Saturday, 1 October 2022

ALL THINGS IN COMMON

Gruppo Autonomo Suonatori came to life in La Spezia in 1998 on the initiative of Claudio Barone with the aim of re-interpreting the classic pieces of the Italian prog masters from the seventies. After many years spent playing covers and trying to shape their own sound, some personnel changes and a good live activity, in 2021 the band finally released an interesting debut album containing their original compositions, entitled Omnia sunt communia, on the independent Black Widow Records label with a line up featuring Claudio Barone (vocals, bass, bouzouki, mandolin), Andrea Imparato (sax, flute), Simone Galleni (guitar, bass, bouzouki), Valter Bono (drums, percussion), Thomas Cozzani (synthesizer) and Andrea Foce (piano, electric piano, flute) plus the guest Andrea Cozzani (bass). In some way this work summarizes the history of the band and its roots, as represented by the art cover...


 
The opener “Alice Spring” is an interesting instrumental track that starts by a strong ethnic flavour with tribal percussion and a didgeridoo-like synth in the forefront, then the rhythm takes off and the music veers in another direction evoking exotic landscapes and adventurous rides under a sunny Australian sky...

“La regina” (The queen) is divided into two parts and begins by a delicate piano passage and a section entitled “Il sogno” (The dream). Then the dreamy atmosphere gives way to a strummed acoustic guitar that introduces a different mood and a quasi Medieval atmosphere. In the second part, entitled “La regina”, the music and lyrics evoke a court dance. Eventually, through a short narrative vocals part, we learn that royal palace where the imaginary court dance has place is just the little home of a little girl who dreams of living in a fairy tale...

Next come two beautiful instrumental tracks, “Preludio I” and “Preludio II”. The former could recall Le Orme of albums like Florian or Piccola rapsodia dell’ape with its acoustic, classical inspired feeling while the latter is darker, with melancholic synth notes soaring from a slow acoustic guitar arpeggio...

 
The music and lyrics of the following “Il sacco di Bisanzio” (The sack of Constantinople) conjure up the image of a man on the walls of Byzantium. He’s looking with dismay at a threatening army marching towards the city. There’s a sense of doom and surprise, what are they doing under the sign of the cross? They’re crusaders and they’re very far from the Holy Land that they were supposed to reconquer... It’s the year 1204 A.D. and the Fourth Crusade takes an unexpected turn on account of money and power, a turn that will drive the Crusader army to capture, loot and destroy parts of the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Byzantium is burning with all its Christian tradition, it's the advent of the ephemeral Latin Empire of Constantinople...

“Beatrice” portrays in music and words a charming woman with the eyes full of tears and love. She’s the muse of Dante Alighieri, prematurely passed away leaving the sommo poeta in mourning. She appears during the poet’s journey into the afterlife evoking sweet memories and regrets, strong emotions and an everlasting love... Then it’s the turn of the excellent, suggestive instrumental “Il richiamo della sirena” (The call of the siren), a dynamic piece full of Mediterranean flavours and dreamy atmospheres. You can set you imagination free and let the waves cradle you on a spellbound marine landscape...

Gruppo Autonomo Suonatori 2021

The last track, “Omnia sunt communia” (All things in common), begins by a prayer, the Pater Noster recited in Aramaic language. Then the music and lyrics conjure up a battlefield. A commander looks at an army of poor peasants on the other side of the front and declares that they are nothing but a bunch of ragamuffins talking about equality and freedom led by a madman. They can’t subvert law, order and power. The slaughter begins... This long, complex piece evokes The German Peasants' War, a widespread popular revolt in some German-speaking areas in Central Europe from 1524 to 1525. The revolt incorporated some principles and rhetoric from the emerging Protestant Reformation, through which the peasants sought influence and freedom. Radical Reformers like Thomas_Muntzer instigated and supported the uprise while, in contrast, Martin Luther condemned it as the devil's work and called for the nobles to put down the rebels like mad dogs. Eventually, the rebel’s motto omnia sunt communia, a Latin phrase and slogan that can be translated as “all things in common”, becomes just the mark of another massacre perpetrated in the name of God under the sign of the cross, of a utopia suffocated by sword and hatchet...

On the whole, an excellent work and a must have for every Italianprog lover.

