Monday, 17 December 2012


La Maschera di Cera's sophomore album, “Il grande labirinto” (The great labyrinth), was released in 2003 on the independent label Mellow Records with the same line up of the previous one featuring Fabio Zuffanti (bass, acoustic guitar), Agostino Macor (piano, organ, mellotron, moog, harpsichord, synthesizer, guitar), Marco Cavani (drums, percussion), Alessandro Corvaglia (vocals) and Andrea Monetti (flute, recorder). During the recording sessions they were helped by some guests musicians as Antonella Trovato (oboe, arrangements) and Nick Le Rose (electric guitar) who added more musical colours to the overall sound and the result is excellent. Although the music draws abundantly on the Italian prog legacy of the early seventies it would be unfair define this album as merely derivative or nostalgic since the sounds here are mixed with poetry and new ideas to conjure up evocative, timeless images and stir emotions and feelings.

La Maschera di Cera 2003

In the booklet you can find a quote taken from a poem by Russian Romantic poet Fyodor Tyutchev, “A Dream At Sea”, that in some way explains the conceptual thread of the album... “Our boat was being tossed by the storm and the sea. Sleepy, I was abandoned to the full caprice of the waves. Deep within me two immensities met and willfully they played with me... I flew deafened in a chaos of sounds but above the chaos of sounds my dream was borne... Through the rays of my fever it unfolded its world: the earth shone green, the ether grew bright. There were labyrinth-gardens, pillars and halls. And myriads of silent crowds seethed...”. The art cover provides another clue to find out more about the subject matter of this album. It's taken from a tableaux by the Dutch-Indonesian painter Jan Toorop, O Grave, Where Is Thy Victory, which portrays a dying man half-hidden behind two young women who are trying to free him from life, while the figures on the right represent his earthly resentment, envy, jealousy, hate, love and conflict. Well, that said, the transcendental journey described in this work can begin. Are you ready?

Jan Toorop, O Grave, Where Is Thy Victory (1892)

The opener “Il viaggio nell'oceano capovolto parte 1” (The journey through the upside-down ocean part 1) is a long suite divided into four sections. The first part, “La fine del viaggio” (The end of the journey), has a slow pace and marks the end of your life as you know it and the beginning of a new experience. As you become unconscious you get lost in the sound of the ocean and you can hear a sad song soaring in the winter of your eyes... “Just another moment would have been enough / To hang on life / The effort to resist is finished... I feel so miserable as I face these last minutes of existence / I hide myself and I run away from reality... Alone among the mirrors of the ocean... Beyond any glimmer of the world...”. You've just set off on an apparently one-way journey towards the unknown leaving behind you a harbour of malady and now a sweet, violent sleep shakes your soul. A short, dark instrumental section follows, “Il vortice” (The vortex). The third section, “La consunzione” (Consumption), brings back melody and new energies. You can't escape from the vortex of unreality that draws you away, there's no horizon, no moon above you, you're scared, you're just a silent prisoner of your delirium and now you look at a seagull which dives in the ocean... “I look at the sky from two dimensions / I would get lost, I would get worn / I would follow the dream / After having revolved in the dark, in the truth...”. But the bitter truth is that death can't set you free yet. Your world is crumbling and you fall down, baffled by the waves. Darkness and gloom are all around you but a dim, ageless light still shows you the way. The last section, “Il cristallo” (The crystal), is a nice jazzy instrumental part that seems to forecast new, complicated developments. 

The title track is another complex, crepuscular suite. Now you are like a ghost who can't live and can't die, you would like to live again with your truth but you can't remember what you have lost... “Today is another day that I will lose in the great labyrinth... I've lost everything, I can't come back / Look at me, listen to me / Time is running out... You can't see me / But I feel you in my reality / It's true, you know / You can save me...”. There are incredible forces and energies that can heal your soul and melt the ice of an eternal winter and you have to keep on searching for them. The rhythm rises, becomes frenzied while electric guitar riffs and powerful organ rides push you forward. Then the music calms down as you reflect and ask yourself how much strength will be necessary to come back to life.

Next comes “Il canto dell'inverno” (Winter song), a short, evocative track featuring piano and keyboards in the forefront and a disquieting mood. It leads to the cathartic “Ai confini del mondo” (To the limits of the world), another complex track where you become aware of your past and of your errors. Now you can remember your time and you realize that you have betrayed the reasons of your heart. If you could come back you wouldn't make the same errors, you wouldn't heed the wrong people and you would do anything you can to avoid the end of your world... “You see, I've learned to love / I've understood the things that destroy time / To the limits of the world...”.

“Il viaggio nell'oceano capovolto parte 2” (The journey through the upside-down ocean part 2) is divided into seven sections and is longest track on this work (more than twenty-two minutes). The music and lyrics conjure up visionary images trying to describe the indescribable, the thin path that crosses the abyss between life and death, between reality and unreality. The first section, “Le probabilità” (The probabilities), is ethereal and takes you up in the cosmos, among star clusters revolving around a perfect center, upside-down in the dark. There's no dimension, you can't see or even conceive the void, reality and dream are blurred now... “You will follow me / And you will perceive our origin / Your soul will raise covering the reality...”. The second section, “L'ossessione” (The obsession) begins with a burst of energy and tension rises. You can't find a way out, you are trapped in the icy distance that separates the real world from your heart, you have to stop, you're exhausted but you feel that your pain will pass, you feel that you're slowly waking up as you walk calmly on the snow. The third section, “Il porto innevato” (The port under the snow) is melancholic and soft, filled with emotion. In the silence you can rediscover the traces of your past... “Look for them in the corners of oblivion / In the dust of your lost way / In the waves...”. The fourth section, “La ballata del vecchio marinaio, parte terza” (The rime of the ancient mariner, part three) recalls the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the surreal image of a ghost ship that takes you back to life. The beautiful instrumental section “L'ultimo giro” (The last spin) leads you to a new life that will appear as a waterfall, now you are waking up! The sixth section, “Il risveglio” (The awakening), celebrates the rebirth of your soul... “In your tearless eyes you show me the come-back... Among the infinite mirrors of the ocean / In the pearly substance of the horizon...”. Eventually, the last sumptuous, instrumental section, “L'oceano” (The ocean), leads to a happy end.

A short reprise of “La consunzione”, credited as a bonus track, concludes this challenging mix of music and poetry. On the whole, this is a very good album although not the best one from this very talented band.

You can listen to the complete album in streaming HERE

La Maschera di Cera: Il grande labirinto (2003). Other opinions:
Vitaly Menshikov: The large number of fresh ideas on "Il Grande Labirinto" along with its clearly classic sound spells a major success for this album... Indeed, this masterpiece has everything necessary to quickly get a cult status and become a real classic for the future as well... (read the complete review HERE)
Conor Fynes: Although 'Il Grande Labirinto' does not quite reach the plateau of being one of my favourite RPI records ever, I would say that it's damned close, and may even become one of them, should it grow much more on me. La Maschera Di Cera are evidently an incredibly technically skilled act, but I was not expecting them to incorporate such a tasty dose of atmosphere into their music as they have done here. This is an album that becomes more enjoyable as the various ideas become more familiar to the listener... (read the complete review HERE).

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