, and he brought up an interesting topic, which was Italian progressive rock. To my mind, Italy is the only country outside of the UK to have essentially an entire subgenre named after and linked to them, and be, of course, exclusive to them. You can't play Italian progressive rock if you're not Italian, unlike the Canterbury Scene, where you could. But for all its influence over the genre, I've only heard very little of this music and that kind of in passing, with bands like Prognesi and to an extent Fabio Zuffanti, mostly through his work with Hostsonaten. So here's where I change this, as I go on a deep exploration of the world and music that is known as
Rock Progressivo Italiano

I honestly don't know where to start. This isn't going to be a history of RPI – that will probably unfold as part of my History of Prog journal anyway – but a chance to take a look and listen to some of the better, and perhaps less good, famous and less well-regarded bands, artistes and albums within the genre. I read that at the time when prog was in its most nascent form in the UK, bands like Genesis, Van der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant found an audience for their music among Italian fans almost before they found fame at home, so if England could be, and is, seen as the wellspring and font of all things prog, then surely Italy must be regarded as one of the mighty river's greatest tributaries.

One of the first Italian prog bands to spring up appear to have been these guys, who went on to become, in fairness, more known for their work on film soundtracks, notably with horror/schlock maestro Dario Argento, but did put out some standard prog albums. This one, in typical prog style, is a concept, although if it's sung in Italian, as I assume it is, you're out of luck as I have no Italian beyond “Ay Giovanni! Where's-a my pizza?” (Note: any slights made on the Italian language are in jest only, and should not, I repeat NOT be communicated to or repeated within a hundred miles of any practicing members of the Cosa Nostra.)

Hey, maybe it'll be an instrumental album. Avanti!
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Il Fantastico Viaggio del Bagarozzo Mark – Goblin – 1978 (Cinevox)

No, there are vocals. Well, from what I read by quickly scanning other reviews of this album by people far better versed in RPI than myself, this is something of a maverick within the genre, as it would seem the usual RPI albums tend not to have any singing. Interesting. I also note that the translation of the title comes out as “the fantastic journey of (I could have translated that much myself, of course) the beetle Mark”. So is there some psychedelic weirdness mixed into the lyrics? We'll never know, as, as I say, I can't speak Italian, so that will have to remain a mystery, as we concentrate – as it seems we will be mostly or even exclusively doing all through this section – on the music.

It's not an epic by any standards, certainly not by those of progressive rock, having a mere eight tracks and clocking in at a very low thirty-five minutes in total, with no track overstaying its welcome, the longest being just under six minutes long. “Mark il bagarozzo” (Mark the beetle I assume) gets things going with a spacey synthy keyboard sound and some nice guitar; the vocals are strong but as I can't tell what's being sung I can say little more about them, and here at least I can see why some people seem to consider them more a distraction, as they sort of take from the music, which, once it gets going, is very impressive. You can see why these guys went on to have such a career in film music. Superb organ from Claudio Simonetti mostly drives this, though Massimo Morante, who also takes the vocals, makes his guitar heard too. It might be me, it might be him, or it might be the fact that this is a seventies album, but at times (mostly during the vocal parts it has to be said) the production, or at least the sound, comes across as quite muddy.

There's a fine guitar solo from Morante to take us into “La cascate di viridiana” (The green waterfall?) with a whistling keyboard accompanying a very thick bass, almost sounds fretless (?) ably wielded by Fabio Pignatelli, while soft, almost tribal drum patterns are laid down by Agostino Marangolo and we even hear some low sax, care of Antonio Marangolo (could be his brother I guess; he's a guest musician anyway so obviously not part of Goblin). I don't know if I guessed right about the title, but everything about the music (and there seem to be no vocals to this track) do suggest the idea of a waterfall, from the flowing piano to the haunting sax. I have to be honest: this is that longest track I spoke of, and I can really see the band stretching themselves and coming into their own now, and can agree that the vocal is a distraction, as these guys are really great musicians. This has film soundtrack written all over it. Lovely.