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Tuesday, 27 September 2022

DANGEROUS LINKS

The Badge (the name refers to a Cream’s piece) took shape in the early seventies in Bernate Ticino, a town located about 25 kilometres west of Milan. During the seventies the band went through many changes in personnel and had a good live activity on the local scene but never got the chance to properly record an album and slowly faded into oblivion. In 2006 The Badge came to life again but it wasn’t until 2014 that they finally released their long awaited debut album entitled Le relazioni pericolose on the independent Ma.Ra.Cash Records label with a line up featuring Angelo Isaia (keyboards, vocals), Sergio Isaia (bass, guitar, vocals), Fiore Colombo (guitars, bass, vocals) and Pino Atzori (drums). Although the music sounds a bit too derivative and the vocal parts might not be perfect I’m sure that Italian prog lovers will find this work interesting enough. The beautiful artwork by Gigi Cavalli Cocchi depicts its content and invites you to explore it...
 
 
 
The long, complex title track that opens the album, “Le relazioni pericolose” (The dangerous liaisons), was inspired by the French epistolary novel of the same title written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos in 1782, and by Valmont, a 1989 romantic drama film directed by Milos Forman based on the same novel. The music and lyrics evoke the story of the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, two evil doers who use seduction as a weapon to control and exploit other people and enjoy their cruel, cynic games. It’s a portrait of the French nobility just before the French Revolution that here is rendered with a strong sarcastic tone and a musical patchwork featuring original passages, many classical quotes and a short tribute to the score of the film composed by Christopher Palmer. Eventually, love succumbs to pride and vanity and all ends in tragedy with the image of a cold autumn wind sweeping the falling leaves on Valmont’s grave... 
 
“Anni '70” (Seventies) is a track that looks back with a strong sense of nostalgia to a period when the musicians of the band where younger and music was their only drug. Emotions, great expectations, dreams that along the years were blotted out by reality, no computers nor pay TV, the feeling that they could change the world. Anyway, the music and lyrics underline how the members of band are still playing together and why those memories can never die for them... 
 
“Ancora un giorno dopo la fine” (One more day after the end) starts by a keyboard intro evoking the come back from the dark of a mysterious spectre. Then the rhythm rises and the music and lyrics describe the spectre wandering all day long through the woods and reflecting about the time he spent as a living being. Eventually, he realizes that even a bitter life is better than the void and that the strange silence surrounding him on Earth is better than an eternal peace... The music every now and again could recall Deep Purple and alternates hard rock rides to calmer classical inspired passages... 
 

“Sotto il cielo d'Africa” (Under the Africa sky) begins by jumping electric guitar riffs and rolling organ surges that later alternate to more reflective sections. In the first part the lyrics evoke troubles, wars, exploitation, poverty... Africa is described as a paradise that was turn into hell! Then, after a short quote from Dvorak’s New World there’s room for hope with the lyrics evoking singing children, notes of peace and echoes of joy... 
 
"Burokrat" draws in music and words the caustic portrait of a heartless bureaucrat. This is a curious, dangerous kind of animal that you might find behind the desk of a post office or, worse, in a tax office!... Next comes “Dichiarazione” (Declaration) that after a pulsing start that could recall PFM turns into a dreamy mood evoking the balance between man and nature and sweet, clear memories... 
 
The Gothic closer “La leggenda del lago” (The legend of the lake) begins by the sound of a storm and a dark church organ section that conjure up the awakening of Ester, the lady of a mysterious lake. Then the music and lyrics unfold her story. Many damned men got lost in her arms, a dark figure walking in the night on the lake shores, always looking for love and never satisfied. At dawn ghosts of fire and processions of larvae escort her in her palace hidden into the deep waters of the lake where she can avoid the sunlight... 
 
On the whole, an interesting work that deserves a try. 
 
You can listen to the complete album HERE

The Badge: Le relazioni pericolose (2014). Other opinions:
Michael “Aussie-Byrd-Brother”: Sometimes the classical moments are shamelessly crowd-pleasing, but it is not merely some gimmick - this is grand Italian prog in the most theatrical, swooning manner possible, and these elements will instantly be an attraction for fans of bands like the New Trolls. But it's actually when the band step away from the classical sounds that they display plenty of original ideas all their own, and they possess endless technical skill that delivers scorching instrumental interplay with a refreshingly rough sound and strong vocal melodies with attractive harmonies. Combined, they make the forty years that it took to get Le Relazioni Pericolose made well worth the wait!... (read the complete review HERE).

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Friday, 23 September 2022

STEP BY STEP

Passo dopo passo, Il Castello di Atlante’s second album, is a collection of live recordings and demos dating back to the first period of the band’s activity, from 1976 to 1984. It was released in 1994 on the independent Vinyl Magic label with a beautiful art cover representing time passing by with an hourglass in the forefront. In my opinion, this album is a good document of the musicians’ enthusiasm and freshness in their early years but, despite the remastering, the sound quality is not always adequate to say the least. Moreover, the booklet is rather poor, with no details about the recording sessions. Nonetheless the music is worth listening to... 


