Wednesday, 14 October 2020

THROUGH DIFFICULTIES TO THE STARS

Per Aspera ad Astra, the fifth studio album by Taproban, was released in 2017 on Musea Records with a renewed line up featuring Gianluca De Rossi (piano, organ, Minimoog, Mellotron), Roberto Vitelli (bass, guitars) and Ares Andreoni (drums) plus a couple of guest musicians such as former Taproban’s member Francesco Pandico (drums, percussion) and Antonio Marangolo (sax). It contains some reworked tracks from two previous album (Outside Nowhere and Posidonian Fields) and only three new pieces. According to the liner notes, the album is dedicated to the heroes of space explorations like its 2004 predecessor, Outside Nowhere, of which it is practically a new version with some substantial cuts and additions. The title of this work, in Latin, means “through difficulties to the stars” and the art cover, taken from a tableaux by Daniela Ventrone entitled Tramonto sul mare (Sundown on the sea), reflects the subject matter depicting in vivid colours the mythological flight of Apollo’s chariot upon a raging sea...



The opener is the title track of the 2004 album, “Outside Nowhere”, a long and complex instrumental suite that describes a mission in space, from the launch to the come back in a new world. Here the piece is slightly shortened (the section named “The Last Goodbye”, featuring Alex Papotto’s sax solo, was cut out) and reinterpreted by the new line up with energy and passion: in seconds they shot through veils of crimson and pink and gold and blue into the piercing white of day... (quote from A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke). Even if the sequence of the different sections is slightly changed, in my opinion the final the result is as good as the original version.

Taproban on stage, 2017


The first (relatively) new track is the short “Fragments Of Life”, a reinterpretation in a softer key of the first section of the aforementioned suite, “At The Fifteenth Orbit”. It is followed by three other tracks from Outside Nowhere: “Il difficile equilibrio tra sorgenti di energia” (The difficult balance between energy sources), where music and lyrics describe an endless conflict between spheres attracting and repelling each other until they’ll melt into the void, then the powerful, aggressive “veS ml’ taHghach (A Klingon War Dance)” with reference to the species of swarthy, ruthless humanoids in the science fiction series Star Trek and finally the reflective, melancholic “Nexus” where, after the beautiful sax solo and the heartfelt vocals by Gianluca de Rossi, you can hear in the background the last words of Russian cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov before crushing to the ground on April 24, 1967, after nineteen orbits around the Earth. The new versions are all convincing and perfectly match together.



Then it’s the turn of two new instrumental tracks. The first is “D.I.A.N.A.” (Domotic Interface Artificial Neurological Android) that every now and again could recall The Alan Parsons Project and maintain a sci-fi atmosphere as suggested by the title that refers to home automation. The second is the beautiful “Agata Lost In The Mirror Whale” with its sumptuous display of keyboard virtuosity. 
 


The last two tracks are both taken from 2006 album Posidonian Fields. “Entwinings” and “Octopus!” have been reworked and linked together to form something new and even the lyrics are different from the original version. Here music and lyrics describe the meeting with the marine creature from a very personal point of view... “You know an octopus is smarter than a dog, and would probably make a much better pet. It’s a wonderful, clever, very emotional creature, an octopus. Only we never think of them that way”... (just a short quote from the novel Sphere by Michael Crichton to give an idea of the content of the piece!).

On the whole, I think this album could be an excellent addition to a prog collection: nice packaging, great music... even if you already own Taproban’s previous works I’m sure it won’t be a waste of money!

You can listen to the complete album HERE

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Monday, 12 October 2020

HYPNOS AND THANATOS

Tale Of A Dark Fate is the second album by Florentine band L’Albero del Veleno and confirms all the good qualities of its predecessor from 2013, Le radici del male. It was self-released in 2017 and was distributed by Black Widow Records. The recording sessions were carried out by a slightly renewed line up featuring Nadin Petricelli (keyboards, synth), Claudio Miniati (drums), Lorenzo Picchi (guitars), Michele Andreuccetti (bass) and Marco Brenzini (flute) plus the help of the guests Jacopo Ciani (violin, viola, strings) and Cesare Valentini (choir arrangement). The result of their long, painstaking work is an instrumental album conceived as an opera in two acts inspired by the legend of the venomous tree from which the band took its name. The storyline is simple: a man falls asleep under the tree to never wake up again. Although there are no lyrics nor specific liner notes, the art cover and the drawings you can find in the booklet by Stefano Matteoli give a clue about what the music is about...