“Terra di Goblin” (anyone?) has a real Tony Banks sound to the keys, almost ethereal, but I have to say unfortunately, we're back to the vocal tracks, and it really is a disappointment, as this seems to be the kind of music that would survive so much better – thrive indeed – without the addition of singing, and it's not often I admit that. It's not just that I can't interpret the vocals; they almost seem to be tacked on, as if this is something the band feel they should be doing, but kind of don't really want to. I wonder how well this album sold? Once the vocals drop back in the second minute the band can really let loose, and the song is so much better for the absence of singing. A great militaristic drumbeat attended by fluting synth to take us out and into “Un ragazzo d'argento” (A silver something) where the music picks up pace and becomes almost boppy, whereas up to now it's been generally stately and grand; this is almost like electronic. Sadly the vocals are back, though this time they don't seem to be as bad. Perhaps it's the more slightly poppy tone of the song that complements them better. This is the first time I've heard the vocals and not wished they were not there.

Looks like “La danza” might be another instrumental, and a very good one too, in which Simonetti gets to really flex his ... oh. There are vocals. God damn it. They don't quite ruin it, but I was getting a certain vibe from the piece which now I kind of don't any more. The pace has increased too, with Morante's guitar taking a more active role. There's almost a toy piano feel to “Opera magnifica”, and there's no escaping the vocals as they're there from the start, but the almost commercial pop feel of the song again allows them to exist in harmony with, rather than despite, it, and it all works quite well. The mumuring vocal on “Notte” (night) reminds me of the opening to “I know what I like”, and the piano keeping the melody behind it is great. “... e suono rock” does however seem to be an instrumental, and a pretty rockin' one, good way to end the album.

Track listing and ratings

1. Mark il bagarozza
2. La cascate di viridiana
3. Tierra di Goblin
4. Un rqagazzo d'argento
5. La danza
6. Opera magnifica
7. Notte
8. ... E suono rock


Overall, I'd say I'm highly impressed with this album. I see why purists have mentioned that the vocals don't really work, though on occasions I would say they do. Mostly though this band plays to its strengths when they concentrate on just making music, and when they do that, they really shine. I'd be interested in checking out more of their work, but for now I'm going to move on to another artiste, as there are masses of them to choose from in this very specific subgenre of progressive rock.

And my journey has just begun.

Mondo Bungle 12-31-2016 04:59 PM

You could give it a shot


Trollheart 01-01-2017 10:30 AM

Keeping in the seventies for now, and in fact, going further back, to 1973. Despite having their debut album released in 1972, Banco del Mutuo Soccoroso (Bank of mutual help? Don't ask me) were already on their third album by the following year, having released two in 1972 to widespread acclaim, at least in Italy. BdMS (whom we'll just refer to as Banco in future, due to the unfortunate connotations linked to that acronym, or one very close to it! It's also how they were known in later years, as they dropped the other three words) are seen as one of the “big three” of Rock Progressivo Italiano, along with Le Orme and Premiata Forneria Marconi, or PFM, and up to 1997 had recorded a total of fourteen albums. Although they still gig today, Nudo was their last official release.
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Io Sato Nato Libero – Banco del Mutuo Soccorso – 1973 (Ricordi)

Again, another short album, in fact only five minutes longer than the Goblin effort we looked at last, and with fewer tracks: five in all, though in fairness the first one is fifteen minutes long. The title apparently translates to I Was Born Free, which sounds like a cue for Matt Monro and Elsa the lion! No? Damn you youngsters! Anyway, what's the album like? Let's see. Sounds like an oboe maybe starting off “Canto nomade per un prigioniero politico” (Nomadic chant for a political prisoner”) and then the vocals come in. I immediately find Francesco di Giacomo perhaps a better singer, perhaps just easier on the ear than Morante from Goblin; somehow the music just seems to sit better with his voice. This is the fifteen-minute track I spoke of, and unsurprisingly it goes through several changes over the length of its run. Piano gives way to keyboards and organ, both ably played by the Nocenzi brothers, Vittorio and Gianni. There's not too much room for Marcello Todaro's guitar just yet, but no doubt he'll make himself known soon enough.