The powerful instrumental “Overture per un concerto” (Overture for a concert) opens the album, then it’s the turn of another instrumental track, an early version of “Cavalcando tra le nuvole” (Riding through the clouds), a beautiful piece properly re-recorded and released in 2005 on the album Quintessenza...

The long, complex “Danza sulla Quinta Strada” (Dance on Fifth Avenue) begins by the sound of wind and hooters while distorted vocals evoke long shadows with a deathly train and funereal ghosts ready to wear their mask. Then the rhythm rises and the dance can start... Fifth Avenue is a major thoroughfare in the borough of Manhattan and one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world. Here it is described as the temple of deception, a place without poetry where even music sounds phoney. The protagonist walks along the street, under the colourful lights he’s hiding his thoughts and his disenchantment...

“Alice” is a delicate piece that depicts in music and words a little girl in love with nature who prays in the night, picks up daisies in the morning and let her dreams fly from the seashore to the mountains... Next comes “Omer”, a joyful, surreal ode to friendship and music that describes a keyboardist on his way to a castle located in the mountains of sound, guarded by friendly bearded knights...

Then comes the ethereal instrumental “Epiciclo” (Epicycle). The title refers to a geometric model used in the Hipparchian, Ptolemaic, and Copernican systems of astronomy to explain the variations in speed and direction of the apparent motion of the Moon, Sun, and planets...
 

The disquieting “L'ombra” (The shadow) features a pounding electronic sound and a mysterious feeling. The vocals play the role of a strange, insubstantial shadow fallowing you everywhere but disappearing at night... Then it’s the turn of the short, acoustic ballad “Il cortile” (The courtyard) that depicts a pastoral landscape from where old memories and bits of the protagonist’s past emerge...

The instrumental “Passaggio” (Passage) is just a long violin solo inspired by classical music that leads to the following “La guerra dei topi” (The war of the mice), an epic piece that evoke a rebellious army of mice marching from the suburbs towards the big city, pushed by a strong thirst for justice. They go on and on towards the unknown, towards the void, towards the glory, against the power, against the gods...

“Babele” (Babel) is another long, epic piece. Here the music and lyrics conjure up the images of living statues and ashes of gods wandering on the ground and whispering their meaningless words to the grim reaper, playing a pointless game of checks with the fate. Strong in their armours they build wall after wall trying to erase their past in a dark spiral of power and death... Then the soft instrumental “Chorale I” ends the album with a slow, solemn pace and a dreamy, nocturnal mood.

On the whole, despite the poor sound quality, a good work that deserves a try.

You can listen to the complete album HERE

More info:
http://www.ilcastellodiatlante.it/

Thursday, 22 September 2022

FROM THE NORTHERN LANDS

Il Castello di Atlante were formed in Vercelli in the mid seventies but it wasn’t until 1992 that they had the chance to release their first album, “Sono io il Signore delle Terre a Nord” (I’m the Lord of the Northern Lands), thanks to the independent label Vinyl Magic. The line-up here features Dino Fiore (bass), Aldo Bergamini (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Paolo Ferrarotti (drums, vocals), Roberto Giordano (piano, keyboards, vocals) and Massimo Di Lauro (violin, keyboards) and the overall sound is surprisingly fresh and up to date. Il Castello di Atlante were influenced, of course, by British and Italian prog bands as Genesis, Premiata Forneria Marconi and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso but they managed to shape an original sound and their song-writing is quite good. The result is an amazing debut album full of passion and dreams. 



The opener “Tirando le somme” (Drawing conclusions) is a reflective track about the meaning of happiness. A steady marching beat and keyboard waves set the atmosphere and a question arises... Who is greater, a powerful king coming back from a victorious battle or a happy gnome? Well, when you have death inside you, you can’t be happy, even if you are the greatest of the kings... “Is it really so sad to be as tall as the stem of a flower?...”.

The long, complex “La foresta dietro il mulino di Johan” (The forest behind Johan’s mill) begins softly with acoustic guitar and violin, then a piano pattern leads to a darker mood. The piece is about the fear of an impending obscure destiny knocking on your door. You can shout out loud your questions about your fate in the wind but only the spirit of the old forest can hear you... and it laughs! Fear spreads its tentacles in you and you can do nothing but close your eyes and delay for a short time the upcoming reality while the weight of silence becomes overwhelming... “Future will be knocking at your door anyhow / Future will be knocking at your door anyway!”.