The first part of the album, “Act I – Hypnos”, is divided into six parts. It starts with the short “Prelude - The poison tree”, where a nice piano pattern is backed by a threatening rhythm section. In the booklet the image associated with this piece portrays a tree resembling to a Medusa head, with poisonous snakes as branches... It fades out in the first part of Act I, entitled “Morpheus” after the Greek god of dreams, son of Hypnos, god of sleep. Here the influence of Goblin is apparent from the very first bass lines that paint the musical canvas with strong deep red brush strokes...

The music goes on with the dark, threatening atmosphere of “Phobetor”, the personification of nightmares that appeared in dreams in the form of animals or monsters and resided in a part of the underworld. Then the tension eases for a while during the short “Interlude I - Momus” where comes in the personification of satire and mockery. This little scherzo or trick of destiny leads to the disquieting “Phantasos”, named after the God of surreal dreams where, quoting Alexandre Dumas, the breath of death reacts violently against life and darkness kills the light.



The track entitled “Interval” is nothing but fifteen seconds of silence, just a little pause before “Act II – Thanatos”, that is divided into five parts and describes the passage from sleep to death. The first section is entitled “Clotho”, after the goddess responsible for spinning the thread of human life. The music has a solemn pace, an obscure mood and every now and again could conjure up strange phenomena... 

Next comes the nervous section entitled “Lachesis” and related to the goddess measurer of each thread of life. Here, after a nervous start the rhythm calms down as to indicate the acceptance of fate. Then it’s the turn of the ethereal “Interlude II – Ananke” where we meet the personification of inevitability, compulsion and necessity, the mother of the Fates and the only one to have control over their decisions...

L'Albero del Veleno


The following section is entitled “Atropos” after the goddess who chose the mechanism of death and ended the life of mortals by cutting their thread. The Grim Reaper enters the scene wielding her scythe with a surge of energy underlined by fiery organ waves and raging flute notes, then boldly marches towards the unknown... The final section is entitled “Postlude – Moros”, after the god of impending doom, the one who drives mortals to their deadly fate. This delicate and evocative part with piano and violin in the forefront is a kind of elegy of intense beauty that ends the album with a nocturnal atmosphere and a sense of infinite peace...

On the whole, a very mature work where the band showcase great compositional skills and musicianship mixing classical music and rock with extraordinary freshness and gusto.

You can listen to the complete album HERE

Sunday, 11 October 2020

RUNNING AGAINST THE GRAIN

L’orizzonte degli eventi is the fifth album by Alex Carpani and was released in 2020 on the Independent Artist Record label with a line up featuring Alex Carpani (vocals, synth, programming, virtual guitar), Giambattista Giorgi (bass) and Bruno Farinelli (drums). According to the official website, this is a kind of visionary and existential concept album about the imaginary line that divides the possible scenarios of our lives, in the moment when we are in front of big life decisions. The overall sound confirms the new course of its predecessor, open to pop and new wave influences, but this time the lyrics are in Italian and in my opinion a good term of comparison could be represented by some of Franco Battiato’s recent works like Dieci stratagemmi or Ferro battuto... 



The album opens with “L’orizzonte degli eventi” (Event horizon) where, on a base of sound effects, the narrative vocals of an astrophysicist give the scientific definition of event horizon, a boundary beyond which events cannot affect an observer. After that, the event horizon becomes just a metaphor to describe some crucial life passages and the relativity of every thing and the first track is just an introduction linked to the following “Lava bollente” (Boiling lava) where the rhythm rises and you can ride on an imaginary train running against the grain through dream and reality, time and memory.