Slowing down now to an almost ghostly moan in the fifth minute before a big burst of piano takes the song forward, the sole accompaniment to di Giacomo's vocal, which at this point puts me somewhat in mind of Eric Woolfson, in style if not actual sound. Another dark, eerie sort of instrumental part, quite menacing in its way, as we hit the seventh minute and pass the halfway point, and now we have a sort of jazzy breakout on piano then organ, with the rhythm section keeping it all together. I really still don't hear too much of the guitar, but I guess it's in there. No solos yet. Oh, here comes the guitar in something of a star turn at the tenth minute, sounds either acoustic or Classical, never been able to distinguish one from the other. And now a drum solo of sorts, with the organ humming in the background. A really nice strummed guitar as we move into minute eleven, the only instrument playing now for the next minute or so, other than the bass, then the percussion storms back in and the keyboards leak slowly back to take the tune to its conclusion with a powerful jazzy outro.

As I often point out, it's quite brave to open your album on such an epic, though at this time, at least in their native Italy, Banco were pretty much established so I guess it wasn't quite as much of a risk as it could have been, and anyway, this is prog rock: the fans expect long tracks. Which is not what they get with the next one, “Nom mi rompete” (Don't bother me) which runs for a mere five minutes, and gives Todaro a chance to shine on the acoustic guitar, as it appears initially anyway to be a ballad. Gets boppy and happy there in the second minute, so maybe not. Good vocal from di Giacomo, and the guitar sounds almost flamenco? Definitely keeping the keys out of this one so far. Wonder if Todaro wrote it? No, seems he didn't have a hand in writing any of the five tracks. Still, it's a good vehicle for him to express his talents, which are impressive. Quite a hippy/psych vibe off this. Oh, there's some keyboard there near the end. Very nice.

A slightly longer track, “La città sottile” (the subtle town) takes us back to the piano, with a sort of neoclassical touch, and a very Alan Parsons Project vocal. Marcello Todaro, having been given his head on the previous track, is not shy about joining in quickly, and then one of the Nocenzis fires up the organ and away we go. I can hear echoes of early Supertramp here too. Some fairly what I suppose would be termed early experimental stuff here; quite surprising what these two guys could do with keyboards. The other relatively long track, just shy of ten minutes, is “Dopo...niente è più lo stesso” (Then ... nothing is still the same”) and it rocks considerably more than the previous ones have, much more uptempo and with a kind of urgent vocal, the piano creating its own sense of tension, and then I guess they somehow pitch bend it or maybe it's done in production but the piano goes all dark and warped for a moment, before flutes come in but even these sound a little frenetic and chaotic. The vocal is at times almost like a prayer, as if di Giacomo is chanting, carrying out some form of worship. Then everything explodes in a big keyboard instrumental in the fourth minute, the tempo kicking right back up even as the vocals return. Todaro gets a chance to rip off a proper electric guitar solo (he may have done this already but this is the first time I've been able to hear it, to point to it and say there it is) as everything slows down to a dark crawl again in the sixth minute with what sounds like cellos? Bouncy piano then takes the melody, aided by trumpeting keyboards and more guitar, with something of a jam developing in the eighth minute before it all slows down to a simple organ and piano line as the piece comes to a close.

And that leaves but one track, and it's a short one. They even failed to bother to name it, calling it “Traccia II” or “track two” (although here it's track five, three of the B-side of the album I guess). It's the only one not written by Vittorio Nocenzi, but in fact by his brother Gianni, and it has a very classical, fanfare-like feel. Unsurprisingly it's written for keys, and an instrumental, and it ends the album very well.

Track listing and ratings

1. Canto nomade per un prigioniero politico
2. Nom mi rompete
3. La città sottile
4. Dopo...niente è più lo stesso
5. Traccia II


Again, I'm very impressed. Vocals definitely work better here in general than they did with the Goblin album, but the music is I think as good as if not better than those guys. Having two keyboard players certainly makes a difference, and if that doesn't mark you out as a prog band, you have something of a problem. Vocalist Francesco di Giacomo sadly passed away in 2014, but the remaining members of Banco continue to gig, though no new material has as yet been recorded.

Trollheart 01-04-2017 10:11 AM

It's kind of odd. I wanted – want – to move away from the seventies and was checking out a band called Moongarden, then I find they're not really considered RPI, although they are Italian. So what is it about Rock Progressivo Italiano that makes it what it is? I assumed – apparently wrongly – that to be an RPI band you simply had to play prog rock and come from Italy, but that does not now appear to be the case. Well, returning to my other go-to source, progarchives.com, I read that RPI is not so much a genre or even a country-based phenomena (although you can't be an RPI band without being Italian; however just simply being an Italian prog band does not make you RPI. Huh?) but a way of thinking, playing, composing and paying your musical dues back to your seventies forebears. One writer compares the emergence of RPI to the Renaissance, when fifteenth-century Italy led the way in a resurgence in culture, art, literature and thinking as the Dark Ages receded.