“Il saggio” (The wise man) is a delicate, melancholic ballad about time passing by. Listen to the sound of the pouring rain, it’s the same sound you might have listened to in your childhood, it’s the same sound you might listen to when you have grown up... “Now I listen to the sound of the rain falling in my solitary hermitage / My hair is white and I’m indifferent to everything around me / And on the doorsteps the rain is still falling, drop after drop, until my new morning...”.

Next comes “Semplice ma non troppo” (Simple but not too much). It is a nice, lively instrumental piece full of energy where the musicians express all their joy of playing together...

“Il pozzo” (The well) is a beautiful acoustic track with a strange medieval taste that might recall some of Angelo Branduardi’s works. The lyrics describe a strange journey. As in Lewis Carroll’s novel “Alice in Wonderland”, the protagonist of the song explores a magic world that lies behind the images mirrored by the water down in a well... “Master Spider leads the way / The image mirrored at the bottom of the well is reality...”. 


 
“Non c’è tempo” (There’s no time) is a melancholic piece featuring good harmony vocals and some nervous passages. Sometimes everyday life is full of compromises and hard to endure... “The wet asphalt reflects the colours of the morning / I listen to the sound of my steps echoing in the street... There’s no time to think, there’s no time to talk / There’s no time to dream, there’s no time to be happy / There’s no time to love...”.

“Estate” (Summertime) starts softly with a piano solo intro. Here the music every now and again might recall Procol Harum, the atmosphere is pastoral and the lyrics describe a hot summer day in the country... “On the horizon shines that coloured bow / It’s like the touch of a painter on this new summer...”.

“Il vessillo del drago” (The dragon’s banner) is a perfect finale for this excellent album. Medieval influences blend with powerful rock passages and evocative images... “I’m the Lord of the Northern Lands / Under my banner you will fight...”.

 

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

BUTTERFLIES AND TURTLES

Apryl began life in 1995 in Conegliano, a town in the province of Treviso. After a first immature demo that was recorded in 1996 and entitled Tela, in 2002 the young band finally managed to release their debut album on the Mellow Records label entitled Alorconfusa, recorded between 2000 and 2001 with a line up featuring Ermanno Barsè (keyboards, piano), Giorgio Riondato (bass), Alberto Celotto (guitar), Andrea Lorenzet (drums, percussion) and Leandro Di Giovanna (vocals). The result of their creativity is an interesting mix of vintage sounds and more recent influences although, in my opinion, the vocal parts are not always up to the task. The art cover by Flavio Gregori tries to capture the musical content...
 
 
 
The long, complex opener “Hesperia” sets the atmosphere. It begins by experimental sounds and a sudden surge of pulsing energy alternated with more relaxed passages. The music and lyrics evoke the image of boy who has just captured a beautiful, colourful butterfly with a net. As he admires his prey in a transparent box his fantasy begins to run and the butterfly becomes a nymph, daughter of the night. Atlantis is her home, a lost island where golden apples grow... Eventually, the magic beauty of the butterfly and its desperate efforts to escape from the box move the boy who decides to set the little creature free...  
 
 
 
The evocative, cinematic “Ghe-pardo” (Chee-tah) is an instrumental track that goes through many changes in rhythm and atmosphere drawing a kind o game full of jerks and slowdowns where you have to get lost to find yourself again... The following “Tarta-ruga” (Tur-tle) starts softly by a simple guitar arpeggio. The atmosphere is dreamy while the music and lyrics conjure up surreal images of hanging waves, suspicious clouds and tidy seabeds hiding mysteries and memories. Then something strange shines through and gets out of the lagoon, towards the land...

The last track, “Nelle vesti di Adia” (In the guise of Adia) begins by an oblique waltz tempo while hermetic lyrics add touches of autumnal colours upon the musical canvas to stir your imagination. The music drives you through many changes in rhythm and mood alternating soft, dreamy passages to bursts of energy taking you between lights and misty shades where subtle, dying figures dance in the twilight, so close to touch you...

On the whole, an interesting work that deserves a try.

You can listen to the complete album HERE

Apryl: Alorconfusa (2002). Other opinions: 
Dieter Fischer: As a summary this album is an excellent work by this very little known young band and I think there are still even better things to come from them. It's a blend of harmonic and odd symphonic Prog which has worked out almost perfectly. All fans of 70's Prog should definitively check it out, they won't be disappointed! (You can read the complete review HERE
 
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