domenica 24 agosto 2014

OVER THE WALL

Proteo were formed in Trieste in 1996 by Marco Paulica (rhythm guitars, vocals), Matteo Copetti (lead guitar, sax), Alessandro Surian (bass) and Fabio Gorza (drums, percussion) and along the years the line up has always remained the same. The name of the band refers to a small animal called olm or proteus (proteus anguinus) that lives in the caves of the Karst plateau and that is best known for its adaptations to a life of complete darkness in its underground habitat. In some way it reflects the style of the band, a curious mix of pop rock and progressive rock influences. 


After some demos and a good live activity on the local scene, in 2009 Proteo released a debut album on the independent label Ma.Ra.Cash Records, Under A Red Polar Light, featuring eight well crafted original tracks where dreamy melodies and bright touches of musical colours unfurl avoiding banality. Although the overall sound every now and again draws on eighties atmospheres and could recall bands such as The Police, U2 or Talk Talk, the band successfully managed to blend these influences with a prog attitude and personal touch. 
 


The opener “Colors To Give” is a kaleidoscope of images and emotions that flashes out eighties atmospheres and walks on the moon while the following “Eternity” takes you up and down through time and space, between heart and mind, where the streets have no name and eternity fades away dancing on Latin rock rhythms. Then comes the dreamy “Australia”, that reminds me slightly of Men At Work or Crowded House and conjures up images from the Lucky Country. The title of the following “Tales From The Ocean” could recall Yes but here the tales from the ocean are not topographic at all and the waves move gently in a controlled flow while the music and lyrics evoke nights on a beach blessed by the moonlight.


Van Gogh” is another dreamy track that tries to take you a million miles away, under deep blue skies. As you can guess, it was inspired by the work of the famous post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh and leads to the spacey “Robota”, featuring short lyrics inspired by the work of Isaac Asimov. Then it's the turn of “I Wish I Could Fly”, a piece full of positive energy. The last track “Echoes Mankind (Part I)” is more complex and describes in music and words silent weapons in a time where war and peace seemed to play to hide and seek. Well, all in all this is a good album if you like AOR but the progressive influences here are mild and prog fans risk to be a bit disappointed...


Proteo's second album, “Republikflucht! …Facing East” was released in 2013 on Ma.Ra.Cash Records and in my opinion is more refined and mature if compared with its predecessor. Here the song-writing is bolder and the music, yet still rooted in eighties pop rock forms, perfectly fits the concept and helps to take you back in time. In fact, according to an interview with the band, this is a concept album inspired by books such as Anna Funder's C'era una volta la Ddr or Ryszard Kapuscinsky's Imperium, it's a reflection about the cold war and a way to look over the ruins of the Berlin Wall, facing East. A fatherland with a hand of fire and another hand of snow that hurts your heart when you try to embrace it, as sings Wolf Biermann in one of his best lieder. Well, here the music is a far cry from Wolf Biermann's but it successfully contributes to set the right atmosphere while the lyrics do not try to tell a story but just draw evocative images focusing on the hopes and feelings of the common people rather than on politics.


The opener “Echoes Mankind (Part II)” is a sequel of the last track on Proteo's debut album and depicts military plants and barbed wire along the border, a barrack-like homeland where people are kept as prisoners without consciousness, where bureaucracy rules but where there's still room for hope and where in spite of everything flowers can still break the ice. Next comes the long, complex “Berlin”, a surreal musical painting of a city that could resemble to a museum of modern art and where the free sky is blotted out by disquieting grey clouds. Then the dreamy “Eastern Fields” follows drawing images of a farmland on the edge of time where you risk to get lost in your thoughts, facing east, far away from home...


The lively “Funny Girls Playing Double Dutch” is the shortest track on the album and describes some innocent children merrily playing in a courtyard, unconscious of their destiny and scrutinized by men wearing uniforms. “Four-leaf Clover” is another long track dealing with feelings such as faith, hope and love under the iron curtain. “Republikflucht” concludes the album with a come back from this strange trip through time and space leading to mysterious and shadowy places, over fake theories and disused liturgies, underneath lost memories and black and white pictures.