So then I thought, well to be RPI you must be a band playing in, or at least formed in, the heyday of Italian prog, ie the seventies. But no: this band were only formed in 2008, and yet are supposedly accepted as being Rock Progressivo Italiano as much as PFM or Banco. I'm going to be reading up more on this idea, but for now I have from Progarchives a list of bands who most assuredly are considered RPI, and from this list I have plucked
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La Crudeltà di Aprile – Unreal City – 2013 (MRL)

Although he is not in the band, my good buddy Fabio Zuffanti, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article, he who helms Hostsonaten among others, is credited with being the artistic director of this new band, whatever that may mean. It seems to be the baby of Emanuele Tarasconi though, as he sings and plays the keys (and there are a lot of them), while Francseca Zanetta is something of a rarity, not only in being a lady in prog but also the guitarist, and the hilariously-named Francesco Orefice :laughing: looks after bass duties. Although they only formed in the twenty-first century it seems Unreal City are afforded the tag of RPI due to their adherence to the old values of bands like PFM and Banco, and indeed are credited here (whether officially or not I don't know) with the extra tag of “modern PFI”. Hmm. This is their debut album, and it seems to have been quite well received. Good boppy start to “dell'innocenza perduta”, some fine organ and piano, vocals then come in around the second minute as the tune settles down into a nice relaxed piano run, and the singing itself is very pleasant. Not a clue what he's singing about of course, but nice to listen to. Picking up speed now in the fifth minute, crazy piano and organ run and some thundering drums from Federico Bedostri. Sounds like a fiddle there at the end. Could be; these guys seem to use a whole lot of instruments, including, I see, a Renaissance lute! Well, I see there's a guest appearance by Fabio Biale on the violin, so I guess that's him.

It's a fine guitar that gets “Atlantis (Conferendis Pecuniis)” underway, sort of a dark feeling to it, then it picks up nicely about halfway through, before falling into a sort of medieval folk thing. I guess that could be the Renaissance lute they were talking about. And the reliable old church organ heralds our descent into Hell, or “Catabasi (descenscio ad infernos)” with pealing bells and then a dark synth. In places this reminds me very much of Arena. Suddenly then that violin/fiddle is back, jumping the pace and bringing some light into the netherworld. “Dove La Luce È Più Intensa” has a powerful instrumental opening, which goes on for a minute and a half of the seven it runs for, while “Ecate (Walpurgusnacht)” opens on a beautiful classical piano line with attendant synth with some funky percussion and organ, and a sort of mix of reggae and blues, if you can imagine such a thing.

The epic though is the closer, “Horror vacui”, which runs for almost eighteen minutes and is split into four different sections. Opening on “Le radici del mare”, it's a soft, gradual introduction to the piece as it slowly coalesces on soft piano and bassy piano before warbling synth joins in as the rhythm section makes itself heard, and I'm going to assume the first part is an instrumental intro, as otherwise I have no breakdown of the suite and therefore no idea where one section ends and another begins. The vocals then bring in a more jaunty, upbeat tempo as “L'assassino” (yeah, who can translate that?) begins, but unless it's very obvious, I have no idea where this will move into part three. Nice keyboard solo in the tenth minute, could be part three, but no way to know for sure. Some lovely smooth fretless bass too. Powerful, almost jazzy at times, instrumental ending.

Track listing and Ratings

1. Dell'innocenzo perduta
2. Atlantai (Conferendis pecuniis)
3. Catabasi (descenscio ad infernos)
4. Dove La Luce È Più Intensa
5. Ecate (Walpurgisnacht)
6. Horror vacui
(i) La radici del mare
(ii) L'assassino
(iii) Nel sonno della ragione
(iv) Il baratro della follia


And another great Italian prog album, proving I guess that you didn't have to be recording in the seventies to be an RPI band. Unreal City certainly have an advantage though, as they are under the wing of Zuffanti, who has been playing and composing and producing music since the mid-nineties and certainly knows his way around the scene. A real case, I think, of “stick with me, boys, and I'll make stars out of you.” They've made a very good start with this debut.

