Sunday, 4 November 2012

THE FEELINGS OF A SPY

After the release of an EP in 2009, “Sprazzi di luce”, in 2010 Conqueror released on Ma.Ra.Cash Records their fourth full length studio album, “Madame Zelle”, with a renewed line up featuring Natale Russo (drums and percussions), Simona Rigano (vocals, keyboards and synth), Sabrina Rigano (flute and saxophone), Mario Pollino (guitars) and Gianluca Villa (bass). During the recording sessions they were helped by Ottavio Leo who contributed to enrich the sound with sitar and other instruments. The result is very good and the band confirmed here all the qualities of their previous works. “Madame Zelle” is a concept album inspired by the life and legend of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, better known as Mata Hari. Simona Rigano's inspired vocals do not tell a story, they interpret with heartfelt empathy the feelings and emotions of an unabashedly independent, sensitive woman while the music is full of colours and nuances.

Simona Rigano

The long, complex opener “Margaretha” sets the atmosphere. It begins softly, the mood is dreamy and the music features an exotic flavour. Memories from the childhood and the formative years of the protagonist emerge as little isles in the North Sea. Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in the Netherlands in 1876. After her father went bankrupt, in 1989, she went through a very difficult period that marked her rebellious beauty and this nice suite honours the everyday battles of her growing up... “Where the tides break in through the borders of an incomparable land / Where starfishes emerge from the seabed, playing with nature / That's where my memories recall the smell of every single day I passed at the mercy of a youth long time gone / That's where my thoughts tell the ingenuous but extrovert smile of an already prohibited charm...”.

Madame Zelle: art cover

The following “Indonesia” begins with percussion and sitar. It's a beautiful instrumental track where the music conjure up mysterious Oriental charms. Margaretha got married with a captain of the Dutch Colonial Army and followed him to Java. She was unhappy in her marriage but during this period of her life she learned a lot about local culture and about the art of seduction...


Next comes “Occhio dell'alba” (Eye of dawn) that describes the birth of a legend. Margaratha and her husband went back to the Netherlands in 1902 where they separated. In 1903 she moved to Paris where she began her artistic career as an exotic dancer under the name of Mata Hari, an Indonesian name that means “eye of dawn”. Her provocative style and her free-willed attitude made her a very popular woman... “The last veil of sin sets my wings free / Upon me, upon me, only upon me / Endless shapes alight upon me...”.

The excellent “Fascino proibito” (Prohibited charm) describes in a poetical way the mystery of Margaretha's charm. The music and lyrics evoke perfumes and colours, wonderful flowers and falling leaves, the whirling game of senses... “It's desire that condemns and hurts the soul...”. Next comes “Eleganza perfetta” (Perfect elegance) where the emphatic vocals of Simona Rigano draw the amazing portrait of a sensual woman, fragile and strong in the meantime... “I'm waiting for your fragile instinct / I'm getting lost in the sunrise that lights my eyes / And in the silence that surrounds me I can shine again... Venus no longer rules my senses / It was Venus who was caressing my smile, my face...”.


“H 21” is titled after the code name that the German secret services gave to Margaretha during World War I. Charm is a key that can open many doors, there's richness and madness in this track where tension and sensuality shine through all along the way... “In the apparent perfection I will deceive the most attentive eye / Please, let me dance once more / Let me hide the cold loneliness behind my fragile body...”.

“Doppio gioco” (Double-crossing) describes the feelings of Margaretha on the last night before the end of her career as a spy... “Two scraps of velvet cover my body / One is black, soft and elegant / Its colour is defined by a subtle embroidery / The other is red, worn and torn / By the fierce flames that fate has thrown at me... This is the last dance / This is the last night...”. “Da sola” (Alone) is a suggestive, reflective track that describes the feelings of Margaretha with reference to the change in her fate and to the charges against her... “I live in the infinite space of my ideas / I turn away from me the fear of the dark, of apparent loneliness...”.

Madame Zelle: inner picture

The last track, “Ad occhi alti” (With a proud look), closes the circle. Margareth is alone in her cell before the execution. She has been condemned and in a few hours she will be killed by a French firing squad. Her thoughts go back in time, her life has flown away like a raging river but she's not ashamed of what she's done. She can go to her randez-vous with the death with a proud look... “As the evening falls, so cold and dark / Ice takes hold of my body, once charming / I get ready for the last act / After all I was just... Mata Hari”.

Conqueror: Madame Zelle (2010). Other opinions:
Jim Russell: If you enjoyed the previous work of Conqueror this album is a slam dunk. If you've never heard them, this is a good time to start. "Madame Zelle" will give you 9 tracks of lovely contemporary progressive rock as graceful as the Mata Hari herself... (read the complete review HERE)
Paul Fowler: Madame Zelle is a lovely album at the more melodic end of the RPI genre. The band certainly have plenty of experience having been around since the mid-nineties in one form or another and it shows as they turn in a classy performance of well-constructed and tuneful Italian prog with a contemporary sound, though with roots in the seventies tradition of the genre... Despite having an instant liking for Madame Zelle, no doubt down to the tuneful nature of the material, repeated plays reveal more layers, something often lacking in more immediately accessible music. Not so here as I've grown fonder of it with each play and it's well on track to make my top 10 albums of the year. A really lovely record... (read the complete review HERE)

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