All in all this is a very good album. Through the distillation of a myriad of influences Proteo have achieved a singular sound and if you like modern progressive rock with a melodic approach, you really have to check this album out.


mercoledì 30 luglio 2014

SPOTLIGHT ON A STRANGE JESTER


Semiramis were one of the many bands of the Italian progressive scene of the early seventies. They came from Rome and the line-up featured Paolo Faenza (drums, percussion and vibraphone), Marcello Reddavide (bass), Giampiero Artegiani (classical and acoustic guitar, synthesizers), Michele Zarrillo (guitars, vocals) and his brother Maurizio Zarrillo (piano, keyboards). Their debut album “Dedicato a Frazz” (Dedicated to Frazz) was released in 1973. It’s a concept album about the dreams and the feelings of an imaginary, strange character, Frazz. Frazz is an acronym made with the initials of the members of the band... During the studio sessions Semiramis managed to shape a very mature sound, blending hard rock, progressive rock and classical influences. The quality of the recordings is not flawless and the music is perhaps not particularly original but the overall result is remarkable, especially if you consider that all the members of the band were very young then. The album was not successful but, as years passed by, it became a “cult album” among prog collectors, not only because of the quality of the music but because of the beautiful art cover as well.


The opener “La bottega del rigattiere” (The second hand dealer’s shop) is disquieting and dreamy. It depicts a strange, magical shop where, behind a two-sided window, fantastic harlequins, puppets and other objects can make you live their sinful odysseys and their sad memories... “Old ice-heartened merchant / You have wiped out all the fairy tales / In your shop I can find only lost hopes... My kite is getting lost in the sky / Dancing on the notes of a waltz by that failed musician / Regretted and dead now...”.

Luna Park” (Amusement park) describes another fantastic bittersweet dream. An innocent theatre allows you to dream an endless play where you can buy even the stars and throw them against the time that passes by... And when the dream is gone you are still searching on the ground for another coin to buy a couple of minutes to remember the lights of that dream...

Semiramis 1973

Uno zoo di vetro” (In a glass zoo) starts with acoustic guitar and percussion, then dark church-like organ notes followed by heavy electric guitar riffs invite you to climb up into the sky from where, in an idyllic, peaceful atmosphere you can look below and see insane breathless shadows, lacking air in a glass zoo...

The complex, agoraphobic “Per una strada affollata” (In a crowded street) features fiery synthesizer passages and a nice classical guitar solo. The lyrics draw the images of dummies looking at the crowd through the windows of the shops while fear flows in the veins of the passers by... “It’s fear that flows in the veins / But it falls over in front of the buildings / Closing the way / And knocking on the door of your home!”.


Next comes “Dietro una porta di carta” (Behind a door of paper), calm and reassuring... “And in the silence around me / I find again the simplicity, my personality, my boldness / I’m back from my sky / I’m alone in my room / I’m burning my tired ideals / In love with a paper / Left on a white box / From where a spider reluctantly goes out...”. The instrumental finale makes the tension take off again...

Frazz” features strummed acoustic guitar and a pastoral mood (every now and again this track reminds me of Felona e Sorona by Le Orme). It’s a reflection about the contrast between dreams and reality... “Sometime ago I was wondering about a winged horse / That used to take you to the moon, around the sky / To a frozen sun among golden clouds...You have many characters in a cartoon world / That smashes you down with its fake stories... In the end, why search for the truth?”.


The last melancholic track, “Clown”, concludes the album describing the thoughts of a jester after the show... “My comedy is coming to an end... About the love of a bearded old man / Who walks slowly with a stick / Resounding in a dark and empty street... Last spotlight on a jester / Alone, in the middle of himself...”.

On the whole a very good album. Well, now if you look at the beautiful inside cover, painted by Gordon Faggeter, an English artist based in Rome, probably you’ll recognize some images taken from the dreams described in the lyrics, like the spider escaping from the white box, the winged horse, the harlequin, the puppets, the glass zoo, the old man, the clown...


It’s very difficult to imagine that it’s really Michele Zarrillo the guitarist and singer of this band. Michele Zarrillo is today one of the best known Italian melodic pop singers while Giampiero Artegiani is a successful melodic song-writer and producer as well... What a waste of talent!

From Rock Progressivo Italiano: an introduction to Italian Progressive Rock

You can listen in streaming to the complete album HERE

By the, way, a reunion is coming soon...