Trollheart 02-18-2017 06:20 PM

http://www.trollheart.com/5keybestd.jpg
Oh my God! Progrocketal? Pentalist? Someone call an ambulance! Trollheart's having a stroke! Whaddya mean, just let the fucker die? Charming. No, as it happens I'm no more weird than usual: I'm making up words again, is all.

I got tired of saying prog rock and prog metal, so I've now decided to meld the two subgenres into one single word, so that progrocketal is just an amalgamation of prog rock and prog metal. Makes things easier, for me anyway. As for pentalist? Merely a playlist with five songs, my friends. No need to fear.

This, then, is the section where I will post my five favourite progrocketal songs, perhaps every day but I think that's unlikely; certainly once a week anyway but maybe more if I can do it/be bothered. I may write a little (or a lot) about all five, or one or two, or I may just drop the videos in and say nothing (yeah, like that'll happen!) :laughing: I'll be doing two specific playlists, one chosen by me and one chosen at random, just for the fun of it. Chances are I'll probably end up writing more about the random one, as it may feature songs I haven't yet heard.

So then: on with the first selection.
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“The shattered room” - Arena – from Pepper's Ghost.

I pretty much love every track on this album – not that surprising, as I'm a big fan of Arena, though some of their albums can be a little hit or miss sometimes: this is not one such case. From beginning to end it's all killer, no filler. The way the song opens on a soft piano and seems like it's going to be a ballad till it suddenly explodes into a claustrophobic, paranoid, raging rockfest (for a prog rock band) is really well handled, and there's a pretty superb solo from John Mitchell on guitar too.

Weirdly, the entire album is on YouTube except this track! As a result, I have to use this live recording, but it captures the essence of the song.


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“The losing game” - Verbal Delirium – from From the Small Hours of Weakness

Next up is a band from Greece I enthused about in my main journal before The Great Discography Project took it over. They're called Verbal Delirium, and this is from the second of their, so far, three albums. Definitely one of the better tracks on From the Small Hours of Weakness, though most of that album is pretty excellent anyway. This one really stands out though.


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Glass Shadows – Mostly Autumn – from Glass Shadows

One of my favourite recent prog bands, there was a time when I would quite literally listen to nothing else. I had all their albums on a shuffle playlist and for absolutely months I just played it over and over, with the result that though I didn't really sit down to listen to many full albums of theirs, I pretty much knew every song on every album by the time I finally dragged myself screaming away to force myself to listen to other music.

This album has never been a real favourite of mine, but I can pick out some real gems, and the title track is one. Ominous and dark, Bryan's voice is counterpointed by Heather's softer approach, and the song works really well.


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped..._Reckoning.jpg
“Pilot in the sky of dreams” - Threshold – from Dead Reckoning

But I called this list a progrocketal one for a reason, so let's have some of that “-etal”, shall we? In other words, some progressive metal. Even though they shrink from being described as such, Threshold always come across to me as one of the archetypal prog metal bands, fusing heavy riffs and snarling solos with clever tempo changes, instrumental breaks and deep lyrics. I could have chosen any track, really, but this is definitely one of my favourites, and demonstrates how they can start with a really soft balladic tune and then just kick out the stays and rock the house, bringing it all back to where it began as the song comes to an end.


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“A broken frame” - Eloy – from Performance

This final track comes with the patented Trollheart Story of the Old Days. Having purchased I think Marillion's debut album, or some prog rock album anyway, I recall asking Tommy in the Sound Cellar, where I used to get all my imports, if he had anything in a prog vein I might be interested in? He suggested Eloy's Performance, and I trusted him. I remember being very disappointed with it. I guess it sounded like “newer” prog to me, not the organ/keyboard driven tales of dragons and such I had up to then been used to, and I assumed Eloy were a new band. Little did I know they've been around since the early seventies, and that this was their twelfth album!

Nonetheless, I didn't like it and I have never really had occasion to revisit it, but I do remember the closing track being very impressive, more of what I had been hoping for perhaps. Too little, too late, but at least I finished the album with a sense of satisfaction, if only for that one track, or at any rate a feeling that I hadn't completely wasted my money. Eloy remain something of a mystery to me to this day. But I still like this song. I think a lot of that has to do with the soaraway guitar solo at the end.


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