“Fiore d’acqua” (Flower of water) is a dynamic piece that deals with love and nostalgia, the desire to reach a person who is far away from you and the importance of the memories she left behind. Memories that seem like pages of a book written in the wind... Next comes the ethereal atmosphere of “Il perimetro dell’anima” (The perimeter of the soul), a piece that describes in music and words the strange feelings of a foggy morning and the rising power of an invisible force that shines through the clouds...
 
Alex Carpani Band, 2020


The nervous “Tempo relativo” (Relative time) is about time passing by. As As the merciless blade of time comes down, darkness devours light and life while deceiving illusions melt in a storm of emotions... Then it’s the turn of “Sette giorni” (Seven days), a surreal track about the effects of the daily grind on dreams and regrets, freedom and desires.



“La fine è là” (The end is over there) deals with environmental issues. The rhythm is frenzied, the atmosphere tense and threatening while the lyrics evoke the need for a desperate run against the clock to stop the human tendency to self-destruction. What comes after is the aggressive “Nel ventre del buio” (In the belly of darkness), a kind of invitation to dive in the heart of the night, an advice to look for the hidden side of things to find the right balance between expectations and reality. Then “Le porte” (The doors) closes the album with its reflective mood and a pinch of spirituality.

On the whole, a good album although very different from Alex Carpani’s excellent early works in a more symphonic style.

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Saturday, 3 October 2020

A TIME TO BREAK SILENCE

So Close, So Far is fourth album by Alex Carpani and was released in 2016 on the independent label Ma.Ra.Cash Records with a line up featuring Alex Carpani (keyboards, programming, vocals), Ettore Salati (acoustic and electric guitar), Joe Sal (vocals, guitar), Giambattista Giorgi (bass) and Martino Malacrida (drums). If compared with his previous works, it marks a deliberate change of musical direction veering to an elaborated A.O.R. and leaving behind vintage instruments and symphonic prog in favour of a modern, simpler sound. All the tracks have a common thread, the difficulty to communicate with each other even in an era dominated by social media and by a technology that seem to create interpersonal barriers instead to help us to break them down. The artwork by Gigi Cavalli Cocchi tries to capture the image of this world in reverse...




The opener “The Eve” is a short, melancholic instrumental track that leads to the lively, melodic “I Tried And Tried” where rays of light pass through heavy clouds and distant marching steps resound in the air, growing like shadows from an obscure past. Musically, memories from the eighties are knocking at the door...

The lyrics of the following “Man On The Wire” conjure up the image of a man walking on the thin rope of life between madness and fear, trying to avoid the tricks of everyday life. Here the music every now and again reminds me of Ultravox...



The bitter-sweet “Stay With Me” opens with an acoustic guitar arpeggio, the music and lyrics try to evoke the scent of the sea and a sense of inner magic sweeping off fears and doubts... A good style council where more eighties influences are mixed with a shy touch of prog!

The nervous “In Your Absence” starts by an aggressive electric guitar riff and drives you into the frenzied nightlife of a modern city, bewitched by the scent and memories of a missing lover while the following “Let My Drop Of Sweat Fall Down” is a good rock ballad about the need to push your heart against the tide and stretching out your limits.

Alex Carpani Band on stage, 2015


The nocturnal “Crystal Falls” tells in music and words about a solitary, regenerating walk under the moon and the falling stars... Then it’s the turn of the dreamy “One Face, One Lie” that begins with an excerpt from famous Martin Luther King’s speech Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence: I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice… A time comes when silence is betrayal… The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one... As Martin Luther King’s words fade away the music and lyrics portray a man meeting a ghost, one day at home... Or it was just his image reflected by a mirror? Well, like all dreams, this one has its own illogicality and truth and lies are blurred.



The light “Next Time” features electronic sounds and catching melodies while the lyrics describe the attitude to postpone decisions as time flies away. It leads to the melancholic, introspective last track, “The Last Sign”, a reflection about the relativity of life and time.

On the whole, this is a nice, accessible album but beware! Many prog lovers could by highly disappointed by Alex Carpani’s new course.